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Monday, January 04, 2010

Kids and Teachers

I saw this question in today's Times (in the Home and Garden section) about what to do if your child says he/she "hates" a teacher. I was a little surprised at the answers given. It seemed to me to sway very heavily in the teacher's favor. (The discussion seemed to be more at an elementary level than middle/high school. All of them are different areas and you can't necessarily believe the same things will work at each level.)

Some of the suggestions:
  • self-advocacy. (This from a principal.) Seriously, for an elementary school student? I would say do this but only with a parent present. That's asking a lot of a little child to go to their teacher and say something like "I don't like it when you only give us 5 minutes to do an essay."
  • personality conflicts. "I remind my children there will be teachers, coaches and ultimately co-workers and employers with whom they don't get along. Learning to coexist and, in some cases, win them over, can be among their great achievements in life." I absolutely agree with this...for middle and high school. I told my sons that in middle and high school they are bound to get at least one teacher they don't like and to do the best they can for one period a day to be respectful. Elementary students, however, have just one teacher (except for music and PE) during the day. They don't really have a lot of tools or experience to just go with the flow. Problem is, what if the teacher's personality/teaching style gets in the way of your child's learning?
  • "As the parent, find out specifics from the child for why he dislikes his teacher. Write them down. Contact the teacher, and discuss your concerns. Oftentimes, it isn't the teacher that is disliked; it may be that challenging content or expectations are what the child associates with dislike for the teacher. Teachers are typically willing to make realistic accommodations for a student's needs; if the teacher is less than receptive, contact the principal, and schedule a meeting regarding your child's needs." If you talk to your child and they say the teacher gives too much work, then maybe it could be too much work or maybe your child is struggling with the work. Fine, talk to the teacher. (More on this later in the thread.)
  • The expert advice? "Don't bad-mouth the teacher; the problem may miraculously cure itself the next day." "...pose "What" questions instead: "What does the teacher do that concerns you?" "What have you tried to make this work?" Again, to ask a small child, "what have you done to make this work" seems to expect a huge leap of maturity and understanding about resolving conflicts. In elementary school, kids are learning what it is to be a student (it's not like it just comes naturally to come to a school full of adult and children strangers and know how to act and what is expected).

    "This might be a personality conflict, or it might be masking another problem: It's possible she is dealing with separation anxiety or has a learning problem.

    If complaints persist, get perspective. Talk to other parents to see if the concerns are shared. Go to open-house night, listen to the teacher's expectations and watch her or his style."

Okay, these are good suggestions. (But again, it seems to put the ball back to the child.)
  • "Listen to the teacher's side," says Borba. "Begin positively, 'Here's what happening ...' Stick to the facts as you know them. Then ask, 'What can we do?' " In most instances, especially with an older child, Borba would suggest that a child attend the conference and do the speaking. "Explain that you are there to support your child but he needs to try to work things out with the teacher. Once there, watch the teacher's interaction with your child. Are you catching positive vibes and a genuine concern?" Again, I agree with listening to both sides however there is one key issue (see below).
Here's what my experience has told me and it's the key point. YOU are your child's advocate. Don't ever, ever forget it. The teacher is not there to be that and the principal isn't nor is the counselor. Hopefully, all those people will try to figure out the issue and it can be resolved. But none, I repeat none of them, will be in your child's corner should there be a real issue with a teacher. The principal, by the teacher's contract, has to protect the teacher and they will.

One, little incidents can color a child's viewpoint. Many times it's that the teacher either favors one kid in the class or your child perceives that the teacher "never" calls on him or "never" lets her get the fun chore. It doesn't mean the teacher is a bad person or bad teacher.

Two, you'll know if it's something deeper like separation anxiety because it will show in other areas of your life. Ask the teacher, who has seen many children over the course of a career, what he/she thinks it might be.

Now, I have liked most of my sons' teachers. In all the years my sons were in school, there was only one teacher who was phoning it in until retirement (and luckily, I think, it was kindergarten where there could be the least damage). But, remember when I mentioned above about asking the teacher for his/her opinion? Well, do take everything said with a grain of salt. Teachers are not medical professionals, either physically or mentally. I had one teacher tell me that one son needed Ritalin. She was painfully wrong on what the issue was but as she told me, "it settles kids right down." I took that to mean that it would make her life easier.

Also, middle and high school are entirely different. In elementary school, it is easy to believe that as parent and teacher and school that you are all working as a team to help your child. However, in middle and high school, you will find much more wary teachers. They have seen it all and likely believe they can define your child's problem before you can. If you ask for a simple meeting with the teacher, you will be very unlikely to get one. Nope, at that level, you will have at least a counselor or vice-principal in the room to protect the teacher's interests.

Be aware of this before you ask for a meeting; it can be very disconcerting to walk into a room expecting one person and find two or three waiting. ( And this can be just for a meeting about homework questions and not any kind of behavior issues.)

You can find even bigger problems if you believe, based on work given and discussions with other parents, that the teacher is not effective. At the middle and high school level, if you have any real doubts about the effectiveness of one of your child's teachers, get your child out of the class. One son managed to have two very ineffective teachers (in one year). My husband and I knew one seemed to be a problem but we tried, very hard, to work with the teacher as meanwhile, other parents yanked their students from his classroom. We should have done the same and when we tried, it was too late. Both teachers were exited from the school the year after my son had them. No matter what we said during that school year when my son was in their classes, the principal could only listen to our complaints and shrug.

Do not expect or believe the worst of a teacher. (Our elementary school principal, at Open House, used to say, "Glad to meet you all. I'll only believe half of what your child says about you if you believe only half what he says about me.") There are indeed personality conflicts. Most teachers have had years of experience and will, hopefully, want to work with you to smooth out problems. But you will meet, mostly in the later grades, teachers that have seen it all and believe that your child needs to change and adjust, not them. And the principals will protect them on that issue.

It's funny because between two kids, we haven't had to go and advocate a huge amount. (And, we didn't sometimes even when we might have just because we didn't want to appear to be helicopter parents.) But the times we have, in middle and high school, have been discouraging.

You have to be your child's advocate. No one else is going to be.

3 comments:

Maureen said...

"your child perceives that the teacher "never" calls on him "

This one made me smile! In 1st grade,my oldest came home saying: Mrs X always calls on Cooper and never calls on me! (Well, there were 31 kids in that class, so I figured that if she called on each of them once a day they were lucky). I told him to count the next day and, thank goodness, she called on Cooper once and my kid twice that day and he stopped worrying about it.

One thing that really bugs me is when parents take the kid's side and criticize the teacher (or administrator) in front of the kid without even looking into it. I think that really undermines the teacher/student relationship and can encourage the kid to act out in a way that makes the situation worse.

The advice to 'pull your kid out' of bad middle/high school classes irks me a bit. I understand (learning content is increasingly important as they get older), but that leaves the most vulnerable or unconnected kids in all of the worst classes. I would hope that those who do pull their kids would make sure that the administration heard, loud and clear, why they did it.

Dorothy Neville said...


It's always the kid's fault.

BullDogger said...

Dorthy...

That is a great article. My own child was singled out as "the problem" in third grade (in Seattle). The teacher said she had a reading disability. Meetings with the teacher and principal yeilded nothing for her or us. The problem eventual turned out to be a shy child uncomfortable reading aloud in class. After moving her to a private school she was identified as reading two grades above her level. She's now a HS senior with a 99th percentile ACT english score.

Maureen...

My advocacy saved this one child. I wish the children left behind could realize benefit from my acts but I have not one ounce of guilt. If I don't advocate for my own children who will?