When a child dislikes a teacher – or feels disliked by one – school becomes a daily struggle. Just ask Constance Zimmer. Her step-son, Harrison, now a happy fourth grader, got off on the wrong foot with his first-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 for a better school year.
Preschool Years: Three to Five
Slow and steady – When a preschooler appears to dislike a teacher, long-time early childhood educator and co-author of Monday Morning Leadership for Kids, Evelyn Addis warns parents against jumping the gun and hastily switching classes or schools. When a child first begins preschool, they may be responding negatively to the overwhelming experience of school rather than 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 schools 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 with the teacher. Brainstorm a plan for addressing the problem areas, along with a plan for daily or weekly communication to monitor the situation, advises Addis.
Grade-School Years: Six to 12
Detective duty – When a grade-schooler complains about a super-strict teacher, don’t impulsively jump to calling the principal or filing a complaint, says child and adolescent psychologist Kristen Wynns, Ph.D., founder of Wynns Family Psychology. Instead, go into detective mode: gather information about the conflict with a log. After a few weeks of documenting the problem, request a meeting with the teacher to talk about a solution before you consider alternative options, like changing teachers. Sometimes, there’s more to the “mean teacher” situation than meets the eye. Constance Zimmer’s stepson, Harrison, felt targeted by his teacher, but it turned out that he had undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder.
“Once the problem was treated, he made progress in leaps and bounds, and realized that it wasn’t a matter of the teacher not liking him, but his own perceptions about his lack of progress in school,” says Zimmer.
Teen Years: 13 to 18
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” teens who find themselves in a tough spot with a teacher. When parents encourage teens to continue in the class instead of granting them the easy way out, (like dropping the course), it conveys a strong message about the parent’s confidence in the teen, says Wynns. Teenagers who see that a parent believes they can handle a tricky situation will often rise to the occasion.
Check out these books about teachers and students to help foster positive feeling about your child's instructor:
My New Teacher and Me! by Al Yankovic
First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg
The Best Teacher Ever by Mercer Mayer
Teacher Appreciation Day by Lynn Plourde
Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea (chapter book)
Malia is a nationally-published freelance writer and mom. Her most recent book is Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers & Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirades.
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