By Tim Tibbitts
Leaves are turning, the fall sports seasons are coming to an end, and in most schools, the first quarter report cards have come out. For many students, the first report card of the school year is a wake-up call, a chance to take stock of how things are going and to make some adjustments. Maybe your grades aren’t where you want them to be. Maybe you set some intentions, and you’re not living up to them. Maybe there’s a bad habit that’s crept into your academic life. Here’s some advice based on my 20+ years of teaching and tutoring about how to hit “reset”:
Assess the damage.
Get real. Don’t catastrophize, but also don’t make excuses. Look at the facts with open eyes, and make some decisions about how far off the mark your actual performance is from your desired performance—and how hard you’re willing to work to get there.
Listen to your teachers.
Your teachers are the ones giving the grades. Thus, their opinion about where your work falls short matters. If you attend a school where teachers give formal written comments at the end of the marking period, study them closely for clues/directions. Notes like “[Student] should come see me before our next test to clear up any confusion” isn’t secret code for “I hate [student]” or “[Student] is a horrible person.” Listen to the words. Go see your teacher for extra help before the next test. Trust me, your teachers got into this profession because they wanted to help kids learn, not for the big paychecks. If your school doesn’t have comments but has an online gradebook like Power School or Progress Book, study it! What are the patterns? What missed points cost you the most? Was it being sloppy with HW? Reading quizzes? Major tests? Make a specific list of areas where your academic game needs work and develop a specific plan to address each of them.
Ask for help.
Again, the classroom teacher should be your first go to. I know, if you got off to a bad start in a class, you’re probably not feeling super confident about approaching your teacher. You may even feel that he or she doesn’t like you. Unless you’ve been unruly or disrespectful in class, this is unlikely. What’s more likely is that, once it’s clear that you’re actually serious about doing better, your teacher is going to be delighted to witness and to support your progress. But you’ve got to be smart about asking for help in the right ways (specific, open-minded, not argumentative) and at the right times (NOT just before or just after class). Send an email requesting a time that would be convenient for your teacher to spend some time with you to help you understand what you need to work on in order to do better. Then show up on time with some good specific questions, an open mind, and a pencil and notebook for jotting notes.
Set specific, measurable goals.
“Do all my homework” or “Do better on quizzes and tests” may sound like goals, and doing both of those things would certainly help, but they’re also too vague to be useful for most people. Instead, consider goals that are more specific, such as: “Earn an average on vocabulary quizzes with no grade lower than 85%.” Even more powerful than setting an outcome goal such as the previous one, why not think about what actions would be required to achieve that desired outcome and work backwards to identify some concrete process goals, such as:
“Make a Quizlet for all new vocabulary words the day thy are assigned.”
“Study and test myself until I can get 100% correct on Quizlet quizzes.”
“Go see teacher (or classmate or tutor) for help clarifying anything I don’t understand at least three days before each quiz or test.”
One question I always like to ask students is “What is the one thing, if you did it consistently and well, that would be most helpful in getting you to your goal?” Give it some thought.
Progress, not perfection.
Improving a grade in a tough course or changing a bad habit isn’t easy. It takes time, dedication, and patience. And you’re going to fall down every once in a while along the way. Being committed to improvement rather than beating yourself up for making a mistake is the way to go. I’m not saying let yourself off the hook easily; I’m just saying that when you fall down on the path to success—as we all do from time to time—just dust yourself off and keep pressing forward. One step at a time, one day at a time!
The Whole Kid’s founder, Tim Tibbitts can be reached for questions, troubleshooting, or to arrange some tutoring at email@example.com.