Teachers’ reputations often precede them, for better and for worse. It’s been that way since schools posted class lists on the school doors.
Reactions vary from elation to despair. To help parents and students make the most of the year with a teacher who can be difficult, or even rumored to be “an absolute nightmare,” we asked experts to weigh in.
Don’t assume everyone will have the same experience with the teacher
Sometimes parents know teachers by reputation and word of mouth only, and they hope to avoid that teacher entirely. If your child ends up in the class of a teacher you’ve heard only negative things about, don’t despair.
“Sometimes the teacher you think isn’t a good fit ends up being the best fit for your child,” says Nancy Feely, head of elementary at St. Benedict Preparatory School in Chicago.
“Every family has different circumstances,” Feely says. Also, one kid’s negative experience may be due to a variety of factors, including personality or perhaps a rough year personally for a teacher.
Keep an open mind
When your child comes home upset, it’s understandable that your first reaction may be to go into mama or papa bear mode. Taking a deep breath, however, and remaining calm can go a long way and stop you from jumping to conclusions. The experts remind parents that there are two, or more, sides to every story, and it’s often worth considering what the other perspectives may be.
“Keeping an open mind is an essential parenting skill,” says Jean Robbins, head of the early childhood division at Catherine Cook School in Chicago. “It’s important to ask questions to help us understand the teacher’s perspective and intentions.”
Feely notes that it can help to remember that teachers are professionals and their intention is to do the best they can for your child.
Jill Hope, founder and family empowerment coach at I Shine, agrees. “Assume the teacher wants the best for your child,” she says. “When talking with the teacher, hear what she has to say and ask how you can partner together to bring out the best in your child so that he can be successful.”
Take the high road
While sharing information about teachers happens, be mindful of the circumstances surrounding those discussions. The neighborhood block party may not be the ideal environment, Feely says.
“Think of the behavior you want out of your child and expect that for yourself, too,” advises Feely, who reminds parents to think about how they would feel if others were discussing their job performance in public and whether gossip is something they want to model for their children.
Robbins also urges parents not to complain on social media. “Negative social media posts can have tremendous unintended consequences for everyone involved, including your child,” she says.
Parents also should avoid complaining about a teacher in front of their children. “This forces your child to make a choice of who to listen to: you or the teacher. This makes school life complicated for your child who has to spend all day with this person that you’re maligning,” says Robbins.
Give the relationship a chance to improve
If a relationship gets off to a rocky start, that doesn’t mean all is lost for the school year.
“Some student/teacher matches are made in heaven, and of course, some are made in the toasty place below, but children are surprisingly resilient and forgiving,” Robbins says. “They can often repair relationships after a conflict much more easily than adults can.”
Feely says, “Kids usually want to like their teacher.”
To help repair the relationship, Hope recommends encouraging kids to see the best in their teacher and says parents can help by seeing the best in that teacher, too. “That positivity from the parent rubs off on the child,” she says. “Often, that positive perspective can bring out the best in that teacher.”
Know when to call in assistance
The experts agree that parents should start by talking with the teacher and working to form a partnership to overcome any problems.
If your efforts are unsuccessful, going to an administrator can be helpful.
“If you can’t meet with the teacher, or if their answers seem unsatisfactory, then you can call the principal or the supervisor. You don’t always need to be in conflict to call on administrators, though. At Catherine Cook, I often sit in meetings with parents and teachers to discuss behavior, learning challenges, family changes, goals and occasionally even to work through misunderstandings between parents and teachers,” says Robbins.
View the experience as a learning opportunity
There will always be challenging people in life, and experiencing a challenging teacher is an opportunity for kids to develop skills they will use far beyond the classroom.
“Your child may have bosses, in-laws or neighbors that they don’t like, and those relationships last longer than the academic year, so this is a chance to coach them on how to deal with that adversity,” Feely says.
Keeping a bit of perspective can help, too.
“While it’s difficult, remember that it is nine or ten months of your child’s life and for every bad teacher, you’ll have five fantastic teachers,” says Hope.