Over the course of a long educational career, your child is probably going to get at least one teacher she really doesn’t like. And she’ll very likely insist the teacher hated her first.
Maybe her teacher calls on her when she clearly doesn’t know the answer and embarrasses her. Maybe she marks up your child’s papers with copious amounts of red ink and encourages her to change her writing style. Or maybe the teacher just doesn’t lavish attention on her the way she does on other students. C’mon, your daughter says, would it kill her to write “Good job!” on my paper? Just once?
What’s a parent to do?
Here’s what not to do, says Cynthia Ulrich Tobias, author of I Hate School: How To Help Your Child Love Learning and other education books. First, don’t hand the teacher a book—even one by Tobias—and demand she read it. “That’s not how you approach a teacher,” says Tobias, who once gathered 100 educators to discuss how parents should approach them without them feeling defensive.
Second, don’t ambush the teacher at the parent-teacher conference with complaints about how she treats your child. Instead, if your child has a big problem with the teacher and can’t resolve it himself, try building a relationship with the teacher based on respect and trust. Once you have a relationship, you will be in a better position to get the teacher’s cooperation in creating a better learning environment for your child.
Here are some other ideas for helping your child deal with a teacher he doesn’t like:
The best way to begin a conversation with a teacher about a problem is with “What can I do?” This approach shows the teacher you don’t expect him to fix the problem alone, Tobias says.
Shift responsibility to your child by helping your child find ways to approach her teacher without alienating her. For example, your child could say “I’m having a hard time concentrating because it’s too noisy. What can I do?”
Remind your child that he’ll have many teachers in his lifetime and that not all of them will jibe with his learning style. “You’re not always going to find a teacher who teaches exactly the way you learn,” Tobias says, noting that it’s a valuable life lesson.
Remember that your child’s teacher is much more likely to respond to a concern if you have already established a relationship with her and have a history of being an involved parent.
Even when you are furious at your child’s teacher, treat her with respect. “They’ll treat your child as well as you treat them,” says Tobias, who was a classroom teacher for many years and also sat on the other side as a parent of twin boys.
Recognize that teacher-child clashes often represent differences in personality style. Children who need structure and predictability may not get along with a freeform teacher who goes with the flow. And the free-spirited child may react negatively to a teacher who sets firm boundaries and adheres to a list of strict rules. Try to convince your child she can learn from someone who has a different style.
When your child says her teacher doesn’t like her, ask for specific examples. Then you can determine whether she is exaggerating the conflict or whether a problem really exists.
Role-play with your child so she’ll feel more comfortable talking to her teacher about the problems she’s having. For example, if she thinks the teacher embarrasses her by calling on her when she doesn’t know the answer, practice talking it over with the teacher. Have your child play herself as well as the teacher.
Work with the chain of command: First talk to the teacher, then the principal, then the superintendent, and then your elected board member. Going straight to the school board with your complaint will not help.
Resist the temptation to request a reassignment if at all possible. Instead, ask the principal for “a little insight” into why she chose a particular teacher for your child, says Tobias. She admits that her sons were often assigned teachers she wouldn’t have chosen. But the principal turned out to be right.
When your child hates her teacher and is convinced the teacher hates her, it can make for a long, miserable year for everyone. By working with your child to try to resolve the issue, you show her you care about her feelings and are truly in her corner, even when she’s at school—and you help her gain valuable interpersonal skills that will serve her for a lifetime.