How often has your teenager come home complaining about a teacher and you are at a loss of how to help? Author Angela V. Woodhull, Ph.D. has created a list of suggestions to share with your child that not only address the issues but also encourages your teen to step back and consider a number of options before categorizing the teacher as “unfair” Communication is always the key.
1. Just Listen.
If a teacher becomes upset, don’t get into a shouting match. Instead, make eye contact and let the teacher have his or her say. You can always put your reply in writing. The teacher is much more likely to listen to your side of the story if you listen to his or her side first. When the teacher has finished, try saying something like, “I’d like to tell you my version of what happened. The facts have been somewhat distorted.”
“A very common problem is the student’s work is late and points are deducted for lateness. The student claims that he handed in the work and states to the teacher, “You must have lost it.” That’s when the problem escalates. Most of the time, a compromise can be reached
without any penalty. The key is talking to each other and not just getting angry,” Counselor Joyce Bowe stated, Ruth Asawa School of the Arts (SOTA), San Francisco.
Keep your opening comments short and simple. Explain your side of the story as calmly as possible. Just use facts. Don’t accuse the teacher of being the one who’s in the wrong. The words you choose can make all the difference in how you will be heard. If you ramble on or use an emotional tone of voice, the teacher may perceive you as being in the wrong—even if you’re not.
2. Watch what you wear.
Did you know that teachers are less likely to confront students who dress nicely? In a study of teachers called “What’s in a Grade?” the results showed that teachers are heavily influenced by appearance. Students who dress conservatively are usually given higher marks.
“In the Daly City/San Francisco area, there are certain colors the student shouldn’t wear that are related to gang activity—black or red, for instance, is sometimes worn to be provocative,” Ellen Edelman said, a south San Francisco licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice for more than 25 years. “The gang problem is getting less, however; there are a lot of skilled people assisting our local teens through their difficult times and identity problems.”
3. Take time to listen to teachers when you don’t need anything from them.
Teachers like to know that students appreciate their expertise. After all, they are experts. Do you ever visit a teacher when you don’t feel any help from him or her? Then, next time you need his or her assistance, your teacher will remember how you took the time to just listen. It can make a big difference.
“The importance of talking to a teacher when there is no crisis is enormous. It is an opportunity for the teacher to get to know the ‘real you.’ Then when there is a problem that may arise, the teacher will remember that you are a thoughtful individual or a person of substance, not just a another kid on her roster,” Edelman explained, who is also a family court mediator in the Daly city area.
4. Be appreciative.
“Being a good teacher is more than a full time job. Teachers work with students outside of the classroom to ensure understanding, they grade papers and enter grades, and they plan, research, and prepare for interesting lessons. All of these elements happen outside of the regular school day. A recognition of their efforts can be very meaningful. When a student takes a moment to say ‘thank you,’ it can mean a great deal,” Principal Sasha Clayton, The Hilldale School in Daly City, stated.
5. Balance a teacher’s comments by soliciting other perspectives.
You may have a dream to become a famous journalist, a computer programmer, or even a rock star. Some teachers may unwittingly try to squelch your dreams. “That’s unrealistic,” they may say. “I used to think that way when I was your age, too.” They may be trying to protect you from going into a field that may leave you empty-handed. Your best strategy is to get other opinions. Talk to people who already work in the field you are interest in. How hard was it to get to the top? Your school career counselor is also a great resource for checking out the facts.
6. Reinforce good behavior.
Did you know that you can help a teacher become a better teacher? A group of students tried an experiment. One half of the class appeared uninterested during a lecture. The other half leaned forward, looked attentive and smiled slightly. As the teacher paced back and forth, from one side of the room to the other, he became much more animated when he was on the side of the room with the smiling students. You can help inspire even the most boring teacher to be more interested in the students I you use this approach.
7. Ask a lot of questions during class.
Teachers often include class participation in determining borderline grades. But even when participating in class is not spelled out as part of the deal, you can bet it’s going to make a difference if your grade is riding the fence. The borderline student who participates in class is much more likely to end up with the higher grade.
“When a student participates in class, the teacher becomes more aware of his level of understanding of the subject matter and his willingness to engage in the learning process. A really clear attempt to put out effort shows a willingness to do his best. The teacher will take notice of that,” Principal Sasha Clayton stated
8. Feel great when your actions make a difference.
Realize that your efforts to cope with difficult teachers can pay off in a big way! If you do your work, turn in extra credit assignments, and learn to better understand a difficult teacher, you’re on your way to more success in life in general. Why? You’ve proven that you can deal with difficult situations and come out ahead!
Dr. Angela V. Woodhull is the author of Coping With Difficult Teachers, Schenkman Books, Rochester, Vermont.