My Daughter Hates Her Sixth-Grade Teacher
By Kathy Glass, Consulting Educator
My daughter absolutely hates her sixth-grade language arts teacher. She says he humiliates students in the classroom and makes them cry.
The counselors and the principal all stand up for him though. They say that a lot of kids have a hard time with him at the beginning of the year, but by the end of the year most just love him. Even other parents I've talked to say he's great for the kids. It's like boot camp for sixth-graders, they say. Apparently, he's trying to toughen them up and show them that they're not in elementary school anymore. But my daughter wants out. Should I listen to my daughter, or to the principal, the counselors and the other parents who've been through a year with this teacher?
This is a tough question because everything that I know about education revolves around the needs of students. The student, the teacher, the curriculum are intertwined. Carol Tomlinson, renowned author, educator and University of Virginia professor, writes in one of her books: "Researchers who study the brain and authors who interpret their work for educators have told us that emotions trump learning. If a child feels unsafe, threatened or insecure, the brain blocks off the pathways to learning and attends to the more basic human needs instead.." She continues with the notion that students do not enter a classroom begging to learn about content-specific units (e.g., Renaissance or geometry). Rather they seek to feel a connection, and they either intuitively or overtly follow their emotions rather than reason.
From your description of the situation, it seems clear that your child's teacher is currently not addressing the emotional needs of the children in the class. I would be curious to know at what point in the school year the teacher does meet these vital needs. Since he has a strong following from administration and parents, you might wait a month or two until he shows he cares about his pupils. It seems odd to me that all those around you support him. Find out more about why this is so, and also think about your child's personality. Maybe she can benefit from riding it out for a little while and learning to deal with an authority figure who is initially undesirable. This man just might turn it around. But maybe waiting it out will only make it worse for your child.
If, however, others with whom you have spoken say that most of the year he has this same attitude, I would ask for my child to be switched into another classroom. It is important that your child not lose a year of learning because she is unable to feel safe in his classroom. "Adolescents are ready to work and achieve when they know that people care about them, that what they're learning matters, and that they possess the skills necessary to meet a given challenge. Effective middle school teachers are passionate about the learning of these young adolescents, and they recognize that if they do not meet their students' social and emotional needs, they will waste their content-area expertise. Students simply will not achieve academically when their affective needs go unaddressed," says Erika Daniels in a recent article entitled "On the Minds of Middle Schoolers" in Educational Leadership.
Find out more information about this teacher's attitude and be an advocate for your child in a positive way. It might be that she rides it out for a little while as she learns how to deal with others. And it might mean you request a transfer to another class because it is a long-term attitude issue.
Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.