The following story was submitted by a Fatherly reader. Opinions expressed in the story do not reflect the opinions of Fatherly as a publication. The fact that we’re printing the story does, however, reflect a belief that it is an interesting and worthwhile read.
I am a teacher. I’m not a particularly good one, but, for the time being, I am a teacher. Some of my students don’t like me. I wish that wasn’t the case, but it’s the truth.
Every now and again, though, I have students who find my class so frustrating that they feel the need to tell their parents what a monster I am. And there are few things more challenging than dealing with an aggrieved parent who feels their child has been deliberately targeted. Usually, they’re so mad that they’re unwilling to see the situation through an objective lens. They think that I suck at my job on purpose; that I know the secret to motivating every child in my classroom but just deliberately choose not to motivate their child out of spite.
I don’t blame them. My child’s education is important to me, too. And I don’t sit idly by if I think their teacher’s making it worse. Nor do I think anyone else should. But… from the other side of the desk, I can tell you that there is a right way and a wrong way to talk to the teachers who seem to be ruining your child’s life. Talking to your kid’s teacher about an issue in school really can make their education better ⏤ it’s just important that the conversation is constructive. Based on my experience as both teacher and parent, here are five tips parents can use when initiating that discussion.
1. Control Your Emotions And Stick to The Facts
Teachers don’t like to admit it, but as soon as a parent comes in to talk, our self-esteems are suddenly on the line. No matter how sensible we try to be, a part of our brains wants the entire discussion to end with us proving that we are perfect and have never done anything wrong. And when a parent gets mad, they make it easy. Those parents are crazy, we can tell ourselves. We’ll say there’s no wonder we’ve been having trouble with your child if he’s growing up in a house like that. We’ll pat ourselves on the back, confident we’ve done nothing wrong.
If your child’s teacher is a good person, they’ll try to resist those thoughts. It’s not always easy, though. Even if you’re right, the teacher may feel attacked and immediately go on the defensive, in which case, not a lot of progress is going to be made. Get the facts from your child and present them to the teacher. Keep the language simple: This is why I’m worried, this is I want, and this is what I think needs to change. When a teacher has to confront the facts, there’s no room for ambiguity.
2. Listen To The Other Side Of The Story
A parent once came to my wife’s school, completely furious. Every naptime, her daughter had told her, the teachers injected poison into the children’s ears. And no, we’re not talking about piping Yanni in over a loudspeaker while they slept. Literal poison from a syringe (yes, she believed this story). She cursed and screamed, but, fortunately, the school had cameras and was able to prove without a doubt that it was not running a secret child murder facility. Her child had just had a bad dream and thought it was real.
Most stories end the same way. Not every problem a child has is a dream, but their version of the story usually includes a few embellishments. If you’re serious about working with the teacher to fix the issue, it’s important to give the teacher a chance to tell their side of the story.
3. Remember: Teachers Aren’t Out To Get Your Kids
I teach teenagers. At least once a week, most of my students think I hate them. It doesn’t matter how nice I am or how much praise I offer ⏤ give them a “B” and they have irrefutable proof that I’m behind an elaborate conspiracy to ruin their lives. Never in my career have I have ever met a teacher who didn’t want their students to succeed. Even the teachers who yell and scream at students rarely dislike them, they’ve just tried and failed to help them succeed ⏤ and they don’t know how to deal with the frustration.
Keep that in mind when you come in to talk: every teacher wants your child to succeed. They might go about it the wrong way, they might have impossible standards, or there might be something about your child that they don’t understand ⏤ but they want your kid to do well. Ask them what it takes to get your child there. They’ll do everything they can to help.
4. Fix What You Can At Home
It’s pretty rare that a problem boils down to one monster teacher whose only joy in life comes from terrorizing innocent children. In almost every case, there’s a problem on both ends, and anything you or your child can do to make it better at home will help in the classroom. If the issue started with a kid talking back or refusing to do their work, it’s important for parents to try to identify what might be triggering the rebellious behavior and work on correcting it.
If a teacher recognizes that you’re focused on the issue at home, they’ll feel far more obligated to do so at school as well. However, if your child’s behavior doesn’t change, and it looks as if you’ve stopped trying, you’re giving that teacher an out. Depending on the teacher, there’s a chance nothing will change.
5. Don’t Forget: Parents and Teachers Are In This Together
Nobody wants to suck at their job. Nobody wants to spend their day standing in front of a class full of kids who hate them, totally failing to teach them anything. Teachers, just like everyone else in the world, want to do a good job. Your child’s teacher isn’t against you, and they want your kid to succeed every bit as much as you do.
If you go in with the mindset that you two can work together to make that happen, the teacher is going to be thrilled to help. They’ll do everything they can to make it better ⏤ because their jobs, their happiness, and their self-esteem rely on it. If it doesn’t ⏤ and things are really that bad ⏤ do what’s right for your kid. Talk to the principal. Ask for a measurable plan. And if it really comes to it, get your kid moved to a different class. Before you do, though, give the teacher a chance to make things better.