Teacher Terror and How to Handle It

by on March 7th, 2015
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Your child claims she’s a witch, a space alien, and a child-eating monster. They come home telling elaborate tales of blatant favoritism, imagined misdeeds, and gross misconduct. They’ve just met their new teacher, and they don’t like her. At all. How is a parent to sort out fact from fiction and make sure their child’s teacher is up to snuff?

School is scary enough for kids these days. Bullying, metal detectors, budget cuts and school-related violence weigh heavily on the minds of even the youngest students. Teachers should be the safe haven in all the chaos, a strong authority figure who can be trusted to do the right thing, an example for their students. The vast majority of teachers fit the mold perfectly. And, some do not.

It’s natural for us to want to defend our children against any perceived “evils.” It’s also important to remember that Little Susie wouldn’t be the first child to complain that her new teacher “hates” her, and Darling Billy isn’t above telling you that he got a bad grade on the spelling test because “Mrs. Smith only gives out good grades to girls.” So before we fly off the handle and march down to the school demanding blood, we need to do our homework.

Kids complain about teachers. It’s a truth as old as time. But when the complaining becomes incessant, when things don’t seem to add up, or when your child seems genuinely anxious and upset before or after school, it may be time to act.

The first step is to request a conference with the teacher. It may be hard to remain neutral in the face of the enemy, but do your best. Explain that you have some concerns about your child, and cite specific details. “Susie said that you kept her in from recess on Friday afternoon. Can you explain why?” Get a feel for the teacher’s communication style and watch the body language, as it may tell you far more than words could. Be open to anything they say, even if it’s not what you want to hear. Susie may be a perfect angel at home, but school is a whole different ballgame.

Communication is the key in any relationship, and the parent-teacher connection is no different. Chances are, after a single meeting, everything will become clear, and you can go home and assure your child that Mrs. Smith does not hate them, is not a space alien, and really just wants them to pay attention in class. This solves the problem the vast majority of the time.

In rare cases, however, the problems may continue. They may even get worse. Your child’s grades may suffer, or you may get more frequent calls from the school regarding their behavior. The teacher may even refuse to communicate with you altogether. At this point, it’s time to call in the big guns – the principal.

When meeting with the principal, it is important to stick to the facts. “Mrs. Smith hates Billy” is dramatic and attention-getting, but “Billy seems to be very unhappy in Mrs. Smith’s classroom, and she often keeps him after school without telling me why” is much more powerful. Ask for help in finding a solution. Cite dates and times. Give as much information as possible. Show that you are an involved parent and are ready to work toward a resolution.

Give it some time. Things may not get better all at once. There should, however, be some signs of improvement fairly soon. If things change, great! You’ve navigated the world of not-so-good teachers like a pro. Susie and Billy are happy again, and no longer break out in hives on Monday mornings.

If things do not improve, it may be time for a different teacher. Speak to the principal or the school district about the possibility of having your child placed in another classroom. Changing teachers in the middle of the year is not ideal, but if it saves your sanity and offers your child peace of mind, it may be worth it in the long run.

Teachers are people too, as deserving of respect as anyone else. It’s not an easy profession, but it is an important one. When teacher and student clash, however, prompt attention is required to ensure that everyone has the best year possible.

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