What do you do when your child gets the teacher nobody wants?
During my 42 years of teaching (at seven different schools), one phenomenon stayed the same: Every school had a few highly popular teachers, several mediocre ones, and one or two “Oh no, not her” individuals. What can you do if your child gets stuck with an unpopular teacher?
Start with a clean slate. The teacher’s shortcomings, whether perceived or real, may or may not affect your child. An ineffective teacher for one student can be highly effective with another.
Accentuate the positive. Instead of asking, “How was school today?” say, “Tell me one good thing that happened in school today and I’ll tell you one good thing that happened to me.” If your child doesn’t volunteer any negatives, don’t ask.
Be a good listener. If your child comes to you with a complaint, listen without interrupting. Let him tell his side of the story before you ask questions. Avoid “taking sides” or making hasty judgments.
Empathize, but don’t criticize. Validate your child’s concerns or complaints with, “That must have made you sad” (angry, embarrassed, etc.) without verbally criticizing the teacher’s motives or character. When a child hears a parent belittle the teacher, the battle lines are drawn and the war is likely to continue all year.
Brainstorm solutions. If your child’s complaint concerns a minor offense or a perceived slight, discuss the situation and together brainstorm possible solutions that might prevent or handle a repeat performance, should one occur.
Strike while the iron’s hot. If a complaint continues for more than a week or involves an issue that is hindering your child’s academic, emotional or social adjustment, you must take the next step. Schedule a meeting with the teacher.
Put your best foot forward. The initial meeting (preferably without the child) can affect the teacher-parent relationship and the teacher-student bonding for the entire year. Be gentle. Ask for the teacher’s perception of the situation and solicit her help.
Contingency plan. If the teacher’s version of a situation is dramatically different than that of your child, suggest (make that demand) a joint meeting of teacher, parent(s) and student. At this meeting listen to both your child and the teacher’s version (stated in front of the “opposition”) and then together make a joint plan for correcting the problem.
What if? In a perfect world, the teacher-parent meeting solves all problems and the parent comes away feeling great. But, our world isn’t perfect. If your opinion of the teacher remains somewhat jaded, turn it into a teaching tool. Tell your child that you don’t always agree with Mrs. Lackluster, but you will always treat her with respect, because that’s what kind and caring people do.
A final word of caution. Once the year has begun, do not ask for a different teacher. This request creates more problems than it solves.
What’s the payoff for supporting a teacher about whom you are less than enthusiastic? A child who has learned how to accept the bad, savor the good and look forward to a better fit next year.
Jacquie McTaggart, author of From the Teacher’s Desk, taught children in public elementary schools for more than 40 years.