What to do when your kid fails a high school course?

My HS junior son son always got good grades in math his freshman and sophomore year when he took algebra I and geometry. But in those classes they did almost all the homework in class. This year he took algebra II and will most likely get an F this semester. Granted, this year it was a VERY hard class. Frankly I think the teacher has gone too fast and wasnt spending the time making sure all the kids were learning and indeed, about 1/3rd the class is failing along with my son. This class the majority of the grade is based on tests, not assignments. I had noticed this about mid semester and I emailed his teacher asking what he could do. She said while he has been a “good” kid in class (meaning not causing trouble) he hasnt been the one to ask questions or come in for extra help so thus, he has been doing poorly on most of the tests. My son of course blames the teacher. Blames the fact that algebra is a waste of time (granted the kids are required to take this course along with 3 math credits to graduate). The teacher offered to help him if he came to see her before or after school which he only did maybe once.

I told him yes, this course is harder than before. Yes, its a topic you might never use in real life. Yes, the teacher’s assignments make it difficult. But you know I told him - that’s LIFE. Sometimes college courses and jobs require asking questions and going above and beyond and he shouldnt expect everything to go easy. I told him repeated times to 1. raise his hand in class and ask questions 2. ask me for help at home and 3. go in before school and after school to work with his teacher. Heck I even offered to pay for a tutor to help him. But damn, this kid is stubborn. He would rather just sit on his ass watching tv and wouldnt do what I told him.
But I’m not doing anything to bail him out. He has to learn that yes, school is sometimes hard, teachers and courses might be VERY difficult and even boring, and one must be proactive from day 1 of class in making sure you learn the material. Every assignment counts.

Well anyhow I will try to help/push him and maybe to help him squeak by this semester with a D then do better next. If not, well he will be retaking the course either next summer or next year. Tough lesson to learn about shutting off the tv and doing your work but best learned here not in college.
So I’d like to ask the other parents, have you had a similar situation with your kid when they wouldnt do work and their grades suffered? How did you handle it?

Good luck. We got my son through high school by the skin of his teeth. I did a bunch of tutoring for him to get him over humps in Algebra and History (History was just memorization).

Sumner school

Excellent school district.

I meant Summertime courses. As in making up a course you failed or missed. Drat a typo.

Well, Sting was a teacher.

It could be that this teacher is going too fast, making things too hard, and expecting too much.

Or it could be that his previous teacher(s) made things too easy and didn’t make sure the kids actually learned what they were supposed to be learning. Anyone would struggle in Algebra II if they never really learned Algebra I.

Or it could be somewhere in between—or something else entirely, like this teacher’s personality or teaching style just not clicking with your kid.

Sounds like you already know this: Even if the algebra isn’t something he’ll need to use later in life, the life skills of completing assigned work and making himself do what he needs to do definitely are.

Are you interested in hearing from non-parents who have taught alegra?

How are the rest of his grades? Maybe he’s just not a math person. Algebra can seem abstract and useless. He may do better with more practical kinds of math classes.

Long term, does he want to do anything in science or engineering? Algebra is really only needed for those kinds of tracks. If he does want to go into these fields, he’ll need to do a lot more math.

It’s hard to make a kid want to do well, but one thing you can do is not make it easy to slack off. TV, internet, and video games should be treated as a luxury he only gets when he does well in school. Even if he thinks Algebra is stupid, he can still study and get good grades.

I flunked the first semester of Algebra 2, and only passed the second because I was tutored every day. I graduated from college cum laude and ended up with a Master’s. If he’s doing ok in everything else I wouldn’t sweat it too much.

I did minimum maths to graduate, HS and College. You can live your whole life without great math skills and be as happy as a clam. I can measure fairly well. I can balance my budget. I can figure out how fast I am driving. In 100 years no one will care. Don’t sweat it. Provide him the best learning environment you can. Teach him to finish what he starts and how to manage his time. You’ll do fine.

I’d be very wary of saying that. It could give him an excuse not to work at it, and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Myth of ‘I’m Bad at Math’

I meant math person as “likes doing math” as opposed to “can’t do math”. Anyone can do math, just like anyone can do any subject. But most people like certain kinds of subjects more than others. I loved math in school, but didn’t like classes like history very much. I took the minimum amount of history I needed to graduate and didn’t care to take anymore. I would say I’m “not a history person” because I don’t like studying it rather than I can’t study it.

OP, do you think he might be feeling depressed about failing to do as well as he has before?

I disagree that it’s a myth that some people are just bad at math. I like math and working through problems but I’m not good at math. I’ve gotten decent grades in high school and college by studying hard and working through problems over and over but some people do seem to be intuitively gifted in mathematics, you can show them once or twice and they just understand, me I had to work the same problems ad infinitum and if you changed one minor variable I would get the next problem wrong even if it is the same type of problem, and I also immediately forget how to do it, after a few days of not studying.

I have always been more of a verbal and musical person, it’s like the math part of my brain just doesn’t work.


Incidentally the way they do it is 1rst Algebra I, then Geometry, Then algebra II. so they have forgotten alot of basic algebra before they take algebra II.

It sounds like his teacher is teaching the class more like how college classes are run. Less hand holding and more requirement that the students take responsibility for getting stuff like studying and homework done on their own. It’s a tough transition, but a lesson he’s going to need, if he plans on going to college.

Also, is this the only class he’s having problems with? The son of someone I know started having trouble with school, when a bit younger than your son, started having trouble with school. He was a good kid in class, he could learn the stuff, but he just didn’t bother to work on anything. Homework went finished. Or finished but not turned in.

Turns out it was some of the early signs of depression. You might want to keep an eye out, and see if there are other signs.

Is your son an introvert? Learning to show up for office hours when you are in trouble is a skill he’s going to need in college. You may be at the point of having to treat social anxiety if that’s at the crux of this. It is not uncommon for anxious people to do fine as long as they are being told what to do. When the uncertainty of self-direction comes along, we can be paralyzed by it.

I would also be looking at screen addiction. You mention his TV time, so that’s a possible red flag. He may need a 2-3 week break from TV-phone-computer to re-engage with the real world. Make it a fun time for him, (go out hiking or exploring) and help him learn to recognize the symptoms. Adults of his generation who can self-identify and yank themselves out of cyber world at intervals will have a huge advantage in society.

Addressing both of these, exercise is a huge help. How much is he getting?

All that said, I hesitate to offer work-arounds, but failing is a bad option. For me, Khan academy has been a godsend. It’s free, and their software will pinpoint the problem and give exercises to strengthen whatever skills are lacking.

I started out using it because Celtling’s math classes were taught so differently than the ones I grew up with. Working through the early chapters showed me the language and methods by which she was learning.

There was a surprise waiting for me though, I couldn’t believe how much I had forgotten, or had lost track of over the years. I found myself with a much deeper understanding, and actually kept going through calculus, a thing I would never have thought myself capable of. (See “Math Person” above.)

He will still need to pay attention in class, and make sure he knows how the teacher wants him to go through the steps on tests. But it will all make sense again if he works through this program.

My daughter sucked at math. She came close to not graduating due to having failed one Geometry section and all of Algebra 2. Her teachers offered before/after school assistance, which she attended, and still couldn’t grasp it. (and to be honest, her Algebra 2 teacher was one of those who couldn’t understand people who didn’t “get” it, which did NOT help). I couldn’t help, as I also suck at math. Basic math, no problem. Add the alphabet and I’m lost. She was very frustrated, there were arguments and tears between us.
In January of her senior year, her school introduced an online program, similar to Khan Academy. It was a godsend. It broke everything down in to digestible pieces that she could grasp. She spent an hour or two every night, plus hours on the weekends catching up. If I remember correctly, she aced Geometry and got through Algebra 2 with B’s and C’s.

Other than the obvious ding on your college admission resume, it’s a wholly good thing to flunk a course or two outright in high school and/or college. It tends to put things in perspective for you- it’s just a grade, and you’ll live. And it’ll teach you to plan better, work harder, etc… but in the end, you’ll know that if you flunk again, you can get right up and go back at it.

That’s the lesson to be learned here- resiliency and grit.