When your teenager complains that his teacher is being unfair, it’s hard to know what to do. Should you contact the teacher? The principal?
Maybe you shouldn’t do anything. Your neighbors said when they had a conference with their child’s teacher it made matters worse. Certainly you don’t want you your teens to be singled out for the year because you expressed their grievances.
Here are some steps you can take when your teen is experiencing difficulties with his teacher. How you approach the situation can make a difference.
ESTABLISH A RELATIONSHIP WITH THE TEACHER AS SOON AS POSSIBLE
Visit with your teen’s teacher during the fourth week of school (the first three weeks are so hectic; give him or her a chance to get settled). Bring a small gift as a way of introducing yourself — pen set, book marker, calendar, small blank book. If a misunderstanding should occur at a later date, the teacher will remember you as the thoughtful parent who introduced yourself in a warm and professional manner.
“Parents should get involved in some way,” Counselor Joyce Bowe, Ruth Asawa School of the Arts (SOTA), San Francisco, stated.
“San Francisco Unified School District has a computerized program called School Loop where every student and parent can log in see what is going on. The syllabus is there. All assignments are there. The Loop also shows when tests are due. The teacher can then e-mail the parents and give them an update, or vice versa,” Bowe added.
TALK IN-DEPTH WITH YOUR TEEN PRIOR TO A SCHEDULED CONFERENCE.
Oftentimes, when you probe a teenager, you get details that weren’t expressed at first. The complaints are sometimes very general, not specific — the teacher is ‘negative,’ ‘unfair,’ ‘picks on me,’ doesn’t like me.’ Get specific examples from your teen. Exactly what did she say/do?
“If a student feels he or she cannot talk to the teacher, come to the counselor and we will mediate between student and teacher,” Bowe added.
START WITH THE TEACHER.
“I would want the parents to talk to me before they complained to my principal–just a common courtesy to me,” Cristina Wright stated, first year art teacher at Jefferson High School in Daly City.
“I had a student who talked a lot during class. I then contacted his parents to see what they would suggest. They did not have a solution. So, I sat down with student and told him, “Let’s make everyday a fresh start, the past won’t matter, and each day we will start with a good attitude. He is a senior. He still talks but he now listens, as well.”
BEGIN IN A FRIENDLY MANNER.
Begin by explaining what your teen perceives to be the problem. State the situation as facts, rather than as accusations. Instead of saying, “My son isn’t learning anything in your class,” you can explain, “My son is having a difficult time with algebra.” Instead of saying, “You are prejudiced!” state exactly verbatim what your child quoted the teacher as saying.
After stating your case in a rational, brief manner, invite the teacher to explain her side. “It’s a powerful tool to stop, listen, and evaluate what you’re hearing. Sometimes, adolescents get instantly angry at what they hear. I tell them, “Just stop for a moment and take and deep breath, blow out the cobwebs in your brain, and you might realize that you need to wait and choose your arguments more carefully. Adults refer to this as ‘choosing your battles wisely,’” stated Ellen Edelman, a licensed marriage in south San Francisco.
WORK AS A TEAM
See yourself as a partner working with your child’s teacher. Both of you are concerned with your child’s education. By viewing the teacher as an asset rather than an adversary, you can both work to build a plan that will benefit your child.
SCHEDULE A CONFERENCE WITH THE PRINCIPAL.
If results remain unsatisfactory after confronting the teacher, then contact the principal. “If a student and parent have each made an attempt to resolve their problem with the teacher and still remain unsatisfied, they should seek out the principal,” Principal Sasha Clayton, The Hilldale School in Daly City, stated. “The principal can then work with both the student and parent as well as the teacher to ensure that all parties walk away with their needs met.”
Teachers are human. Teachers have their good days and bad days. Contact them on other occasions to let them know they’re doing a great job. Teaching takes a lot of patience, and they really wish parents would compliment them sometimes. “Participation and willingness to engage with your teacher prepares students for a successful encounter with the rest of the world. The classroom is meant to be a nurturing environment,” Clayton said.
Dr. Angela V. Woodhull received her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Florida. She is the author of “Coping With Difficult Teachers” (Schenkman Books, Rochester, Vermont).