What to Do When Your Child is Failing School: Tips and Advice for Parents

School is tough for many kids, but what do you do when tough becomes too much? Local teachers offer tips on how to help your child succeed in high school.

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High school is a pivotal time in a teen’s life – and it can also be a very difficult period for many students. Concepts become harder, workload increases, and the pressure of college is officially hitting them. With these changes, many kids can start struggling in school – and parents will find themselves saying, “My kid is failing school.”

This doesn’t happen overnight. For a kid, failing school is a progression of missed assignments, skipping classes and failed tests. As a parent, it’s very important for you to address the problem quickly and get your child back on track before he or she becomes completely derailed.

Identify the problem

There could be a number of reasons your child is struggling. Your child might not understand the material, could be struggling managing time between schoolwork and sports, or just might not be doing the work. Three local teachers weigh in on what they’ve experienced with students.

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Stephanie Givinsky, an algebra-based physics teacher at Lakeview High School in St. Clair Shores, says the most common struggle she sees is that kids are simply not trying hard enough. They just don’t put in the mental effort required to learn the material, either during class or at home.

Givinsky says she has noticed that freshman year is often the “first time a student has really been challenged. It’s the first time school isn’t easy, and they don’t know how to handle that. They don’t know how to study so they are reluctant to do the practice and give the attention needed to understand what is confusing.”

Doug McKnight, a biology, physics and chemistry teacher at Clawson High School, says that based on his experience, students simply do not want to study.

“Too many students show up late for class, don’t bring materials, don’t turn in homework, and don’t study for tests,” says McKnight.

However, local teacher Anne Oaks says that many students struggle with issues at home, which impact their overall academic performance. “Therefore, we first have to identify if the problem stems from a lack of understanding, a lack of motivation, or a personal issue.

Whatever the issue is for your child, it’s important to seek assistance before the problem gets really out of control.

Getting help

Schedule an appointment with your child’s teacher if you haven’t already been contacted. McKnight says he notifies parents when he has a student who is doing worse by a grade or two – compared to past performance. Some teachers will reach out to a failing student before contacting the parent. In a one-on-one, Givinsky and her student will address the problem, try to find the reason for the failing grade, and then set up a game plan to get them back on track.

The teacher may suggest additional resources to assist your child. For example, Lakeview High School offers free-of-charge peer tutoring and teacher tutoring during the school week – both before and after school. Clawson High School offers “Scholars Club,” where students can come for two hours after school to be tutored by teachers from a variety of subjects.

Encourage kids to take advantage of any of the study assistance available at their school. Or, take a look at our list of tutoring centers in southeast Michigan for more options to help your child.

Tips for parents

Oaks provides six tips on how to help your child succeed in high school – and overcome failing courses:

Be proactive. If you know your kid falls behind in their schoolwork or doesn’t do so well when it comes to grades, talk to the teacher immediately – before it becomes an issue in that class. “I have parents who email me on a weekly basis to check up on assignments, their student’s progress or behavior, and even things that are going on at home that might be affecting them,” Oaks says.

Make your expectations clear and stick with them. Did your daughter’s grades drop? It’s time to take away some of her privileges. Get in contact with her teacher, too, and inform the instructor of the expectations you’ve set for your child.

Attend parent-teacher conferences. “Students whose parents regularly attend conferences tend to perform better in school.” Read more about strengthening the parent-teacher bond and get some tips for making the most out of parent-teacher conferences.

Use online gradebooks. All schools provide personalized logins for parents and guardians, Oaks notes. Inform your kids that you’re checking on their grades and contact teachers if you have questions or concerns.

Create a routine. This should include homework time after school and dinner together – without phones. This can be difficult, but parents and guardians should have control and set rules for phone usage, video games and more if their child’s grades have dropped. Take away distractions from your child, such as, phones, video games, sports, and friends, until the student is able to manage their schoolwork.

Don’t believe everything kids tell you. Yes, you read that right. “Students with a proclivity for failure (and even those who don’t) have a tendency to lie about what’s going on at school and in the classroom,” Oaks says. They might tell you the teacher doesn’t like them, but the issue could be that the child is having a behavior problem. Maybe they say the teacher goes too fast. If that’s the case, your child might not be asking questions if they have them. Email the teacher to find out what exactly is happening in the classroom.

Turning bad grades into good grades is a group effort among parents, teachers, and students. “Parents need to be part of their children’s education,” says McKnight. As a parent, the best thing you can do is be involved, be consistent, be supportive and be patient.

This post was originally published in 2015 and is updated regularly.

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