Teacher Trouble

This expert suggests ways to deal with a failing teacher-parent relationship.
My six-year-old is having problems with a teacher. At open house, the teacher and I got off to a bad start because she would not talk with me about my concerns. I even waited until all the other parents were gone so I would not take up her time with them present. Her only comments were that my son is a distraction in class and a poor student who doesn't "get it." Her co-teacher says the opposite -- my son is quiet, well mannered, and doing well.

Papers returned by Teacher A come back with correct answers marked wrong and points taken off because letters are the wrong size (not the wrong case or illegible, just not taking up the proper amount of space). My son realizes that correct answers are marked wrong and now says it doesn't matter how well he does. He is ill on the mornings Teacher A is there and does not want to go to school. He's even been on medication to calm his stomach. I have unfortunately written notes about these incidents that may have antagonized the teacher by pointing out her errors, but my child -- and his schooling and health -- are important to me. What can I do?

You need to understand that the appropriate way to way to address concerns with your child's teachers is through scheduled phone calls, conferences, and polite notes. This is the established protocol at all schools that leads to building good relationships between parents and teachers.

Since you pushed for a private discussion after an event scheduled for all parents, after writing critical notes, this teacher probably sees you as an adversary rather than a partner in your child's education. This is not to excuse the teacher's rudeness at the open house. She very easily could have suggested a later discussion so she could be fully prepared to talk about your son.

Now you are faced with the task of building bridges with your son's teacher. Write a note to schedule a conference. In the note, apologize for any behavior of yours that may have upset her. If you do not believe that you can handle your emotions at the conference, ask that a counselor, principal, or your son's other teacher attend. This might help the two of you forge a workable relationship.

At the conference, stress that you want your son to have a good experience in school and you really want to work with the teacher. Be sure to bring up how reluctant your son is to attend school on the days she teaches and how her marking system has upset him.

Another way to improve the situation with this teacher is to avoid criticizing her to your son, as he is probably influenced strongly by your attitude. The more positive you can be about this teacher, the happier your child will be with her.

This teacher may be a terrible mismatch for your son. If things don't improve right away, he should be transferred to another classroom. No young child should have such upsetting experiences at school.

Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts are experienced teachers who have more than 60 educational publications to their credit. They began writing books together in 1979. Careers for Bookworms was a Book-of-the-Month Club paperback selection, and Pancakes, Crackers, and Pizza received recognition from the Children's Reading Roundtable. Gisler and Eberts taught in classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school. Both have been supervisors at the Butler University Reading Center.

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