Numerous studies and research about how to close the achievement gap between minority students and white students in America have shown that the answer is a complex one with many variables. A recent summary on the Science Daily website describes the findings of a University of Pennsylvania doctoral candidate, Jessica McCrory Calarco, in her paper, “’I Need Help!’ Social Class and Children’s Help-Seeking in Elementary School.”
For three years, Calarco followed a group of students from the third to the fifth grade by observing them regularly in school and interviewing their teachers, parents, and the students. While it is known that middle class parents often have more resources available for their children than working-class parents do, Calarco’s study focused on the way that middle class children created their own advantages in school.
The study found “that middle-class children regularly approached teachers with questions and requests and were much more proactive and asserting in asking for help.” Those children did not wait for the teacher to come to them; they called out for help even if it meant interrupting the teacher to do so. Working-class children usually did not ask for help, and when they did, it was “only as a last resort.” If the working-class students did ask for help, they were less obvious about it by doing things like hanging back or sitting with their hands raised as they waited to be noticed by the teacher.
Calarco pointed out that middle-class parents usually have trained their children to ask for help if they are having difficulty. Middle-class parents deliberately coach their children “on the language and strategies to use in making these requests.” She acknowledged that teachers don’t mean to favor the middle-class students over the working-class students, but it is natural for them to respond to these more proactive learners.
All parents should be deliberate about coaching their children in how to seek help from their teachers.