By Dr. Michele Borba
6 Steps to Take When Your Child and his Teacher Just Can’t Get Along
What should you do when your child doesn’t like his teacher? Should you call the principal or sit on the class? Or should you brush it off as a normal childhood grievance and move on?
You beat the back-to-school shopping blues, mastered your hectic morning routine, and haven’t had one homework headache to date. Then, just when this school year is promising to be smooth sailing, your star student comes home with the complaint all parents dread: “Mom, I hate my teacher!” (Drat! You knew things were going too well!)
So now what do you do? Ignore the problem and hope it goes away? Write a nasty note to the teacher in your child’s planner? Storm into the principal’s office to complain?
The correct answer is: “None of the above!” Instead, you have to give the problem careful consideration and think before you act in any capacity.
The negative feelings a child has about his teacher can have any number of origins. It can be anything from frustration over a bad grade on a test to a more serious situation that could potentially impede his learning. But you can’t know for sure until you follow some simple steps and do some investigating of your own.
Here are six steps that any parent should take in order to effectively address her child’s accusations about his teacher.
Step 1: Expect It
At some point, most kids are going to come home complaining that they hate their teacher. Admit it, most of us had our share of teachers we weren’t so fond of when we were growing up as well—and most of us stuck it out and eventually discovered that the teacher wasn’t so bad after all. So don’t be too alarmed when you hear those first complaints as you are pulling out of the carpool line after school. It’s completely normal for children to feel frustrated with their teachers at some point during their school years.
Just stay calm, don’t jump to any conclusions, and certainly don’t take any action before you’ve given the complaint and your child some time and careful consideration.
Your best initial response in this situation is to be calm, to listen to his complaints and be reassuring. Then remind yourself to tune into to your child a bit closer over the next few days to see if the problem goes away or sticks around. If the complaints disappear- great! If not, then its time to take the next step and form a plan for resolving whatever issue is as hand.
Step 2: Don’t Fly Off the Handle
Don’t be too quick to call the principal and demand that your child be reassigned a new teacher. Doing so only sends your kid the message that you are going swoop in and solve every little problem for her – and she does need to learn how to get along with all kinds of people. Be careful not to badmouth the teacher in front of your child. If the problem miraculously disappears within a day or two, you will run the risk of tainting her view for the rest of the year.
Step 3: Get to the Heart of the Matter
So your child has come home and told you that he hates his teacher. But what does he really mean when he says that? Getting to the root of the complaint is paramount to you finding a solution. Asking your child “Why” questions will typically reveal little in your quest, so pose “What” queries instead.
When you sit down with your child, ask him the following: “What does your teacher do that concerns you?” “What have you tried to make this work?” “What could your teacher do to make it better?” “What do the kids who are happy with the teacher say about her?” The answers to these questions will help you to figure out if this is your child’s problem or an issue with the teacher’s style or personality.
Getting to the heart of the issue is the only way you can begin to solve it effectively. Is this a personality conflict with the teacher in which your child feels the teacher is unfair or too strict? Or is your kid concerned he won’t succeed because of his teacher’s expectations? It could be that it’s not really an issue with the teacher at all, but instead a reflection of other problems your child is experiencing at school.
For instance, if he is having trouble making friends, is being bullied, or has a learning problem, he may be channeling that frustration into a problem with her teacher. Once you know the real issue you’ll be able to create solutions.
Step 4: Get Perspective from Parents and Peers
When your child comes to you with a problem, its natural to want to take her word for it so that you can swoop in and make it better as soon as possible. However, a good indicator into what’s really going on in your child’s classroom is how other students and parents feel about the teacher. Before you take your kid at face value, or brush him off completely, talk to some of the other parents to see if their children have expressed similar concerns.
At their next play date, ask your child’s friends what they think about their teacher. If what you hear is in line with the complaints you’ve been hearing at home, then it may be time to take action. If not, then it may call for a little more investigation before you stage a teacher takeover.
Listen to your child’s friends and their parents to get their take. Go to open house night at the school and listen to the teacher’s expectations and watch her style so that you can get a feel for how she may interact with the students and run her classroom.
You can even plant yourself outside the classroom door as a ploy that you’re picking your child up early so that you can watch how they relate to one another. It’s important that you don’t just jump to conclusions-and into action- before you get the story from all sides.
Step 5: Make a Date with the Teacher
If the complaints last at least a week then it may be time to set up a conference with the teacher. Of course, or if you see a sudden change in your child’s behavior: he becomes more anxious and clingy, has trouble sleeping, is in emotional or physical distress, or starts refusing to go to school, call for a conference, ASAP.
And while confronting the situation head-on probably isn’t on the top of your list of things you’re looking forward to-don’t wait. The best approach is to use caution and listen to the teacher’s side. Begin the meeting positively by briefly describing the problem and sticking to the facts as you know them. Once you’ve laid it out on the line, ask the teacher what the two of you can do to solve the problem. Letting her know that you are willing to work with her, and not against her, will go a long way towards garnering results. Remember, kids do act differently in different situations.
If your child is older, then it might be helpful for him attend the meeting with you and that you let him do the speaking. Explain to the teacher that you are there to support your child but that he needs to try and work things out on his own. Once there, watch the teacher’s interaction with your child. Are you catching positive vibes and a genuine concern? Is your child more anxious or relaxed? The goal in the meeting is to see if your child and teacher are able to talk through their differences and come up with a positive solution.
And do let your child know he may not be able to transfer classes before you go into the meeting. Its important that he understands a positive resolution with that particular teacher is the best solution, in the likely event that he will remain in the same classroom for the rest of the school year. Much will depend of the dynamics of the situation, but if your child has had a pattern of expecting to be bailed out-and you’ve complied-refrain!
Step 6: Take Your Issue To the Higher-Ups
If you have exhausted all the other options and things continue to be tens then its time for you to involve someone from the school’s chain of command. Whether it’s the principal, vice principal, or your child’s guidance counselor, it’s important that you get someone involved that is in a position to address your concerns about the teacher with some action.
When you meet with them, make sure you remain calm and tell your side of the story from a factual point of view. It may also be helpful to have a written record of the complaint and any steps or actions (like the previous teacher conference) that you have taken up to that time.
If you find yourself in a situation that is continuing to decline, then its time to involve a third party.
If things continue to be tense despite the meeting, if the teacher refuses to meet with you or if your child’s behavior or learning begins to slide set up a meeting with principal or counselor immediately. Keep in mind that you may still end up having to switch schools but a positive learning experience is crucial for your child’s education. In the end, you just want to find the solution that provides the safest, healthiest environment for your child to learn and grow.
Like any other parenting problem, the key to solving this one is patience.
In most cases, our children are spending their days with qualified educators who will help them to grow and prosper as the school year progresses. If there truly is a problem that needs to be solved, it will benefit both you and your child if you handle it in a calm, respectful way that isn’t accusatory or attacking. After all, you are your child’s teacher outside of the classroom…so always keep in mind that those little eyes will be watching!
Michele Borba, Ed.D., is an educational psychologist, former teacher, and mom. She is recognized for offering research-driven advice culled from a career of working with over one million parents, educators, and children. A frequent Today show contributor and recipient of the National Educator Award, Michele is the author of 22 books including Building Moral Intelligence, No More Misbehavin’, and The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries.