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Moms Talk: Dealing with Mean, Lazy and Otherwise Difficult Teachers

The overwhelming majority of teachers are awesome. Unfortunately, every now and then we run up on one who isn’t, um, awesome.

Before we begin, let me be clear. My children have had some wonderful teachers. There are some teachers from years past we still keep up with just because we loved them so dearly. I’m not talking about those teachers today, the ones who motivate and inspire and make learning exciting. I’m talking about the others.

A friend of mine shared some teacher woes on Facebook yesterday, and a big group of us chimed in with our own experiences and advice for coping with a teacher who is… difficult.

I’ve been very lucky in that my kids have never had a teacher I disliked. My daughter claimed one was mean, but I don’t have a problem with mean because I know that in Sailor Margaret-speak, mean translates to strict.

Looking back on my own school years, I think I learned the most from the “mean” teachers who ran a tight ship in the classroom.

Because there are teachers who cross the line occasionally, I made sure I asked lots of questions about what made this particular teacher of my daughter’s mean, and I found that I agreed with the teacher’s decisions every time.

I shudder to think what students would say about me if I were in charge of rooms full of preteens every day.

There’s another breed of difficult teacher out there, and I had one myself. The lazy teacher.

She taught middle school history, and every single day we walked into her classroom, sat at our desks, looked up the book chapter scrawled in chalk across the board and began copying the chapter into spiral notebooks—word for word. She sat silently at her desk and read magazines while we wrote. This happened every single day.

When the bell rang, we turned in our notebooks and rushed off to greener, more inspiring, pastures. I learned nothing in history that year. That may account for the embarrassing void in my knowledge of the Ottoman Empire that always comes around to bite be in the rump when I play Jeopardy.

What do you do when faced with a teacher you feel isn’t providing the best learning experience for your child, whether it’s through a negative attitude or lack of drive? At times it can be a fine line to walk as a parent.

I found these pointers from Francy Bozarth, a former teacher and a mother whose child has had a difficult teacher:

  • When you can tell there is something wrong, the teacher calls you, or if your child comes home with a tale of woe, just sit back and listen. Try not to react right away. This is important especially if your child is a teen.
  • If your child wants your help, begin by helping your child figure how to analyze the problem first. Is the teacher entirely at fault here, or does the child bear some responsibility for the problem? Vice Versa, for that matter. If you think about it, few interpersonal problems are ever one-sided, though they do occur.
  • Help your child devise a plan of action. Perhaps you will not need to get involved, and the child will be empowered to solve the problem on his/her own.
  • If you are speaking with the teacher, remember you are an advocate for the best interests of your child. Perhaps that means standing up for your child, or perhaps that means holding your child accountable for his/her behavior. Whatever you do, try to listen and pause before responding. It's easy to fall into either one of two categories - the parent who defends your child no matter what, or the parent who finds fault with the child no matter what. That is not productive in this situation, nor is it particularly good for the child.
  • It's perfectly ok to use the phrase, "We're all here to make sure __________ is successful in your class this year." Follow this with, "What would you like to suggest as a solution to this problem?" By the way, the child should most definitely be an active part of this meeting. After all, it involves this person!
  • Once you arrive at a solution, be sure to follow up with a note or email to the teacher outlining what you understand is to happen. Be sure to thank the teacher for his/her time. Truly, the teacher is there for the benefit of the child, even though his/her tone might come across as frustrated. Remember to follow up periodically. That teacher has a multitude of students.
  • If these steps truly get you nowhere, then perhaps it is time to bring in some outside help - the school administrator. Once you have tried to resolve the problem, but things just aren't working - say a personality conflict, or things are just getting worse, contact the school administrator and schedule a meeting to discuss your concerns.
  • Do not make it a complaining session! Keep it business-like and set a productive tone. Remember, you are there to help your child solve a problem.

This column appeared earlier in Tucker Patch.

Atlanta Community Engagement Team February 15, 2012 at 12:54 PM
This was useful information. How do you deal with teachers who are bullies and devalue your student? I.e. Making jokes about them and getting the class to make fun of them.
D Ebaugh February 15, 2012 at 01:29 PM
Thank you for making your suggestion #2 be: Empower your student/child to tackle the issue him/herself (especially if it's a 9-12'th grader). As a teacher myself, too often do I see parents taking over vs letting their students learn how to negotiate meaning and to deal with conflict. Great article !
Super T February 15, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Either speak to the teacher or send her an email expressing your concerns HOWEVER have your student ask to speak to the teacher. In your email give the teacher a head's up that that your student would like to talk to them so that the teacher will keep an eye out for signals that your student wants to talk (students can be shy/uncomfortable). Also find out out if what you are being told is what is happening in class/what the intent of the teacher was because sometimes the perception on part of the student and on the part of the teacher are completely different. Giving the student a chance to resolve the issue themselves before parent intervention will pay off in loads of self confidence later on. Of course, if the student continues to feel bullied, you can contact the school counselor and/or principal.
Virginia Lester February 15, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Your article was well written and gave very helpful suggestions. You were fair and considerate of those teachers who try hard to do a good job. Thank you. Ginny

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