Advocating for your child
Mean teacher

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.

Make contact

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.

Stay positive

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

Preparing for a parent-teacher conference
6 Questions to ask your child's teacher at conference time
Working with your kids' teachers


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Linda April 11, 2012 | 5:22 AM

I just ran across this. I am in my 60s so when I had a 3rd grade teacher who disliked me, no one including my parents did anything. I think my parents thought she "wasn't that bad" and, in any case, I had to learn to deal with "bad" people. Well they had a point but it is difficult for a kid to "deal with" an adult. I really didn't have a clear idea, then, of what was wrong, I do now - I was not her idea of a "little lady" (still an important concept in those days) - I was too intelligent and too much of a leader and too outspoken, and I didn't respect her (and no wonder). I wasn't really RAISED to be a little lady. The other thing was - I am one of those women who was full grown by the time I was 12 and had a fully woman's body then. So even at 8, I looked "different" and she didn't like that; moreover I had black hair and I think she associated that with non-Caucasian people even though I was Caucasian. Anyway I hated her back - which given my personality only made me behave worse. I did not fear her - I made up my mind that wasn't going to happen. I have trouble with basic arithmetic to this day and I think some of this is because 3rd grade really started emphasizing arithmetic and I couldn't pay much attention to this woman. By the way her definite "pet" even the other kids could see it - was a girl who did do well in school (more thru hard work though than just through being brighter than others) and she was a "mouse" when it came to dealing with the teacher and also she had lovely blonde long curls and that surely didnt hurt!!!! I know my mother did try several times (speaking to the principal) to get the school to let me skip a grade or two as she herself had done. But they claimed "I wasn't ready socially" (not that I EVER would be in the sense they meant it) and would not do this. I had to settle for clandstinely calling the local taxi service and sending a cab to that teacher's house and such like tricks

Tracy August 04, 2011 | 5:52 PM

I'm going through a situation right now where I feel that my child's teacher doesn't like her. My daughter is only 5 years old and is just starting kindergarten. When dropping my child off at school this morning the teacher yelled at my child for no reason while I was standing in the door but I don't think she knew I was standing there. I addressed the matter that morning and I told her that she was being mean to my child and she stated that wasn't the case. After leaving her class I immediately went to the asst principals office to tell them what happened and that I want my child out of her class ASAP. I was informed that she can't be moved until Monday which is two days from now. Well this evening when I got home my daughter told me she got a paddling. And I did put her on the paddling list but I would expect a phone call or a note to be sent home explaining why my child was paddled especially ON THE SECOND DAY OF SCHOOL AND HER BEING IN KINDERGARTEN!! There was nothing sent home about the paddling I had to get the story from my child and my friend's child who is in the same class as my child. I really feel that this teacher doesn't like my child. But my child will not be going back to school until she is moved out of this lady's class and I will be going to the school in the morning to confront her about paddling my child without informing me about it. Hopefully I won't get arrested lol!!

Tracee October 29, 2010 | 5:26 PM

I'm going through this right now! My daughters teacher doesn't like her. I just found this out today. But I'm one tough mama! I had a teacher who didn't like me, and would hit me and humilliate me in front of the class. Teaching is a noble profession, but all Teachers aren't noble. I'm taking my daughter out of her class ASAP!

Maggie Violet June 10, 2010 | 1:26 PM

This is a subject that hit close to home for me.I was the child that the teacher didn't like.I had a mother that was totally detached, and I had no one to stick up for me.My teacher would write in my report card, "Maggie does not participate in class."I knew she didn't like me and when I did ask for help or try and answer a question in class she would criticize and humiliate me in front of the whole class.Of course this made me not want to participate.I'll never forget one day in particular the class had just finished going over multiplication when the teacher asked if anyone wold like to go over it again. I put up my hand as did another classmate,instead of encouragement she said in a booming voice"how can we get on with things when this one(meaning me)puts up her hand"I was crushed,I just didn't know what to do.That was just one incident,there were many more.I remember thinking if I can just get through the rest of the year I won't have to deal with her anymore.Imagine my utter horror when the next school year she was to be my teacher again for grade three.The abuse continued and something in me just broke.My own mother had always told me how stupid I was and now to have this teacher basically tell me the same thing was absolutely devastating.I am almost sixty years old and this haunts me.That teacher broke something in me,I have done well in life but I really feel I could have gone much farther if I'd only had the encouragement.This feeling of being inadequate has stuck with me,I still sometimes think I'm not bright enough to do a particular thing.I know it's not true but I still have a hard time with it.I could never understand why she didn't like me and always thought it was my fault.

Lisa April 30, 2010 | 2:59 PM

our schools kindergarden teacher tapes her childrens mouth shut and then does mean little things to the children like sticking them in a file cabnet closet for hours at times, but it is okay because the principle and they have a nice system if you mess with them they will do all they can to bring you and your house into heck with the children service, and make you out to be the problem! they are bad persons in mississippi school system and it is getting worse

MaryAnne January 21, 2009 | 7:15 AM

When my son was in 4th grade, his cousin (three months older and in the same class) had told me the teacher didn't like my son. Hmmmm, why??'s the scoop. My son was one of THE most wanted to be like kids in school..everyone loved him and my house was THE house to be at...AT ALL TIMES LOL! anyway, he was extremely smart (we hadn't had him tested yet). So, he was done with everything lickety split and accurate to a 'T' all the time. She apparently didn't like this as he was also a class clown (out of boredom). So, one day....I took off of work, made it KNOWN CLEARLY I was sitting in on the class and boy, she did not like that, but I had every right to do so (ALL parents do, did you know that??). So, through her bad looks at me, everything went fine and shortly afterwards, we DID have my son tested -- turns out he was mentally too advanced! He was in the 4th grade doing 8-9th grade level capacity!!! After this, all teachers, classmates, you name it loved my son and now that he's all grown up (soon to be 22!!), everyone STILL loves him and I am so proud of him.

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