By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
We all need help in school at some point. Some of us need help understanding the material, others need help studying, and others might need help staying organized. We all have our strengths, and we all have our weaknesses. The important part is to know what those are, and to know how to ask for help in school before we have no idea what’s going on in class.
Before you can ask for help, you should identify what you need help in — of course. And sure, to a degree I mean do you need help in math or English or history? But honestly, figuring that out isn’t the hard part, because chances are high that you already know if a particular subject is hard for you.
So I’m talking about a deeper layer here. So why is math hard? What skill are you missing? And then why? Why is English class hard for you? Is it the reading or the writing, and then why?
Take on the inquiry skills of a toddler here when you’re trying to get to the bottom of your school struggles: keep asking why until you hit the core. This process takes some soul-searching and some introspection. And sometimes it can make you uncomfortable as you get closer to the real source of your struggle. (Let’s face it — it sucks to realize that we might not be awesome at something.) But face that discomfort and be open to what’s on the other side of it.
Only when you identify the nugget of your weakness can you ask for and get the exact help you need.
Before I get to the tips, I have to stress the importance of trying to help yourself first, before asking someone else. I know that might sound lame and counter-intuitive because you’re thinking Uhhh….I’m the one who needs the help! But don’t underestimate yourself. If you do what I suggested a few paragraphs up (keep asking whyyyyyyyy something is hard for you until you figure out what skill you’re missing), then you might just realize exactly what you have to do. You can find a YouTube video that explains those math concepts in a different way. Re-read your notes and textbook for clarification. Google articles and other resources that take a different approach that might better suit your learning style. Your teacher isn’t the only source of information …. see what else is out there!
Now, if you truly try to solve the issue on your own, but keep hitting dead ends, then it’s definitely time to ask your teacher.
4 steps for how to ask for help in school
1. Have a clearly defined need.
Instead of telling your English teacher, “I need help on this paper,” narrow down what you really need. Do you need help defining your thesis? Do you need help identifying source materials? Do you need help with connecting your ideas from paragraph to paragraph? The more specific you are with your needs, the more your teacher will be able to help you. Before you even set a time to meet with your teacher, you should have isolated your issue and written down your specific question on a piece of paper. Take your time here. Sit and think what do I really need help with?
2. Give your teacher advance notice before meeting.
If you suddenly become confused by something in class, most definitely shoot up your hand and ask a question. But if your struggle is deeper than that or if you’re confused about something bigger, set up a legit meeting with your teacher to discuss your issue. During this meeting, tell your teacher exactly what you think your issue is (step 1). The more advance notice you give your teacher about setting up a meeting, the better prepared they will be to help you. If they know exactly what you are asking for, then they can take some time before meeting with you to come up with a plan.
3. Be open to the help you get.
It is literally your teachers’ jobs to help you. Teachers don’t want you to fail, and they certainly don’t want you to suffer through class. But different teachers have different philosophies about helping their students, and this may vary depending on who you are and how you ask for help. Some teachers will give you exactly what you need, on the spot, while others will offer you guidance as they encourage you to work through the issue on your own. Your chances are higher of getting the level of help you need if you a) have asked a specific question, and b) can show that you’ve made an attempt to help yourself first. Regardless of how your teacher is offering to help you, be open. Certainly speak up during the conversation if you think they’ve misunderstood your issue, but chances are that they see the larger picture and really are giving you what you need.
Ask for help a lot. The more you practice asking for help, the easier it becomes. Some students have no problem raising their hands in class and asking for clarification the moment the material gets difficult. Awesome! But other students wait so long to ask for help that they fall way behind. Not awesome! Speak up! Teachers are not mind-readers and they won’t always know when they’ve lost you (except if you’re face-down on your desk). So here’s what you do: constantly check in with yourself during class and when you’re doing your homework. Try to notice the very second that you start to struggle. Raise your hand immediately or write down your question to ask the next day. The sooner you recognize that you’re confused, the sooner you can ask for help, and the sooner you can get it.
Knowing how to ask for help in school — also called self-advocacy — is a ridiculously important skill that will serve you way beyond the classroom. Start now. You’ll thank yourself in 10 years.
More self-advocacy resources
Asking for help is a communication skill. Other communication skills include working well with others, studying in groups, and making class presentations. Below are resources you might find helpful: