Help Your Teenager Study 

I am a recently retired high school mathematics teacher and over the years I observed, time and time again, parents wanting to help their children be good students but feeling completely helpless as to how or what they could do.  Parents usually feel that because it’s been so long since they were in school themselves, there’s nothing they can really do to help.  Such is not the case at all.  Any parent, regardless of his education level, can follow some simple but effective steps that can help their student succeed in any high school course.  Let’s see how.

I'm going to use math as an example, but the steps can certainly be applied to any course. Get your student to “talk” math with you.  You don’t have to understand the subject matter; just gauge the responses you get.  When you ask what is being studied, a reply such as “quadratic equations” or “polynomials” shouldn’t suffice.  Even though that might indeed be the topic of the week, it demonstrates no understanding of the concepts at all.  Instead, strive for something along the lines of “We are studying quadratic equations and the different ways to solve them such as factoring, using the quadratic formula, and completing the square.”  See the difference?  Usually if a student can verbally express some concepts of the topic being presented, that indicates a fairly good understanding of what is being studied. 

But how do you know if your student, even though he understands what he is supposed to be doing, can actually solve those quadratic equations?  Well, in all honesty, you might not be able to tell for sure but you can at least instill some good habits toward that end. Ask to see examples in his book and in his class notes (he definitely should be taking notes in class) and by all means ask to see where he has practiced in his homework.  True, you may not know if those problems are done correctly, but you will know whether or not he is actually doing homework and taking notes in class.  And if junior knows that someone with more leverage than his teacher is monitoring his work on a regular basis, he will be more likely to work on keeping it up to date.

So by now you’re having “math” conversations with your student on a regular basis and you’re diligently monitoring his work.  The school year is moving right along.  He swears that he’s doing just fine, understands everything perfectly, and is getting good grades.  Really, mom, he is.  Then the report card comes and lo and behold, everything isn’t fine and he just doesn’t know how it could have happened that his grade is so low.  After all, he did make 80% on that one test!  Do I sound as if I’ve been there?  Actually, I’m speaking more as a parent now than as a teacher!  I definitely have been on both sides.  So how can you avoid this scenario?  Let me share a little tactic that a few parents of my students sometimes used.

Every three or four weeks, sometimes as often as every two weeks,  I would find in my school mailbox a nice note from a parent asking for a quick report on their student’s grades, work habits, behavior, etc., and usually leaving a space right there on the note for me to respond.  Included would be a self-addressed, stamped envelope so that all I had to do was jot down a few notes about any work not turned in, a recent poor grade, perhaps an alert about an upcoming test, whatever was relevant at the time.  Then I could just seal the envelope and drop it in the outgoing mail.  Teachers are extremely busy people and anything you do to make things just a little easier for them is very much appreciated.  And don’t forget about email.  That can be a quick and easy way for you to correspond with the teacher and check on progress, provided the teacher makes his email address available.  Remember, the teacher also wants your child to succeed and will welcome the help from you in trying to accomplish that goal.

Speaking of teachers, let’s talk about your attitude toward them.  If your student isn’t doing well in a particular class, try your very best to be supportive of the teacher.  If your child observes even a hint of your placing blame on the teacher, the student will latch onto that as the excuse for his less that acceptable performance in the class.  I’ve seen it happen over and over again.  On the other hand, I have seen a student’s work habits and performance drastically improve once the student sees his parent and the teacher communicating and working together as a team to ensure the student’s success in the course.  The student must be held accountable, and all too often that isn’t the case.

I’ll add one last note that should be obvious but very often is disregarded by teenagers.  Encourage organization, neatness, and showing all work on paper.  In most high school courses, the process is just as important as the answer and the teacher needs to be able to look at the student’s work and see the logical, progressive thought process.  I often told my students that I needed to “see” their thinking as I looked at their work.

I think I hear the bell ringing….don’t be tardy and have a successful school year!



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