5 Smart Ways to Handle Teacher Troubles
Is it the teacher -- or is it your kid? How to find out why your child's unhappy at school
Step 4: Play Tattletale
No one wants to go to the principal's office, and that includes parents, but if you've raised your concerns with the teacher several times and you feel she isn't doing her best to resolve the problem, you have a choice to make: You can decide to turn the unpleasant situation into a "sometimes life sucks, kiddo" learning opportunity for your child, or you can go over the teacher's head. The first tactic, while perhaps not as just as the second, might ultimately be what's best for your kid. "The truth is, most kids will do fine" even if they don't like their teacher, says Etheredge. Ask yourself, is she learning what she needs to be?
This is what happened to Christine Klepacz of Bethesda, MD. Her tween daughter's teacher was strict and not very nurturing. To help get Alysia through the year, Klepacz told her that even though the teacher had a different personality than she was used to, she was academically challenging, and Alysia was meeting the challenge. It was a good lesson: Alysia learned she could work with all types of people.
But if, like Goldberg, you feel that what's going on in the classroom is turning your child off to school, by all means, speak to the principal or whoever is next on the school food chain. Tell the principal the steps you've already taken, and "keep bringing it back to the child's perceptions," says Etheredge. "Your attitude is still, we all want her to have the best year possible." Explain how you've tried waiting and discussing it with the teacher, but what's going on is interfering with your child's education. Depending on the principal's style, she either will arrange for you to have another conversation with the teacher or will speak with him herself. In Goldberg's case, the principal admitted to her privately that the teacher was a poor choice and promised the parents in that class that the following year their kids would get an excellent teacher, which they did.
When things reach this point, of course, you may not exactly be the teacher's pet parent, which may cause problems for your child. But if it's something important, as in Goldberg's case, advocating for your child is more crucial than being labeled the annoying mom.
Step 5: Play Hardball
If you suspect the teacher is taking her frustrations out on your child, especially after you speak to the principal, that's the time to make it clear to the principal, firmly and calmly, that you're not going away. As a last resort, request a change of classroom. Schools are very reluctant to do that, says Etheredge, but may if a child is truly suffering and the situation is unlikely to change. After much persistence, Harrison was ultimately moved out of his second-grade class and was much happier (and got better grades) with his new teacher. Still, Black saw a similar pattern developing with her second son, and moved both boys to a new school. "If you do nothing but defend your child and don't investigate the issues, you are not helping matters," she says. "But if a problem is repeated year after year and you've done what you need to do with your child, you know it's the school." At this point, both her sons are thriving at their new school -- and that makes all the difference in the world.
Stephanie Dolgoff is Parenting's editor-at-large.
Parenting and Georgetown University has teamed up to launch Mom Congress, a brand-new program to help moms connect and advocate for positive change in their children's education.
Join the Mom Congress initiative