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3 Reasons Your Middle or High School Student Isn’t Asking the Teacher for Help

Updated: Nov 23, 2023

Imagine being in a room full of people. With the exception of the speaker, who is projecting his voice from the stage, the room is silent. Without warning, your stomach growls, causing your mind to ponder that age-old question: What’s for dinner? 

 Suddenly, the audience stirs, and the person next to you whispers, “I’m glad he said that. It makes so much sense!”

Umm, what makes sense? 

You mentally slap yourself for doing the unthinkable: you spaced out! 

There’s a shift in the audience; many people take out pen and paper or tablets and begin writing something down. You’re out of the loop, therefore you have nothing to write down.

Should you ask your neighbor what’s going on? You steal a glance toward them, but they appear to be focused on whatever it is they’re writing. In fact, they look pretty serious, so you don’t want to bother them. You could get immediate feedback by raising your hand to ask the speaker for clarification, or you could blurt out in true, youthful fashion, “Heeey, what are we supposed to be doing?” thus risking your reputation as a rational human being. 

What an idiot... People would surely think.


These temporary brain blips happen to many of our students in the classroom. As adults, missing (or misunderstanding) directions can be inconvenient or mildly embarrassing, but in middle or high school, admitting this sort of fault is mortifying. 

Simply telling your child to “ask the teacher for help” is not so logical for a teen. Heck, half the time, adults don’t even enjoy asking for clarification.

Reason 1. They feel embarrassed

Solution: Talk to the teacher

If your child admits to zoning out, misunderstanding directions, or getting behind in class, I suggest communicating with your student’s teacher. Teachers know that bewilderment can happen to any student, yet students often resist bringing attention to themselves. To them, being “lost” in class brings negative attention.

Speaking or emailing with your teen’s teacher could help pull your teen out of their shell of insecurity and switch their brains into action-taking mode. Students can be fearless about asking the right questions, especially if the teacher provides an atmosphere where good questions are welcomed. If students don’t inquire, teachers cannot help. Waiting until AFTER a quiz or test grade is a mistake that can be avoided by asking questions up front.

Reason 2. They’re unmotivated

Solution: Give them legitimate reasons to learn

This issue is the toughest to solve. When I was a student, I recall a classmate asking a teacher, “What is the point of having to learn all of this?” The student urged that she wasn’t trying to be sarcastic; she truly wanted to know WHY we were learning about a certain topic. Your student might benefit from asking their teacher the same question. Thoughtful teachers have exceptional answers to this question and can articulate useful responses to their students. Knowing the WHY could end up motivating your teen more than you realize.

Knowing the purpose of acquiring a skill can set your student free from the trap of demotivation. 

What will writing do for my future? 
What’s the purpose of learning world history? 
How about math? 

Well, certain math skills will be more helpful for some than others, but practical math exists all around us. Learning how money works, for instance, takes some practical, mathematical skills…. skills that one will need for their entire bill-paying life.

You as the parent have a right to decide what your child should learn. Perhaps public or private school is too distracting for your teen, and they’d do better in an online or a homeschooling environment.

The very opposite is also true for others.

If you can help your student find one or two passions, the steps that they must take to achieve those passions (or to build a life that points toward those passions) will feel less daunting.

 Part of passing classes and getting something positive out of them requires communication, listening skills, and social skills. Such skills are developed over time. Other skills are further fueled by sports or other after school activities. Does your student participate in a sport or a school club? These groups are great about holding students accountable for their grades and classroom performances. Finding the right extracurricular activity (or shopping around for a school that offers extracurricular activities or academic courses that your teen would love) might help fuel their academic fire.

Reason 3. They Think They Don’t Need the Help

Solution: Get a tutor, such as myself or my husband! 

In some schools, there is a tragic pattern that has taken place in the past and one that still happens: 

  1. Slipping through the cracks

  2. Just eeking by with a 70%

  3. Being passed on whether they’ve mastered the content or not

Students sometimes manage to squeak by and pass a class without actually learning quality information that they’ll need for future courses. Do you want this to happen to your teen?

As a former classroom teacher and current online educator, I get to work one-on-one with students to zero in on the skills that need to be honed. Rather than simply “getting the work done” and marking off a task on a to-do list, I am able to help students appreciate the novels they’re assigned to read and the papers they have to write.

It’s not hard for me to take their work and relate it to real-life situations. 

Teachers try to do this in the classroom, but I’m able to do this even more since students have my full attention for an entire hour. Now, this does require time on the student’s part. They have to recognize that they are lacking something. For instance, perhaps they enjoy writing, but they don’t remember all the rules of grammar, or they lack knowledge of how to use an online thesaurus that can make their writing more compelling. I help point students toward useful habits and tools that make their classroom learning more effective.

Oh, and math?

Math takes practice, and the best practice should happen with an educator who is patient AND knowledgeable.

I’ve had the pleasure of overhearing my husband teach students both online through a computer screen AND in a traditional classroom, and he is able to create a comfortable environment that encourages questioning. He asks students to speak the directions back to him while they work on new problems. If students understand what they are doing, they are able to verbalize each step. By doing this, they are able to retain the information.

Your student is able to learn with us at a faster rate than they could in the regular classroom. Would you like to join us for a quick phone conversation or a free consultation over Zoom? We would love to hear from you!

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