It’s the beginning of a new school year and odds are that you’ll be dealing with anxious questions like “Mom, what do I do if my teacher doesn’t like me?” Or “ What if I don’t understand the work?” or “ Will my friends be in my new class?”
Those are relatively easy questions to deal with, but what do you do when your child comes home and says, “Mom, I hate my teacher!” as he kicks his backpack across the room, throws himself down on the sofa and crosses his arms across his chest?
It’s All About Communication
Who doesn’t care about the happiness and well-being of their children? Yet you send your child off to spend the better part of the day with a person/teacher you haven’t had the chance to meet or suss out before school begins.
You trust that this person (or persons for older children) has the best interests of your child at heart – true of the vast majority of teachers who really are committed to their students well being.
But when your kid comes home and says, “Dad, I hate my teacher”, you know something is wrong!
You Can Do Something About It
Don’t overreact. Ask a few questions that draw them out like “Tell me about your new class” or “What did you do at lunchtime?” Showing your own anxiety or criticizing the teacher at this point only underlines the negative aspects of the situation.
Instead, remain calm, get as many details as you can and make every effort to mirror what your child says, ie. “Your teacher got mad at you and made you feel bad” or “The kids laughed at you and the teacher didn’t do anything – how did that make you feel?”
Show that you understand why your child is so unhappy without agreeing or disagreeing before you start making suggestions.
Give it a few days. Sometimes issues that are of huge importance to your child are actually relatively minor and resolve themselves without your intervention. After you find out what has caused your child to react so strongly, try working with her at home to assist her to understand the teacher‘s side of the story.
Look for unspoken signs. Sometimes kids have a hard time verbalizing. You know your child the best and can tell when something is bothering them. Again, without interrogating, probe gently, mirror what is being said and remain neutral.
Teachers are people, too. Support your child in understanding that his teacher can be having a bad day or that he or she might have done something that caused his teacher to react as she did. Most kids have an innate sense of fairness and giving them cues that help them see both sides of the situation can help improve the overall relationship.
Explain that sometimes people don’t always see eye to eye – they don’t always agree with their best friends, do they?
Look for the brighter side of his school day. More likely than not, the day wasn’t all bad. Chances are that the teacher made the kids laugh or made the lesson fun at some point. Keep it light and find out what went right instead of what went wrong.
Ask "What was the best thing that happened today?" Through your reaction, your child can begin to see their relationship in a more positive light.
When Things Don’t Work Out
Sometimes the reality is that your child and his teacher simply don’t get along well. You’ve tried to help your kid see the situation from both sides, yet the teacher continues to “pick on” him or her – at least from their point of view.
Now it’s time to call a parent-teacher conference and try to get to the bottom of the problem. When you meet for the first time, keep an open mind and make every effort to be non-judgmental. At the same time, be sure to be very clear about your understanding of what is causing your child to feel as he or she does.
It’s not an “us against them” situation.
Ask what the teacher thinks could be at issue and what suggestions she might have to rectify the situation. Her point of view could give you an unexpected insight into your child.
Perhaps it’s not the teacher at all, rather a classmate that is causing problems.
In any case, trying to establish a collaborative relationship with the teacher shows good will on your part.
Be sure to set time lines and a follow up meeting in a few weeks.
When Your Child Has Behavioral Problems
You send your child off the first day and spend it with your fingers crossed that the teacher won’t experience some of the behavioral issues that made last school year a hell for the whole family.
Not exactly an auspicious start.
If your child has a diagnosed problem like ADHD, schedule a meeting with the teacher at the start of the school year and explain the challenges that have been at issue in the past. It can go a long way to diffusing a potentially difficult relationship.
Perhaps there was a problem with a classmate last year who winds up in the same class this year. Kids can be cruel and if a kid made your child’s life hell, it could have negatively influenced the entire learning experience, causing him or her to act out or express themselves negatively in other ways.
Asking the teacher to keep an eye out for bullying and exploring ways to head off confrontations can help cement the relationship between your child and the teacher.
When Nothing Helps
Whether it’s a difference in learning vs. teaching styles or simply a case of them not being able to stand each other, it‘s time to take the problem upstairs to the school’s administration and see about moving him or her to a different class.
You’ll want to avoid being negative about the current teacher and explain the situation as objectively as possible.
In any case, this is a last resort and a step taken only after allowing time for other initiatives to be effective.
How you go about it can be tricky, particularly if your child’s best friend is in the present class. In spite of their differences with the teacher, you might get some push back.
The challenge is to find ways to make the transition as smooth as possible.
If moving is not an option, you have at least made the school admin aware that there are difficulties. All you can do at this point is to continue remaining positive and supportive at home and look for other ways to build your child's self-esteem.
Be sure to stay involved (and visible!) with the school - whether with the teacher directly, the school psychologist or school administration. Offer to chaperone trips, help in class, join the PTA even if you have a challenging job or large family. It can make a big difference.
And remember - you are not alone...check around and you will find other parents who have had similar experiences!
You might not be able to change “I hate my teacher” to “I love my teacher” but there are steps you can take to make this school year a positive one for your child.