Bad grades are not always a sign that something is miserably wrong, but they can be an indication of a problem when not expected, so it pays to investigate. It's best to contact the teacher to learn her perception of the grade in question. Taking appropriate measures to inquire may prevent future unpleasant grades and could reveal an opportunity to replace or improve a low grade before a grade report is posted.
Avoid negative reactions to a bad grade. Emotional reactions increase tension, whereas calm responses and inquiries create an environment of sound and effective communication. Most teachers see value in discussing grades with their students because it provides an opportunity to learn more about how each student learns. Additionally, questions regarding what you can do to improve may lead the teacher to reflect on assignment details that need clarification to improve upon her instruction in the future. Finally, embarrassment over a low grade serves no purpose. Approach the teacher confidently with questions about how to correct or improve the grade and how to avoid mistakes on upcoming assignments. Teachers who care about their students’ success expect to respond to inquiries about grades as part of their job.
Contact the Teacher
Determine the best means for contacting the teacher. Email correspondence may be most effective, since phone messages rely on a third party, and attempting to address a teacher in passing is rarely beneficial. Invite the teacher’s perception of the bad grade, ask her to suggest reasons for the grade and, if necessary, request a time to meet to discuss your concerns. Realize that you may need to remain patient, as teachers wear many hats and interact with a large number of others daily. Better results will surface when she has time to reflect on the assignment while preparing her response and can focus solely on your concerns and questions.
Meeting With the Teacher
When meeting with a teacher, avoid approaching the conference thinking she is wrong. Respectfully request that she suggest possible reasons as to why the grade surfaced along with potential solutions for improvement in the future. Ask if you can resubmit the assignment with revisions, but be prepared for honest feedback and be ready to do the hard work necessary to earn an improved grade. If a redo is not an option, you may learn of extra credit opportunities to help ease the effect of the low grade. However, you may have to realize that preventing poor grades in the future depends upon changes to your own study habits. Regardless of the meeting’s outcome, you will have established a means for discussing your progress, which may prove more valuable than a single grade in the long run.
Once you've established a good rapport with a teacher, stay in contact. Teachers appreciate knowing that students are cognizant of their responsibilities, and most take time to consider student feedback. Additionally, teachers will remember, and recommend highly when asked, the student who accepted responsibility for his own academic success.
A graduate of West Virginia University, Kristine Alvarez has a career that spans more than 19 years within the fields of advanced placement English, advanced reading, gifted education and time as an adjunct professor teaching composition and research-based writing at WVU. Currently, she teaches English at Morgantown High School in Monongalia County.