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My Daughter Hates Her Sixth-Grade Teacher

By Kathy Glass, Consulting Educator

Question:

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?

Answer:

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.


Kathy Glass, a former middle school teacher, is an educational consultant and author focusing on curriculum and instruction. She wrote Curriculum Design for Writing Instruction: Creating Standards-Based Lesson Plans and Rubrics (© 2005, Corwin Press) and Curriculum Mapping: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Curriculum Year Overviews. Currently she is writing a book with Carol Tomlinson and other authors of the Parallel Curriculum Model. She can be contacted through her Web site.

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.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

03/17/2010:
"I am trying to decide what do about the situation that my daughter is dealing with in her classroom almost every day. She is in 4th grade and her teacher is not very pleasant to say the least. She has always been on honor roll, never had an issue with conduct, has excelled in all areas and LOVED school - until now. She has tried so hard to build some kind of repore with this teacher but it just hasn't worked. The teacher is mean, yells at the entire class, responds with,'it's not my problem', and is very sarcastic and rolls her eyes at questions that the children ask. If she has a bad day, so does the entire class. Things have gotten so bad that my daughter gets sick to her stomach and vomits a few mornings a week before school. She cries after school on the way home. Her grades are poor. The principle has finally decided to switch her out of the class, but the thing is she would be going in to the class that one of her very close friends teaches. I can't imagine that would ! be much better if they have already discussed the situation. She was not happy that I talked with the principle after talking with her hadn't done any good - her response was everything is fine and your daughter is a wonderful student. Her report card told a different story. All of the teachers that she has had since kindergargen are even concerned. They know how much she has always loved to go to school, how well she has always done, and how happy she is in general. They all talk with us on a regular basis and check on her often. They all adore her and see that she is being tortured this year. I've always been very involved at school so they know us well enough to know that my concern is valid."
10/12/2009:
"I think this is a growing problem that is being ignored by administration. The aggressive teacher in the drivers seat that can and will intimidate your child. That teacher knows that if you go in and complain that they will get even with your child. My child heard teachers talking how they were going to make students lives difficult. Straight A students I feel get it worse. When you get in one of the bad apple teachers rooms they somehow feel they will prove to your child they are not perfect and than they do not grade fair. Some point in time you feel like just let them take the basic classes so they can just walk out with all the A's. When a student puts themselves out there for the advanced classes the bad apple teachers want to take them through the coals. If you have a bad apple English teacher; well the material is subjective so they can really take you down and get away with it. They are in the driver seat. It is a shame the schools do not do more and get ri! d of the trouble maker teachers instead the good students are wondering what they did to make a stranger hate them so much. I guess those teachers never made it into the college they wanted to go to or the job they wanted so they try to ruin students GPA. I guess schools can afford to loose good students. I know I am tired of these games It would be nice if your child could be treated nice and respected when they are doing the same towards the teacher. The bad apple teacher just will not grade fair. Than the students friends get a fair teacher and they get the better grade and your child may be doing the better work. This is a broken problem that is so ignored. They need to get rid of teacher security and have them always on the radar screen like everyone else having a real job. "
05/20/2009:
"If the teacher is not abusive, but simply demanding, I would insist she stay in the class. If the fellow knows his subject and is fair enough, then keep her in there and help her understand that she does not need to like her teacher if they are competent as a teacher. At some point children must learn that they cannot do whatever they want. Adults can't do either. We don't get to pick who we deal with all the time...As she gets older, she will have to adapt to college professors etc that may not be so warm and fuzzy, but she will benefit from the experience."
03/23/2009:
"As a 6th grade teacher, I can tell you that when you are given a class of 25+ students that range from brilliant to downright impossible... and parents to match; with a society that expects you to do the work that PARENTS should be doing.... the job description for a teacher has become an impossible one to fulfill. My best advise would be to make sure that the teacher is not being abusive...(that is one of your jobs as a parent) That being said, TEACH your child HOW to deal and LIVE with people that do not like or make them 'feel good.' People (inc. children) need to know that the outcomes their lives are not determined by the people they deal with. They may SHAPE who they are, but they do not DETERMINE who they become. Parents need to take back their God-given role as parents and not depend on society, friends, government, or TEACHERS for the adults that their children become."
02/11/2009:
"My daugter thinks she might fail because she is in a college prep school and she is failing grade recovery and because of budget cuts theri might not be a choice of summer school...WILL SHE FAIL[SHE ONLY MADE 1 D]"
11/5/2008:
"You should listen to your daughter my daughter also had a problem with a teacher she was in tutoring for math she was making her miss lunch pulling her out of class for stupid stuff this also happened in my daughters 6th grade year you should listen to your daughter get her out of his class it might be a miserable year it could lower her self esteem make her hate school before i took care of the problem at my daughters school she was sick nervous and flat out refused to go "
10/21/2008:
"Am I the only one here who is very, VERY glad the teacher who posted on 1/22/08 is no longer in the classroom? Your job is to educate, not to force kids to do things your way. My daughter has a math teacher like that this year--he is more concerned with the answer column line being exactly 1/2 inch than in the content of her work. It saddens and disgusts me when I run into this attitude from teachers--by 6th grade, you should have some pretty independent thinkers on your hands, and if you're not encouraging that, or they've come to you able to follow directions but unable to think for themselves, than your school district is failing them. I always have to wonder why some people even WENT into education--don't you have to like children at least a little??"
06/2/2008:
"Sounds like 6th grade is just a tough beginning...and I know like our school,the 6th graders are thrown in with the 7th and 8th,which is totally wrong,I think...my daughter had a slow start in 6th grade,because it was a new school to her,,but she loved 7th and 8th and didn't want to go to high school.And I don't blame her,I would have kept her in jr.high if I could. I would monitor the class,without the teacher knowing,if possible.My daughter sat inside at recess everyday and didn't get pizza on fridays,because she didn't finish her work.This went on for 1 solid year...and I had no idea...tell she told me the last day of school,she finally got pizza that day,,,the teacher was strict and coldhearted...guess what? this was in 2nd grade,yes unbelievable.I cry everytime I think of me leaving her in that class."
06/2/2008:
"You need to communicate with the teacher in question. Not all teaching styles powder every student's biscuits. It's most likely a little bit of 'tough teacher' and 'I can't have it my way.' Communicate directly with the party involved instead of sending off some comment via the Internet."
06/2/2008:
"My son is in the llth grade and is a special education student. He is struggling in math for the first time this year and has a teacher that does not provide him the support that he needs. Whenever my son asked for clarirfication on problems, his teacher just gives him 'more' problems to work. As you can see, this is not a solution. Whenever my son tries to go to him after school for a tutorial, his teacher is most often not available. This teacher has even given up his room after school for a driver's training class so that he doesn't have to be available. Are there any federal requirements for teacher's to provide a special education student with an IEP, extra assistance if requested. This is the first teacher my son has had that has avoided my son's request for extra assistance to clarify math issues. "
03/27/2008:
"I am a mother of a 5th grader that has had A's and B's since kindegarden. Last month I got his grades and again he had mostly A's and B's. Three weeks later I got a teachers interim report and my son had failed every subject. When I went to school to get some answers I was told by is teacher and councelor that my son had been lucky this year having teachers that had been giving him grades that he actually did not deserve. The councelor aslo told me that now it was time for my son to either swim or sink and that it would not hurt him to fail since he was only in 5th grade. What would you do about this??? NEED ADVICE Thank You"
02/26/2008:
"Thank you for being able to see both the parents' and teachers' sides of these issues. One thing parents tend to forget is that teachers are people, too, so they make mistakes. We don't generally go into teaching because we want to make little lives miserable. When approached about an issue without guns blazing, we can usually be pretty reasonable. Actually, approaching problems without being defensive or discussing someone behind their back is probably effective in dealing with most problematic situations in life."
02/6/2008:
"Hi, Well I followed the advice here which was basically stick it out. My son who tests in the top 3 percentile in the nation at all academic levels received a D in advanced math. His teacher informed him yesterday that it was his fault because he has not learned how to be a 'self - learner'. Can we say that is an oximoron? The teacher has a great following with the administration, but I have run into several groups of graduates from this public school who have very little good to say about the teaching abilities at this particular middle school. I have emailed the principal and todate he has not responded. When this teacher early in the year informed my child she did not care whether he passed or failed and the principal never responded, I failed as a parent. I have been sitting waiting for a response instead of taking action. Not only do I need to remove my child from this teacher, but it appears to be the school (even though it is A rated) as well. He has still a 3.29 grade average. He has A's in all other classes. The teacher's praise him but not the math teacher. She states he is willful and non-cooperative (wait what about him being a self-learner?). I try to be an open minded parent but this just appears to be personal with the teacher. I also do not understand the administrations refusal to discuss anything. I will try to look at the big picture, but will there be another teacher next year who will listen to the math teacher and continue to work against my child? I just don't know."
01/31/2008:
"Believe your daughter! My daughter is going through the same thing right now. Her 7th grade english teacher is constantly 'picking on her'. My daughter loved school and hated to miss a day until this year. She has become withdrawn and constantly has a 'stomach ache' stating she doesn't want to go to school on a daily basis. I don't know why it seems to always be a language arts teacher but I think maybe I should go humiliate her and make her feel less of a person. Shame on the teachers...they are the adults!!! "
01/22/2008:
"I've taught 6th grade History for 8 years ending in 2003. I was this teacher and lay off him. So very very 6th grade children have been babied to death by their overdoting parents. Kathy Glass's 'Not addressing the emotional needs of the child ...' is the crap that was fed to parents that ruined these kids. It's that attitude that taught many kids how to emotionally minipulate their parents. That 'lack of meeting emotional needs' is actually the teacher saying to the child, 'your emotional outbursts are not going to stop me from requiring you to be responsible, and do things my way. And Yes, I am leaving out my name because some over-indulgent parent has a brother whos a lawyer and will sue me for the emotional strain I've put on their passive agressive emotionally manpulative daughter/son"
10/22/2007:
"I think you should listen to your daughter. Teachers have a way of humiliating kids. A cousin of mine came home in tears because teacher made fun of her! Listen to your kid, kids know what they want and what they can and cannot handle. "
06/25/2007:
"There have been a couple of time where this has happened with my daughter. In second grade and this past school year which was 8th. Each time, I have insisted on a confrence with the teacher, the principle, and the school counsoler with my daughter present in order for her to express her feelings. This way the teacher and everyone concerned is aware of the sittuation and if there is abuse taking place, it WILL stop. If the child is misbehaving, the child will get the message that it will not be tolerated. Both times, the problem came to a halt. in this past grade my daughter even came to like the teacher because she was able to learn her as an individual while she (teacher) was tutoring her.In the second grade however, the teacher lost her position with the school. Sometimes these things are simple misunderstandings on BOTH sides of the table. Teacher and child.BUT, we have an obligation to both the child and the teacher. We have to be fare to both, and this is the only way I can see that we can be."
01/5/2007:
"I think that you should listen to your daughter. As a student I know that teachers can be mean and humiliate their class. "
12/28/2006:
"I am a first year sixth grade teacher. I teach in a self contained class, which means I teach all subjects in an elementary school setting.I have a great deal to cover. Our principal is very demanding and I must focus on standards AT ALL TIMES!!! She's very intimidating and demands the utmost of all students.However,I do not work for her..I work for the KIDS!!! In sixth grade students are going through so much. I expect students to do their best; however, they are little human beings going through great changes.Your daughter needs to feel safe and comfortable. She needs to look forward to going to school!!!! Good Luck! I wish she was my student :) "
11/20/2006:
"Move your child ASAP!!!! Then you will have no regrets. I fought and fought to have my son moved out of 1st grade Military like teacher, and to no avail. I worked at a different elem. school, and I was able to switch schools, he loves his new school. I don't know what you should do if they don't let you switch, new schools may not be the best at the age your child is, but you could try being nice and BEGGING if needed. I say SWITCH, it's not WORTH THE TRAUMA, and you should trust your daughter, esp. if she asks to switch. I think mean teachers should teach college courses, not to younger children. Just make sure your child knows that there may be a time in the future that I don't feel that teachers should be allowed to treat the children in that way!!!!! TAKE CARE"
11/16/2006:
"This title caught my eye because my son hates his sixth grade teacher!!!!!!!"
10/30/2006:
"It's funny that my daughter also hates her 7th grade Language Arts Teacher. She says that she is grouchy half the time and never smiles and there are times. When she is unsure to ask for help. I don't want my daughter feeling this way they're with there teachers for 7 hours out of the day. I feel that the students should not have to feel this way scared, discouraged, not being able to ask a question. Afraid that the teacher is going to be upset. Maybe in this case the body language does tell alot about a person. Especially in a teacher. Attitude is very important. This is a big part in a teachers roll. Our children see it. "
10/27/2006:
"We had a problem similar to this. My oldest daughter had been a solid straight-A student in a private school. Then in 5th grade, her class was combined with a 4th grade class for lack of funds. Her grades spiraled downward, and she cried everyday. We approached the teacher and the administrator. Both seemed to think it was all my daughter's fault. She had always loved school. We moved her to public school. It was a big change, from a 42-student school to one that has 1000 fifth and sixth graders in it. The next major hurdle was getting her adjusted and hoping/praying that she would start making friends. It took about 1-1/2 months for her to acclimate, but now she is back to her old self, and her grades are beginning to come up again. She has 9 classes she has to go to everyday instead of just one teacher in one classroom. I think it has been good for her. If public school doesn't work for her, you might try private. There is more one-on-one student interaction ! with the teachers, and they are more willing to take time with the students to make sure they understand. In some ways, I wish she could have stayed in that school, but I think she is getting stronger because of what changes we had to make for her benefit. She has found that she likes some of her teachers."
10/27/2006:
"My daughter faced this very situation, during her eighth grade year of science. She was miserable, as were many of her classmates. I met with the teacher, who always came across as wanting 'the best' for my daughter, and using the 'success' of her own daughters as proof of her methods. Unfortunately, her methods resulted in my daughter feeling as though nothing she could ever do would please her teacher, so she gave up. By sheer preservation, my daughter managed to eek by with a passing grade- although how it happened is still a mystery. Thank goodness the class was only a semester. But, it seemed like one of the longest school years ever- thanks to the tone this teacher set, during the first semester. For reasons only known to the school administration and the teacher, she ended up suddenly retiring, as soon as the semester was complete. I was very relieved that she wouldn't inflict that kind of humiliation and pain on any other students. But, I wish I had acted sooner to remove my daughter from the class. My daughter and I learned a valuable lesson that year: Though most teachers are caring, dedicated individuals... There are some really bad apples that have lost their way. Trust your gut and listen to your student. But, do not act in haste either. On-going physical symptoms of stress (stomach aches, headaches, anger, or tears) are a very real sign that something needs to be done. It's better to switch the class and be accused of being an over-involved parent, than have someone who's suppose to be a mentor damage a child's trust and love of learning. "
10/27/2006:
"I understand the concept of the brain shutting down for extraneous work if the body is threatened, but isn't it a little dramatic to say a strict teacher causes a child to feel threatened? I think the atmosphere in school should be strict. Too many parents in these modern times feel their little darlings shouldn't be told what to do. This will not help them in the real world when they don't agree w/their boss, but must comply anyway. No, I'm not an ultraconservative who feels the return of a paddle would be a good thing for discipline in schools. I'm a registered ER nurse, who spent 6 years as a pediatric RN before the current 14 in the ER, and my moonlighting (2nd)job is a school nurse in a high school! I'm also the single parent of a ninth grader and a fifth grader. "
10/27/2006:
">From Montana 10/6/06 I am a college student in a secondary teaching program. While I'm not in the 6th grade, the description you gave is exactly the same as a teacher I experienced just weeks ago. The emotional stress not only effected my achievement in other classes but effected my health as well. My son, a 4th grader, had a problem last year. The first thing I did was talk with the teacher. Then I visited the school two or three times each week for unscheduled visits. I stood outside the door and watched the class, the teacher and my son. Most of the time I was so discreet they did not know I was there. This observation gave me great insight into the situation. I pulled im out of the school within a month and ordered a curriculum via the internet. It was very difficult to teach him and attend my classes. Now, he in enrolled back in school and still struggles a little but his scores are high and so is his confidence. My advice? Your daughter is going through some pretty big physica! l changes as well. Observe the class and the teacher. You will know within two weeks of observation, which path you should take. You sound like a terrific mom. Best wishes."
10/26/2006:
"I believe it is a two way street. Either the student are out of line or the teacher trys to push the pencil farther than he can push. I had a teacher like that when I was a Freshman. It didn't take long before I had him on the same page."
10/26/2006:
"My son had exactly the same problem in sixth grade. His teacher was basically a critic instead of an encourager. He felt that he would never be able to please her. He did NOT think of the experience in terms of achieving more maturity or higher standards, nor could he separate his emotional feelings about her with content/learning. I spoke directly with his teacher many times to try to develop a positive rapport; basically, her position was that she knew he was bright, but thought he was underachieving relative to his potential. I took the advice of the principal and other parents who said to hang in there because although the teacher was tough, my son would 'learn so much and be better for it.' Let me tell you, my son DID lose an entire year of learning from my perspective. His grades dropped from all A's to B's and C's...and not just in her class, but in auxiliary classes as well. He was miserable and lost his self-confidence. He hated to go to school. It turned me into the bad guy as well, because I had to nag him incessantly to get up, get him to school, get his homework done and complete assignments...something I'd never had to do before. I tried the 'you're going to meet nice people and not-so-nice people in life, so here's a chance to learn how to handle the not-so-nice people' approach. The drop in grades, more tardies, and lack of an enthusiastic teacher evaluation also had an impact on his ability to get into the top-tier middle school he wanted...he didn't. All in all, it was a nightmare year for both of us. I contrast that miserable last year with the first two months of this year, his 7th grade year. He has teachers who are encouraging in their feedback, who involve him and show a positive interest in their students. They are strict but they are warm and positive..using the 'carrot instead of the stick.'He has flourished! He does homework without ever being asked, goes to school early and stays there late in after school programs. He has made new friends and is finding a renewed sense of self-confidence and a new sense of himself. I feel like I have my son back. I am so grateful that his loss of interest in school - and in learning - was not permanently damaged by his sixth grade teacher. If I had it to do over, I would have moved him. I'm not saying that's right in this situation, but I would monitor the situation very closely, as advised here."
10/26/2006:
"My 6th grade son is having the same problem with his Social Studies teacher and is therefore having problems in the class that follows this one because he comes out aggitated. Plus, his grades in SS are terrible. I've tried to address this with the teacher and she simply gets 'smart' with me as well & i've addressed it with the school and they won't change him. Should I start working on coping skills with my son? I don't know what else to do?"
10/26/2006:
"Regarding the girl that hates her 6th grade teacher:get her out of that classroom now before he does real emotional damage to this girl. I'm 36 now, but in the 6th grade I had a teacher that humiliated me to the rest of the class because I was not up to par with the math curriculum and needed extra time and help. This man yelled at me, made me stay in for recess and miss gym class and even went so far as to tell me that I would never amount to anything in life except a gas station attendant or a ditch digger if I didn't straighten out. This went on everyday for an entire school year. No joking and no exaggeration. Teachers like that don't show children that they need to toughen up. All they do is emotionally stress them out and cause emotional regression in how they interact with their peers. The only thing I learned from that teacher was a strong resentment for him and anyone else that would force their ways on me in order for me to conform and be like everyone else. Again, I'm 36 and I can still hear that man vividly in my head and still have a strong hate for him. I wish that I had the courage then to tell another adult about his actions and I wish I had a way to face him today and let him know that he didn't break me. "
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