School Problems: "My teacher hates me!"
A grade-by-grade guide to dealing with "bad" teachers
When a child dislikes a teacher — or feels disliked by one — school becomes a daily struggle. Just ask Constance Zimmer. Her stepson Harrison, now a happy 4th-grader, got off on the wrong foot with his 1st-grade teacher. “He felt picked on and singled out,” she recalls. “He began to act out in class and refused to participate in projects and assignments.”
Fortunately, teacher-student traumas are often highly fixable. Read on for ways to smooth the bumps and enjoy a better school year.
Preschool years: Slow and steady
If a preschooler appears to dislike a teacher, parents should wait to hastily
request a switch of classrooms or even schools, warns longtime early childhood educator and Monday Morning Leadership for Kids co-author Evelyn Addis. When a child chafes at the beginning of preschool, she may be having a negative response to the overwhelming experience of school rather than to a specific teacher. “Allow a period of adjustment for your child in any new classroom setting,” says Addis. “It takes time for classes to come together as a group.”
Most preschools welcome parents to observe a child’s classroom in action, particularly when a concern arises. But beware: A short classroom observation doesn’t present a true picture of an entire instructional day, and a parent’s presence can alter a child’s behavior. If complaints about a teacher persist, document your concerns and set up a conference. Brainstorm a plan for addressing the problem areas, along with a plan for daily or weekly communication to monitor the situation, advises Addis.
Click through for advice for grade- and middle-schoolers.
Grade-school years: Detective duty
When a grade-schooler complains about a super-strict teacher, don’t impulsively call the principal or file a complaint, says child and adolescent psychologist Kristen Wynns, PhD. Instead, go into detective mode: Gather and log information about the conflict. After a few weeks of documenting the problem, request a meeting with the teacher to get her side of the story and talk about a solution before you consider alternative options, like changing classrooms. (Read up on eight easy ways to make the most of your parent-teacher conference here.)
Sometimes, there’s more to the “mean teacher” situation than meets the eye. Zimmer’s stepson Harrison felt targeted by his teacher, but it turned out that his issues were being caused by an undiagnosed attention deficit disorder. “Once the problem was treated, Harrison made progress in leaps and bounds, realizing that it wasn’t a matter of the teacher not liking him but his own perceptions about his lack of progress in school,” Zimmer says.
Teen years: Obstacle course
Most teens will run into a teacher conflict at some point, says Wynns. “Any parent knows if you go to school long enough, it’s inevitable you’ll have that ‘really mean’ or demanding teacher.” While those experiences aren’t always fun, they can teach teens valuable lessons about dealing with difficult people, she notes.
After ensuring that the class in question isn’t too easy or too advanced for the teen’s academic abilities, Wynns advises parents to avoid automatically “rescuing” kids who find themselves in a tough spot with a teacher. When parents encourage their kids to continue in the class instead of granting them the easy way out (ie, dropping the course), they convey a strong message of confidence, says Wynns. Students who see that their parents believe they can handle a tricky situation will often rise to the occasion.
Malia Jacobson is a nationally published freelance writer and mom. Her most recent book is Sleep Tight, Every Night.