The (Crucially Important) Art
of Self-Advocating in High School
Teachers are smart. They’re experts in the subject matter they teach, and they’ve (likely) been teaching it for a really long time. Because of their knowledge on the subject at hand, it’s often intimidating to question a grade or assignment they’ve given you... even if you’re pretty sure you have a valid point. Today, we’re talking about the importance of self-advocating: being your own supporter, speaking up, and becoming confident in the art of respectfully asking for what you need.
When it comes to self-advocating, practice makes perfect.
It can be hard to stand up for yourself! Believe me when I say that once you get used to using your voice, it gets easier every time. Like everything, self-advocating simply takes practice.
It can feel like speaking up is just whining, or even trying to start an argument. The key to self-advocating is to focus on your tone and word choice. Instead of demanding something, politely explain why you believe you need or deserve it, For example, let’s say your teacher marked an answer wrong on an exam, and you believe you should get (at least) half credit. Instead of saying, “You should give me credit for this,” say, “Would it be possible to receive full or partial credit on this? I believe that might be reasonable because _____.” In the wise words of grandparents everywhere, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” In other words… sweetness can go a long way. If you're really nervous, do some "role play" with your parents.
Offer solutions instead of just pointing out problems.
It’s easy to complain and point out problems, but that won’t win you any points. Instead of just griping about what you consider a problem, come prepared with potential solutions. Let’s say your teacher assigned you a big project, but you do not have the resources at home to complete it. Instead of telling her you simply can’t do it, offer an alternate version of the project that you would be able to complete.
Don’t be afraid to discuss personal problems or issues.
This is particularly important if you struggle with a learning difference. It can feel embarrassing or uncomfortable to discuss your personal struggles, but it’s something that all of your teachers need to know. If you need extra time on a test or a little bit of individualized help to complete an assignment, speak to your teacher privately and explain why. It’s nothing to be ashamed of – not everyone works or learns the same way, and you’re the only person who can explain exactly what YOU need.
This is not your parent’s job. Period.
High school is all about preparing for college, and your parents will not be there to help you in college. If you want points back on a test, speak up. If you need extra help, use your own voice. There is no reason to use your parents as the messenger, and your teacher will likely be much more receptive if you speak to them personally.
Parents: we know that you want to help your child, but you’re only hurting them in the long run. The sooner they get to practice self-advocating, the better.
You will not get in trouble if you speak to authority figures with RESPECT.
Let’s say you ask for points back on a test or extended time on a project and your teacher says no. If you had asked them respectfully, there is no harm done (minus not getting what you asked for!). If you approach them with an attitude and then have a temper tantrum when they say no, that can get you into hot water. At the end of the day, these people are in charge and should be treated with courtesy and respect. You need to pick your battles!
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should always blindly accept their answer if you feel like it’s unfair. Rather than throw a fit, get a second opinion from another teacher you trust, or your parents. If others agree, broach the subject with your teacher again. DON’T have someone else fight your battle.
Becoming your personal advocate and supporter is not easy, but it’s the most important role you’ll ever have – in school and in life. You’re the only one who will ALWAYS have your best interest in mind, and you’re the only one who can always speak up for what you want and what you deserve.
Finally, the last bit of wisdom I want to offer is something that I was told years ago when I was getting heated over a point I believed I deserved. My teacher politely explained, “If you’re feeling the need to raise your voice, you probably need to improve your argument.” Keep that in mind!