Advice from a Student to Struggling Students

26 Jun

Last year I taught a student, we will call Jane, who struggled through Algebra 2/Trig. Every week we would work after school, sometimes 3 or more days. There were often tears of frustration. Jane realized that Algebra 2 was hard for her if she wanted to succeed she was going to have to work hard at it – she never blamed me, previous teacher, or anyone. She had tenacity like I have never seen and she WAS going to conquer!  But Jane kept at it and succeeded with a hard-earned, well-deserved C.

Jane was in my class again this year – Functions/Trig (pre-calc A/B) and Jane had a much better year. I rarely saw her after school, sometimes before school for a quick question, no tears, and genuinely seemed to like math class now. Meanwhile, in Algebra 2/Trig, I had a handful of “Janes” without the tenacity or work ethic. Without any luck the usual route, I asked Jane to write a letter to these students to try and motivate them. Here is Jane’s letter:


My name is “Jane”, and I am not the best at math.  But Alg 2/Trig? Completely passable.  Let me elaborate a bit.

Last year when I took this class, I had a tough time.   Algebra was never my strong suit and on top of that, I had missed an entire week and a half of school towards the end of the first quarter due to the flu, had to learn the current material of this class, 2 AP classes, and another pre-AP class (along with all my other core classes), as well as catch up on all the work I missed, go to basketball practice/games, and try and fend off getting sick again.   It was not easy, and there were plenty of times when I just felt like giving up, but guess what? I made it! I passed with a C-!!! I had a C the entire year, got a D on the midterm, and barely passed the SOL with a 414, but I passed.

You might be thinking, “Cs? You’re proud of Cs?”  And to answer your question, I must honestly say absolutely.  After getting test after test back with grades varying from 70 to 20 (the only section I passed last year was Logarithms, which we barely spent any time on and were so easy), I was ready to give up.  Practically all of third and fourth quarter, I was positive I was going to fail.  You have no idea how absolutely relieved I was that I passed with a C.  It probably is one of my biggest accomplishments (and I’ve won Rockband in a day along with being named captain of my basketball team, so yeah, it was a big deal).

            So, I’m going to tell you this straight up, and I’m not going to baby you, or sugar coat it: If you want to pass, it is not Mrs. R’s responsibility or your parents, it is yours.  It is your sole responsibility to decide that you are not going to take anything less than a C (or A or B), that you need help, that you need to figure out a way to get help, and actually benefit from it.  No one can make you do it.  You have to want to do it.

You already have the biggest advantage possible: Mrs. R is your teacher!  Mrs. R is the best math teacher I’ve ever had.  She’ll give you points if you try on a quiz.  You don’t have to get the right answer, but if you try and put some work down, you’ll get one or two points, which can make a big difference.  She always has bonus questions, so be sure to take advantage of them!  She is very patient, she gets to the school early so you can review in the mornings if you are unable to stay after school, and she is willing to do things step by step until you get it.

The key to getting the most out of any teacher is asking questions.  No question is dumb, especially in math.  If you are confused about what a term means, ask.  If you don’t understand a step, ask if they could repeat it.  If you forgot how to do something (which is very understandable, you do a lot as a student!), ask for a refresher.  The only way to get anywhere, when you don’t know where you are, is to ask for directions.

There are also numerous other resources for you when Mrs. R isn’t around.  Google is very helpful!  There are many people who struggle with algebra and there are even more people who get algebra and are nice enough to make videos or websites dedicated to helping those who don’t. is very useful if you like watching someone figure out a problem.  Just search the topic that you are studying and there are sure to be several videos explaining it and solving similar problems.  Khan Academy even has practice problems you can solve and you receive points for getting answers right and you unlock achievements!  That makes it slightly more interesting, right?

Once you make it through this class, Functions/Trig will be a piece of cake!  All you have to do is pay attention in class, be sure to do the homework (even if it’s optional!), and memorize a few rules, formulas, and graphs. Here’s a tip for memorization: write.  Just write what you need to remember the night before a quiz several times.  Review that before the quiz and immediately write it down once you get your paper.  Trust me, it helps!  Writing something a lot basically burns it into your mind and then you never forget it!  It’s awesome!

Don’t give up.  As long as you try, no one can fault you.  Algebra is hard!  Hard, but manageable.  Always remember that you are smarter than you think and always try.  Trying makes things so much easier.

Good luck and don’t stress!  It’ll be fine.

I love this letter! It makes me proud of Jane for realizing what she had to do to succeed and being able to put it on paper.

So, I gave a copy of this letter out to 10 or so struggling Algebra 2/Trig students in February. Most actually acknowledged and thanked me for it (really they should thank Jane). Jane did sign her name, and some knew her. I never heard if any actually spoke to her about it. Of those 10, the majority did indeed pass, some barely. Did Jane’s letter make a difference? I know so for one, I hope so for the rest.

May we all have a “Jane”!


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