What if I disagree with my child’s teacher?

Parents feel dissatisfaction at times with their child’s teachers; the teachers may not be meeting the child’s needs or may be cold or inattentive. Parents become aware of problems through their child’s complaints: “The teacher wouldn’t let me go outside today because I laughed at Matt’s joke.” “Every time anybody talks she says ‘shhh.” “My teacher wouldn’t let me finish my math problems because she said I was taking too long.”

Parents get to observe the teacher themselves during field trips and classroom visits. The teacher sets the tone in a class; her personality and teaching style determine how the standard curriculum will be taught. When parents are unhappy with her manner or approach, they often feel helpless. Yet they have more power to initiate classroom changes than they realize.

If they suspect a problem, they should listen carefully to their child’s description of what goes on in the classroom. Are her complaints consistent? Is her work or self-esteem hampered by the teacher? What seems awful to a child one day may be insignificant the next, or may have no lasting negative effects. Also, kids sometimes exaggerate, especially as a way of avoiding a reprimand. For example, a child who did not complete an assignment may blame the teacher: “It’s not my fault. She never gives us enough time.”

If a child’s complaints seem to have merit, parents should call or email the teacher: “My son says you’ve been dissatisfied with his social studies work and he doesn’t understand why.” Parents also can plan to meet with the teacher. Either option can be difficult for parents who dislike confrontation or who fear that an angry teacher will retaliate against their child. While some teachers may do this, most will listen to parents and try to work out solution to classroom problem. As long as parents present their concerns in a respectful way, they have little to fear. However, regardless of the teacher’s response, it’s the parents’ right and responsibility to set up a conference and try to improve their child’s classroom experience.

If you request a meeting with the teacher, prepare ahead of time. Gather facts and notes and have suggestion and solutions in mind. Begin the meeting on a positive note: “You and I have best interest in mind. What can we do together to improve her schoolwork and make her feel better about herself?”

Make reasonable requests: “If you give Andrew a little more notice about his assignments, he’ll have an easier time finishing them.” “I think Mia would feel more interested and challenged if you moved her to another reading group.” Tell the teacher about approaches that work at home: “John generally does better when he gets some positive feedback.” Ask for her ideas and suggestions. She should be willing to make the changes you request or to explain why such changes are impossible.

 Throughout the conference, remember to speak mildly and respectfully. Many teachers feel vulnerable talking to parents and become defensive if they perceive parents to be hostile or aggressive. Let the teacher know you sympathize with her workload and the difficulty of teaching so many students at once. You aren’t there to attack her teaching methods, but rather to come up with solutions and compromises. Give careful thought to her opinions and recommendations since she may offer valuable insights. You should leave the conference with a clear understanding of how you and she will work together to make changes.

Let your child know ahead of time about the conference. She too may be afraid the teacher will “take out” her anger in the classroom. Assure her that it’s fine for teachers and parents to meet. Ask if there are some things she’d rather you not mention during the conference and as much as possible, respect her wishes. If she’s very worried, tell the teacher during the conference: “Kara is afraid you’ll be angry with her after this meeting.” When the conference is over, let your child know something of what went on: “Your teacher was glad to meet me.” “She answered my questions and is going to give you more time to finish your reading.” You should also pass on the teacher’s suggestions.

After the conference, you’ll have to wait and see if the teacher makes the changes she promised. You’ll also have to see if she does, after all, react negatively to your child. If you aren’t satisfied, contact the principal to discuss your concerns. Gently but firmly pursue your child’s interests. If you’re unhappy with the principal’s response, you might want to contact her supervisor.

 You can resolve many school problems if you’re persistent. However, in spite of your best efforts, you may eventually fail to improve your child’s situation. Many teachers, administrators, and school systems are inflexible. If you can’t get improvements, you have several choices: you can accept the facts and offer more home enrichment and encouragement; you can hope that next year will be better, or you can consider enrolling your child in another public or private school. Let your decisions be guided, as always, by what’s best for your child.

Picture Credit : Google