Going back to school can be challenging in many ways. From staying organized to getting back on schedule, there are many obstacles to overcome. One of the most touchy subjects can be your child's relationship with his or her teacher. What do you do when your child does not get along with the teacher? Or vice versa?
Here are some tips to help you gauge your child's complaints about his teacher and manage the parent-teacher relationship.
If your child says he is being mistreated by a teacher:
Don't jump to conclusions and assume it’s the teacher’s problem. Instead, stay calm and gather facts. Play Columbo and investigate your kid’s accusations to see if they are legit. Put on your detective hat and step back from the protective parent role. Just try, try, try to be objective.
Gather specific facts. Use the 5 Ws to find out the specifics from your child:
- What happened exactly? (Would the teacher say the same thing?)
- Where did it happen (classroom, playground, bus)?
- Who was involved (teacher, substitute, aide, other kids, just you)?
- When (time, exact class, subject or period) did the incident(s) happen? Is this the first time this has happened? If not, how many times?
- Why? (What was your kid’s role in this?)
How credible is your kid? Be honest. How high is the “believable quotient”? Is your child a complainer, a blamer or a multiple offender? If so, be cautious.
What do his friends say? Eavesdrop! Do other parents say the same thing or have the same problem?
Bottom line: How you respond depends on the severity and frequency of the problem. Is this a recurring situation that is worth pursuing because it could hinder your child’s education or character?
If you believe your child really is being mistreated:
It can often be tough to decide if you should contact the child's teacher, so use your instinct, your kid’s “past history” and the facts you’ve gathered combined with my “TOO Index":
- Too long. The problem continues despite your efforts and lasts too long.
- Too much. The problem increases or worsens.
- Too frustrating. Your child is struggling and/or hurting too much because of this problem.
- Too many: The problem is affecting or spilling over to other areas of your kid’s life (home life, friendship, activities, relationships).
Hint: Whenever your “Parent Worry Radar” goes on alert and you instinctively know something is not right, it’s time to get answers. Use “nip it in the bud" as your parenting motto. It’s time to meet with the teacher.
Keep an eye out for any sudden uncharacteristic, lasting change in your child that he can’t bounce back from. Those are big red flags. The better you know what’s typical—and not typical—behavior for your child the better you can gauge how much you should worry. Here are a few signs to watch for:
Sudden, Enduring, Uncharacteristic Physical Changes:
- Frequent colds, fatigue, headaches, stomachaches
- Trouble sleeping, nightmares
- Bed wetting, rushes home to use the bathroom
- Change in appetite, rushes home to eat
Sudden, Enduring, Uncharacteristic Emotional or Behavioral Changes:
- Trouble concentrating, acts out, regression, marked anger, cries
- Withdraws from regular interests, friends, activities, school, home life
- New fears, suddenly clingy, won’t let you out of sight, extremely jumpy whenever an email or text message arrives
Reminder: Look beyond the classroom for possible reasons that have nothing to do with the teacher (bullying, depression, peer pressure, stress, grief, trauma)
If you do go in for a meeting with your child's teacher:
It’s all about your approach. Your ultimate goal is to form a working alliance. Let the teacher know you are concerned and want to stay regularly connected to discuss your child’s progress. But also be realistic: Your kid is not her only student. Teachers work long hours with multiple obligations. Here are the do's and don'ts of parent-teacher meetings:
Share insider information. In all fairness to the teacher, clue her in to what she needs to know that could best help your child, such as health, emotional, family, behavioral and learning concerns.
Introduce yourself early. Start off on a positive note. Offer to help.
Give the teacher the benefit of the doubt. There always are two sides. Do treat the teacher as an ally (the vast majority have the same objective: helping your child cope, grow, and succeed).
Get other opinions. If in doubt, eavesdrop on your child’s friends who have the same teacher. Ask other parents whose opinions you trust. Do they have similar concerns? Volunteer in the classroom or pop by just before school is out to pick up your child and watch how the teacher treats your kid in relation to the other kids.
Prepare a list of talking points and questions. Think through what you want to ask before holding a meeting. Don’t ask or expect too much. Instead, aim to get answers to the one or two most important items that need instant solutions.
Don’t criticize the teacher in front of your child. Leave the “blame game” at home.
Don’t wait. It’s always better to nip things in the bud than to let a problem escalate.
Don’t give up. If you don’t get a resolution or work out a realistic plan for your child, and you recognize that the problem continues or is escalating, then take things up a notch. Talk to the principal. Ask for an assessment. Talk to the counselor. Seek the advice of a mental health professional or learning consultant. Just plain don’t give up!
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