Q: My daughter is struggling in eighth grade taking a high school math class (Algebra). I’ve been considering getting her a tutor. Is this the best idea?

She’s a middle schooler taking a high school class. If she’s struggling, there are two likely possibilities why:

1) She isn’t working hard enough.

2) She isn’t ready for high school courses. You should contact the teacher to find out which.

If it’s that she isn’t working hard enough, a tutor would be a mistake because it will only validate her bad habits. Instead, place her on restriction, take away her phone, or provide some other reasonable consequence for not keeping up with her work.

If she’s just not ready for a high school course in middle school, what benefit is there to shoving her through it with a tutor’s help when you could easily switch her back into the appropriate math course? I can’t think of any.

I’m not saying this applies to you, but many parents are loathe to move their kids from a higher level to a lower level because it would mean surrendering to the notion that their child is simply an average child.

It’s not unusual for parents to think their child is ready for more than the average kid.

It’s in our nature to see our children as special, unique, and better than other people’s kids. The reality, however, is that most of our kids are, in fact, average. That’s kind of what average means. If everyone’s kid was a genius, then genius would be the average.

If parents can find a way to maintain their belief that their child has “special abilities” while struggling (i.e. the student just needs a little extra help, the teacher is bad, the tests are too hard), they tend to latch onto it. But doing so can actually do more harm for their child than good.

In this case, for example, forcing a tutor onto your daughter because she’s not making the grade may make her think there’s something wrong with her. She’s going to look at all the people in her class who are cruising and think, “Why am I so dumb?”

Moving her to a more appropriate placement, however, will show her that there are plenty of nice, kind, hard-working students who are just like her, and they’re not dumb at all. She’ll be in a class she can handle, and, importantly, she’ll be able to acquire foundational skills that will make her even better prepared for algebra next year when she’s both educationally and developmentally equipped to succeed in it.

Making her see a tutor might also make her hate math. Seven hours with teachers is plenty for children.

The idea of spending an extra hour with another one, doing extra work in an area that’s already giving her problems, might push her to resent the subject matter totally. In fact, it might very well push her to resent you.

The fact is that the average middle school child isn’t developmentally ready for algebra or any other high school course.

When you’re 13, the brain is still growing and developing the complexity needed to process higher level skills. Some kids are ready. Most aren’t. And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with having an average child. I would consider it a profound blessing on many levels.

Ironically--regardless of how intelligent their kids actually are--it’s the parents who assume that their children are average who seem to have the most success. Their expectations are realistic, and their children generally meet or exceed them. They tend to have warmer, more loving relationships with their children than do parents who are constantly pushing and pressuring their children to rise to their starry-eyed aspirations.

If your child truly is average, no amount of pressuring will make her developmentally superior. If she truly is special, no degree of tempering your ambitions will stop her.

Jody Stallings has been an award-winning teacher in Charleston since 1992. He has served as Charleston County Teacher of the Year, Walmart Teacher of the Year, and CEA runner-up for National Educator of the Year. He currently teaches English at Moultrie Middle School and is director of the Charleston Teacher Alliance.To submit a question or receive notification when new columns are posted, please email him at JodyLStallings@gmail.comFor easy sharing and notifications, follow Teacher to Parent on Facebook: facebook.com/teachertoparent.