So, the school year’s not going exactly as you planned. Your bright-eyed, chipper grade schooler who, last year, had been known to utter phrases like “I wish I could go to school on weekends too!” and “Why can’t my teacher be my Mommy?!” has suddenly turned into a slouching, grouchy mess who says he hates school and just wants to go back to bed. You’ve asked him repeatedly what’s bothering him but the answer is always the same: he hates his teacher.
So now you’re angry at an adult you hardly know who, in your limited interactions with her, seems like a very nice woman, if a little bookish for your taste, and you have no idea what to do. Well, no one would blame you for being angry. Your child is telling you that someone you trusted to be a safe grown-up in his life is making him miserable. And that sucks! But, before you charge into the principal’s office demanding this teacher’s immediate resignation, it might be best for everyone if you took a deep breath, ate a cookie, and tackled this problem one step at a time.
Talk to your child
The very first thing you should do is sit down and talk with your child. Before you read further, please understand: I’m not calling your child a liar or assuming the problem is somehow his fault and not the teacher’s. I taught elementary school for ten years. Trust me, there are terrible teachers out there. But I also know that there are lots and lots of reasons why kids hate their teachers that don’t really have anything to do with the teacher and, as the parent, it’s important for you to ascertain which situation you’re dealing with.
For example, sometimes it’s easier for your child to say he hates his teacher than to admit that he’s struggling with the increased workload or more advanced content of the next grade. Or maybe he loved his teacher from last year so much that no one else will do. It’s possible that this teacher’s methods are perfectly fine, they’re just different from what he’s used to and he can’t get past that. Or perhaps this teacher is stricter about deadlines and rubrics than your child is used to so he’s not doing as well on his assignments as he’d like and he’s taking that out on the teacher rather than focusing on finding ways to better organize his time. The list of possibilities is endless.
And then it’s always possible that your child is behaving in ways that are not acceptable for school and the teacher is calling him on it. If, for example, it turns out that your child thought it would be funny to yell “go long!’ and launch a pencil across the room when his friend asked him to “pass the pencil” and his hatred of his teacher stems from the fact that she put him in the time-out chair for the first time in his life, you’ll know that the problem doesn’t necessarily rest with the teacher.
Determining the cause of the problem may take time and patience. Some kids may open up right away but others may just tell you that the teacher is “mean” and “unfair” without giving much detail. It’s also very likely that your child doesn’t fully understand his reason for hating his teacher. For example, if he hates his teacher because he is feeling confused and lost academically he may just think that she makes no sense and gives hard work because she hates kids. It’s up to you to listen to what he’s saying and read between the lines to figure out if this person is, in fact, a demon or simply a school teacher.
Now, in all likelihood (unless your child is going to school in a Roald Dahl novel), the teacher is not evil incarnate. She may not be a great teacher. She may be boring or strict or uninspired but she’s probably not the harpy your child has made her out to be. So, for our purposes, let’s assume that she’s a rational human being who is able to work with you and your child to find a way to make things better.
Let me just pause here to say that I am fully aware that there are some really terrible teachers out there who actually are the harpies your children think they are and ought to be removed from the classroom immediately, preferably with one of those canes they used to use in vaudeville acts to get performers off the stage. And if it turns out that your child hates his teacher because she’s one of these, well then by all means do charge into the principal’s office and demand her immediate resignation. But, that’s a topic for another day. So, moving on.
Next page: Talk to the teacher
Talk to the teacher
Once you’ve discovered what it is that’s actually bothering your child, it’s time to meet with the teacher. This is something that should be done as calmly as possible. You may still be angry. Or you might be sad or hurt or confused. But your goal here is to solve the problem, not to yell at this woman for half an hour so that you can feel better for a minute or two. Instead, approach the conversation as a fact-finding mission. Explain that your child has been unhappy and has mentioned some things that are bothering him. State, as clearly as possible, what your child has told you and what you think is behind his feelings. Express your desire to hear what the teacher thinks of these concerns and whether she thinks there’s something that can be done.
And then comes the hard part: listen to the teacher. Listen to this person who is making your child miserable. Listen to her even if you’re mad at her. And really, really hear her. Because she may actually have some pieces of this puzzle that you didn’t know about. Ask questions. Take notes. Do whatever you have to do to really understand what she’s saying. And then, when all the information is out there, work together to find a solution. Make a plan together that has measurable goals and put another meeting on the calendar to check in about how things are going. Then thank the teacher and go home.
Talk to your child again
Finally (before you collapse into bed with a box of chocolates and the remote control because, let’s face it, this parenting thing is hard), talk to your child. Tell him you met with the teacher and what the teacher said. Tell him what the plan is and the timeframe for deciding whether the plan is working. Be aware that he may not like that you spoke to the teacher and he may not like that some of the onus for solving the problem is now on him. Hear him out, but stand firm. You’ve made a plan, stick to it. If you give it the amount of time you specified and it hasn’t helped, then you’ll make a new plan. But for now you’re moving forward. Toward the bed. And the remote control. Good night.