Thursday, September 05, 2013

Unhappy with Child's Teacher

Charlie took the time to write a thoughtful thread about governance in our district, which is a real and serious problem.

But it's the day after the first day of school and one parent had an important question about her child's teacher.   I certainly can understand the problem because I've seen it myself.

I deleted the comment and all the ones that followed it but I'm going to post them here. But this will be the last time that I do this because we have rules about hijacking threads.  It makes it VERY hard for others, who come along later, to find information if threads are not on the topic they are labelled.  You are welcome to e-mail Charlie or me with your issue and request a thread.  Or wait for the Tuesday or Friday Open Thread.

Do not hijack a thread unless there is breaking news. 

To the issue:
 I don't know where else to post this .. So here it goes:
My son just started second grade, and when being asked about his first day, said that the teacher screamed a lot, they didn't get to go to recess, did " boring " stuff.. This teacher, even though she is clearly an older teacher, is new to our school. She seemed pretty disorganized to me with nothing being ready on the first day of school.but I was ready to give her the benefit of the doubt ...until we learned that she had been asked to leave her previous school, a SPS too , because of her behavior: screaming, intimidation, were pretty bad!. I obviously don't want my son, or any other kid, to have to endure her for the whole year.
I'm waiting to hear back from the principal, as I asked that my son be moved to another class, but what are our other options? How come this teacher is still allowed to teach when she has been asked to leave before ?? What can we do ?
Thanks a lot,



Melissa Westbrook said...

My experience is that the school nor the district will do anything for a while. You and other families will have to raise holy hell. send in a voice recorder with you child, take pictures to actively show the district, board members, the Supe what the heck is going on. You will have to fight like mad while your child endures this. My thought, check out another school even a private school. This is SPS.

Long Gone

Melissa Westbrook said...

We are even more suprised that, until now, my son really had only excellent teachers at this school!
My husband actually suggested that , if our son is not being moved, he will go to class with a phone to record the whole day.. I thought that was crazy, and hope we won't have to get there, but who knows? I'm even more upset that we are a high poverty school wit a lot of parents who don't speak English or don't know how to advocate for their kids and play the system, and they are the one who are gonna get the short end of the stick..


Melissa Westbrook said...


the minority of teachers in SPS are like the one your child currently has. But when you get one watch out. You are basically stuck and need to behave aggressively to get things right. after so many years I personally am tired of the fight.

Long gone

Melissa Westbrook said...

This may not help in your situation, but here is what worked at our elementary. We had a problem at our school with a music teacher -- so not someone there all the time. The music teachers come in once a week. Kids reported yelling, belittling, etc. A parent observed the teacher and said it seemed like the person was at the end of his rope trying to deal with classroom management. So we set up a team of volunteers to be helpers in the person's classroom. Parents took the roll and basically did every task they could that was not teaching -- helped kids who lacked materials, gave out bathroom passes, moved chairs around, told kids to be quiet and pay attention, etc. That left the teacher to ONLY teach. It worked well, and actually the teacher turned out to be quite good at the teaching portion when help was available for the other stuff. It would be different with a full-day classroom teacher, but maybe intensive parent support could help this teacher succeed, too. At the very least the parents would witness bad behavior or prevent it just by being there.


Melissa Westbrook said...

BDesesperate, 5the first thing you need to do is take this to the principal. You will get no help from the higher ups (Board, Exec Directors, etc.) if you don't start in the school first. If all of your other teachers are great, the principal is likely pretty good. I would go in early and often to meet with the principal and ask that the situation be dealt with. As soon as you get home, document that meeting in an email to the principal, including any actions the principal promised. You might also ask for a transfer to another classroom. While you're at it, be friendly even if you're gritting your teeth. Offer to help document if that's helpful to the principal. Above all, stick to the facts.

If the principal is not helpful after a few meetings, or if the situation isn't changing, start talking with the Executive Director and cc'ing him/her on your emails to the principal. It will be a long process, but doing it this way will be faster and more likely to succeed than going to the top first.

Eric B

Melissa Westbrook said...

Desperate, a serious issue but here's what I would do.

First, you need to go to the teacher - FIRST. The principal will not be happy if you go to him/her first. Ask to sit in on the class and say your son has been nervous about school, etc. An excuse to sit in. Go to the school at recess time or eat lunch with your son and observe what is happening.

THEN, let the principal know of your unhappiness and your worry of a good fit with your child AND her less-than-welcoming behavior (and this on the first day). I'll bet if your son reacted this way, other children did as well and the principal is hearing this as well.

But if it continue, tell the principal, you want your child OUT of the class. I did not press this issue enough with two of my son's teachers in high school and it did not work out well. (And, in fact, Kate Martin got dinged - for years - for standing up against one of them.)

I'm sure your son is telling the truth but as a principal famously said to parents at our school "I'll only believe half of what your child says about you, if you believe half of what he says about me."

You have to go in and observe to see what this teacher does.

I'd be interested to know where you read "reviews" of a teacher. Let us know because I'm sure other parents would like to know more about the teachers their children have.

Sometimes teachers don't fit into a school. That may be why she left her last school. How do you know the circumstances of her departure?

Charlie Mas said...

There is a process for this. Follow the process. That's how you beat a bureaucracy - fill out their paperwork and it will grind itself up.

I suggest that you call it "bullying" and tell them that you expect the same level of response that the family at The Center School got.

Anonymous said...


Likely, your son is stuck and you have no recourse other that trying to enroll in another school, or a private school. A similar situation happened to us but with a long time teacher who was not new to the building. The principal would not allow a room transfer. We could not sacrifice our child's entire 2nd grade year so we pulled him out, went private, and never looked back.

Former SSD parent

Anonymous said...

I wonder if you might want to consider having an open thread on the day after the first day of school? Or maybe a thread just on first day of school issues? I am sure there are many people waiting for Friday open thread ;o)

I know I was! In high school, at least you might have the option of switching to a different class.


Patrick said...

The above advice is good. Follow the chain of command, documenting every step, every conversation with a followup e-mail. Be polite, it's hard for the principal, executive director, etc., to side with someone who's yelling, no matter how justified. As to why the teacher was transferred instead of fired, only the teacher and the last principal know for sure. But the most likely reason is the last principal was lazy and solved their immediate problem rather than going through the process to get the teacher fired. Teachers can be fired, but it takes a process and parents like you who are willing to complain and document their complaints are vital to the process.

Anonymous said...

Patrick is right but your son still has a problem. Do you want him to endure this for an entire, impressionable year?

Love Charlie's suggestion too but again, how long will your son be able to take the hostile atmosphere?

Also, re: secretly recording the class. Isn't that illegal in Washington?


Maureen said...

I really appreciate the Desperate's concern about the other children in the class whose families might not have the resources to be as involved as she and her husband are. I don't appreciate the posters who are advising her to immediately switch her child to private school. She has said that the other teachers at the school have been excellent. It is really hard for a child to have a bad teacher for a year (or even part of a year) but there are ways (as Lisa pointed out) to decrease the negative impact of the teacher until the principal (with parent backup) can either improve or get rid of the teacher. Also, kids are (in general) more resilient and adaptable than we give them credit for.

(I'm also curious as to where the original poster found reviews of the teacher.)

Eric B said...

Patrick, I think it's totally within the parent's right to ask to be transferred, particularly if there are other classrooms that are not full. That solves the immediate problem for that student, but the long-term problem of the teacher still needs to be addressed. If a principal gets 25 transfer requests, they will likely have to take action.

Charlie Mas said...

Parent, I think that secretly recording the class is only illegal if the people in the classroom have a presumption of privacy. I don't think I could say if there is a presumption of privacy in a classroom.

Anonymous said...

This brings back bad memories!

It depends on your classroom make up for these advices to be effective. 1st, you need non-working parents (with child care if they have little ones) to volunteer in class on a consistent basis. You need a teacher who wants parents in the classroom. 2nd, to document effectively, you need to be able to do so in English with nuance and finesse. Try that as a non-native speaker (believe me, it takes me 3x as long and I consider myself pretty fluent. There's also a cultural barrier of not rocking the boat, the grin and bear it attitude that for me made it quite difficult to do what many here would define as advocacy.) 3rd, if you don't have other equally active parents in the same classroom, you are left pretty much on your own and that's a pretty lonely and scary place, especially if you think your child can't be moved. 4th, make a good assessment of your landscape --principal, building staff and culture along with allies (potential ones too).

I agree,first and foremost, document and see if you can talk to this teacher first. It may not be possible if the person is very defensive or unapproachable.

been there

Anonymous said...

Contact the teacher. Set up a meeting with the teacher. Then set up a meeting with Counselors and Administrators to see what can be done. Your child can be moved without making this a production and affecting other children, teachers and so forth if you elect to pursue a calm rational approach. If you simply find it a "personality conflict" then you have every reason to request removal of your student. LEAVE IT AT THAT. Mountain meet molehill. Many children DO exaggerate and interpret and translate shit utterly incorrectly. Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings but your darling is not always the darling they appear to you. Move your kid out and move on.

Just my opinion

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone for all your precious advice!
I dropped my son to his class this morning, and the teacher ask ME, the parent, what the routine was in the morning, where to pick up the kids,.. Unbelievable!
There was another mom in the room who also look completely shocked, so I m not the only one being appalled by this teaher's behavior.. And that 's when parents are there, how about when we are gone??
I used the word review, but it is actually my son , who heard her day she used to teach at another school, who then went to ask our neighbors who go to that school what they think of her.. The 3 kids had only bad things to say about her, as did the parent , who then let me know she had been asked to leave their school and was known in the whole school for yelling at kids, being mean to them..
Anyway, I tried to see the principal today but couldn't find her so I hope she will return our phone call/email very soon as my son, who is very sensitive, is not gonna be able to last long int that unhealthy environment ..I was able to talk to the counselor, who is a awesome person, and she said she would check on my son today and urged me to see the principal sooner than later..
I hope I ll be able to rally some support from the other parents , but we are a very diverse school so it is a little bit trickier to organize..
I am really feeling bad for ALL the kids in this class, and feel a little selfish to just advocate to change my son' class knowing she is still there.. This is a very diificult and sad situation.. and indeed englsh being my second language doesn't make it easier but that will not stop me!

Thanks again for all the nice advices and I hope I can let you know very soon that this infamous teacher is out of ANY classroom, ...


Patrick said...

Eric B. and Parent, you're right that only the original poster can decide if it's worth it to go through the complaint process. Even if the principal gets 25 transfer requests but none of the parents are willing to document the problem and document that it continues to be a problem after counseling the teacher, the problem remains for the next year's students.

Anonymous said...

So this is based on neighborhood gossip heresay and perhaps miscommunication due to language barriers.

Deal with your son and your son alone. This teacher and her issues can be addressed by the Administrator who can observe and effectively handle those issues.

Those are NOT your issues and you need to ratchet down the activism here we have seen this too many times..

Deal with your son and leave the rest to the Admin.

Just My Opinion

Anonymous said...

What do you mean by language barrier? Just bracause i might not write perfectly in Englsih, doesn't mean i dont understand it, thank you.
And well, of course I heard the bad reputation of the teacher through other parents.. Where else will you learn that, from the principal or the admin staff? I don't think so.. And couple of people who had the kids at that school also confirmed the unprofessional behaviors from that particular teacher..
And how is that not MY problem when my son is facing that teacher every day? Of course I m concerned , I don't know who else is gonna advocate for my son if I don't do it? Believe me, I wished I didn't have to be an "activist" as you mentioned, and that everything will be solved magically by the school, but unfortunately that s not the reality..and I don't know where you live or which schools you are talking about, but I can tell you that the schools here in the South end could certainly benefit from a little bit more of activism
Anyway, I started to write down every conversation I had with the teacher and will see where that leads..


Anonymous said...

Curious as to what school the teacher taught at before she was placed in her current position. We had a teacher at our school who sounds like this teacher ... it took numerous complaints (September - February) AND the entire class of parents demanding a meeting before the principal took us seriously. After that, the teacher was assigned a "mentor" teacher (even though she had taught 20+ yrs) for the rest of the year. She came back the next fall but was on some type of plan for improvement but didn't last the school year.

N by NW

mirmac1 said...

My child has a similar issue with her first grade teacher and i was too dumb to do anything about it.

I'm older and wiser, and have had good success talking directly to the teacher - the sooner the better - stating nicely but unequivocally your expectations with respect to no yelling, punitive actions or poor classroom management. Follow up with an email documenting the meeting and what was discussed. If you weren't pleased with his/her response in the meeting, then cc: the principal (let the teacher know you intend to do this).

I have found the teachers immediately checked themselves when confronted directly like this. Of course they might know that I can be a real pain.

RosieReader said...

The hardest and most necessary thing is to keep at it. And keep everything documented. And to the extent possible, work in concert with other concerned parents so the burden doesn't fall on you alone.

We had a disastrous teacher in high school. So the parents first emails/spoke to the teacher. When that led to nothing, we upped the ante and involved the principal and eventually the E.D. We provided constant documentation. Parents who had the time would ask to come in to observe a class, and would then share their observations with the teacher and principal asking lots of "why were you doing it that way? I couldn't figure out what you were trying to accomplish."

I can't tell you how many emails I sent that fall that weren't answered. Indeed, I never got a single response from the teacher. Eventually, after three or 4 I forwarded them all to the principal saying "I am concerned that I have tried to communicate with the teacher and he does not respond." Similarly, parents made numerous requests to the teacher to arrange a parent meeting, all of which were ignored. But we never stopped providing new evidence of incompetence to the principal and executive director. And after the winter holiday, we were ultimately rewarded with a new teacher.

It takes a lot of time, but assuming the principal is engaged, the goal can be achieved. I suspect it will be easier/faster if the teacher faced a similar situation at a previous assignment (something you can't really know, except through rumors). A new school does not erase a past bad performance record.

And whatever you do, maintain a clam and reasonable tone of voice in oral and written communications. First, it drives volatile people crazy. Second, it gives you the upper hand.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Definitely follow the chain of command, as other people have stated, and document like crazy. Write a recap of each conversation/meeting that takes place orally, and avoid any subjective words. After several conversations with the teacher, if things have not changed, set up a meeting with the principal - either with or without the teacher depending on your comfort level. Don't rely on a phone call or an email - get a face-to-face meeting. Walk into the office and ask the office manager to put you on the principal's calendar.

Be aware that there are teachers dropped into buildings with only a day or two to get a classroom set up and start teaching, and some buildings are notoriously unhelpful to newcomers, particularly involuntary transfers, thus the teacher may be legitimately confused about some of the routines that you as a parent at this building already know. Perhops you might need to share some of the knowledge that you have. But after the first week or so, that teacher should have caught on to some of the routines and expectations if they are worth their salt


Anonymous said...

We had a similar problem with a well-known bad older teacher in an otherwise good school. On the playground, when parents heard who my child had, they would look sad and say, "Oh, all the other teachers are good. Next year will be better, I promise." As if my little child should just lay back and endure... NOT. It was horrific. I would come out of volunteering shaking myself, and even had an office lady follow me one time to ask if I was okay - and I said I'd be fine, but what about the kids?

So here's what you do:
1) Observe the class. Do not take no for an answer - sign in to the office and observe/volunteer frequently. Your presence alone will help the kids and help the teacher.
2) immediately after, go to the office and report - with a dated, written note - anything wrong you saw. Ask the office to photocopy your note and give you a copy so you don't forget the date and incidents. You may need it later.
3) Give the principal one meeting. Be prepared with written notes - remember the principal is management, and they are the top of their pyramid. You're dealing with a boss here, so be prepared. At the meeting, ask for a plan of action from the principal - an aide in the class? An ass't principal there three days a week for an hour? A counselor assisting in class a few days a week?
4) If you think the principal is sincere and working on the problem - if this is a new situation at the school - then work with the principal. But keep documenting.
5) if this is a longstanding situation and/or you think the principal just wants to ignore it, email the local area's ed director. Then email the SPS ombudsman. Keep on it. Other families too.

My child's horrific teacher was forced to retire after I started publicly naming the bad teacher/school at outside community and preschool events, rather than being all hush-hush part of parent mafia; and after I pulled my child out to homeschool. (sucked for me but at least my child didn't suffer any more). Then the principal got serious and made life so miserable for the old teacher that she retired.

I sincerely hope she is not the teacher in your child's school.

Be prepared. Don't let it lag. Good luck. (That said, I have two children in SPS. We've had 8 terrific teachers and 1 bad one, so that's a pretty good result. Stick with SPS).

Signed -- Sorry

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