Advocating for your child
Dealing with a mean teacher
Granted, children are not always reliable narrators. So you don't have to panic if your 6-year-old comes home and announces that her teacher hates her.
But once in a while, you may encounter a teacher who does harbor some unexplained anger toward your child. What's the right response?
It's the fifth night in a row your fourth grader returns home in tears, extra homework in tow, and convinced that his teacher hates him. At first, you brush aside his concerns, but when you start listening closely, you have to admit that it does sound like the teacher might just be a little bit… unfriendly. Before the situation spirals out of control, you need to take action. Here's what to do.
Reassure your child
"Don't give your child license to stop listening."
Start by letting your child know that no matter what the teacher thinks, you love him, and you believe in him — and his ability. Let your child know that you will speak to the teacher, but be careful that you don't take sides yet. Don't give your child license to stop listening to the teacher or worse, to tell her off. Just let him know you have his back, and you'll get to the bottom of things quickly.
As soon as possible — but absolutely by the end of the next school day — call or email the teacher at work and let her know you'd like a meeting at her earliest convenience. You can suggest several times that work for you, and ask her to do the same. Aim for an in-person meeting, but if a phone call is the only way both of you can connect, so be it. Be polite and friendly, but firm.
If you get no response within two school days, leave a message with the school's main office. Still no call back? Call the principal and give the facts: You called, you called again, and it's been almost a week. You want a meeting tomorrow at 8 a.m., and you want the principal and the teacher in the room.
At the meeting
When meeting day arrives, don't go in guns blazing. Rather, you can aim to establish rapport with an opener like, "I know my child may not always be the most reliable narrator, so I thought you and I should speak to get the story straight." Let her present her side of the story, and then follow up with specific details: "Jake thinks you hate him and that's why you assigned him the extra math work."
Ask as many questions as you need to in order to understand exactly what's going on with the teacher and your child. And share as much information as you can. To the extent possible, think of yourself, your child, and the teacher on the same side, facing the problem together, rather than casting one of you as the problem itself.
Make a plan of action
Together with your child's teacher, make a plan of action. The most important step: Define what success looks like. That's different in every case.
"Do not leave the meeting without a plan of action in place."
For one child, it could be: "Adam will not talk out of turn and will stay in his seat, and Mrs. Jones will put a note in Adam's planner when he follows the class rules." For another, it might be: "Julie will write her homework in her planner each day. Mrs. Smith will initial the homework, and Mom will sign it every night."
Do not leave the meeting without a plan of action in place. And if the plan isn't put into writing on the spot, get the teacher's email address and send her a copy of the plan by the end of the next day.
After the meeting, send a brief email to thank the teacher for her time and her commitment to your child. And stay on top of the situation by following up regularly.
And if you leave the meeting with the feeling that no matter what, this teacher is predisposed to dislike your child? Don't settle. Go to the principal, and take steps to ensure your child will be in a safe, nurturing environment. Consider switching classes, if possible, but only as a last resort. Your child will encounter people who don't like him in life. It's best to learn tools for handling it effectively.
Read more on dealing with teachers