When my son came home from elementary school and told me his teacher "hated" him, I was naturally concerned — but also skeptical. I assumed they had just gotten off on the wrong foot and urged him to give his teacher another chance. Unfortunately, with each school day, my son’s feelings of frustration intensified. It turned out to be a long, difficult year, but ultimately, both my son and I learned a lot. Not every student and teacher will click, but there are ways to improve the situation for your child.
Eileen Kennedy-Moore, child psychologist and author of several books, including Growing Friendships: A Kids' Guide to Making and Keeping Friends, says, "When a kid complains, 'My teacher hates me!' it could mean anything. While it's possible that the teacher is truly harsh and hateful, other explanations are more likely. Maybe the teacher's communication style is louder or more energetic than what your child is used to. Or perhaps your child feels embarrassed about getting scolded for misbehavior or feels overwhelmed by schoolwork."
I asked my son to give me specific examples of why he felt his teacher disliked him. “It's important not to contradict or argue with your child's statement," says Kennedy-Moore. "Do acknowledge your child's reaction without leaping to blame the teacher. You could say, ‘Sounds like you had a rough day’ or ‘This year's teacher seems very different from last year's.'"
Once I understood my son’s perception of what was going on in the classroom, I reached out to a few parents to see if their children were expressing the same concerns as my son. It turned out some of them were, which confirmed that the teacher wasn’t singling my son out. This provided him with some comfort; he wasn't alone.
I wanted my son to advocate for himself, so I contacted the teacher and set up a meeting between the three of us. "Including your child in the conversation can be empowering for kids," advises Kennedy-Moore. "It's a chance for your child to feel heard and to be part of working things out. Solutions involving your child are more likely to be effective."
Prior to the meeting, I coached my son on how to speak respectfully to the teacher while addressing his concerns. He handled himself beautifully, using “I” statements and remaining polite throughout the conversation. "It is important to remind your child that the teacher is the boss of the classroom," says Kennedy-Moore. "Keep in mind that this type of conversation can feel threatening to teachers. Work hard to keep the tone constructive, non-blaming and focused on moving forward."
Unfortunately, the teacher was not receptive at our meeting, and her response gave me a better understanding of what my son was dealing with on a daily basis. My husband and I contemplated taking our concerns to the principal. “If your child is in physical danger you need to step in for safety," says Kennedy-Moore. "If conversations with the teacher haven't worked, it may make sense to push the issue higher, but tread carefully. If the principal can't or won't do anything about the situation, the teacher could become even less inclined to try to work things out with your child."
We chose not to involve the principal, and instead came up with a game plan to get my son through the rest of the school year. We stressed to him he had to continue to do his best work — his teacher not liking him wasn't an excuse to give up or slacking off. Instead, he needed to complete his assignments, be respectful of the teacher and follow the school rules.
Even though we couldn’t fix the problem for him, my husband and I let our son know we were there to support him. He could come to us at any time, and we would always listen to his concerns. We also filled his after-school schedule with self-esteem-boosting activities he enjoyed, such as playing sports, playdates with friends and fun family events.
Throughout the school year, I kept a notebook of incidents, a way of documenting specific examples of the teacher’s behavior. It also gave my son an opportunity to vent his feelings. When the school year was over, I set up a meeting with the principal and provided concrete examples to back up my concerns about this teacher. Both my son and I felt better knowing that we tried to make the situation better for students that were assigned to her in the future. However, the teacher retired the following year.
While I do wish my son had never gone through this experience, both he and I learned a lot of valuable lessons. I'm happy he was able to confide in me and that we worked together as a team to develop coping skills. Dealing with this adverse experience actually helped him to gain confidence as a student and to increase his appreciation of the teachers he has had since — who have liked him!
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