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Navigating rocky relationships with teachers

You need to have a plan of action when you believe there's a problem with your child's teacher.

By GreatSchools Staff

When your child has a great teacher, you are likely to see your child excited about learning and going to school. But what should you do if the teacher is not so great, if your child complains about the teacher or problems arise? It's best to remain calm and have a plan of action.

If you think there may be a problem, here's a plan of action:

Gather the facts.

Try to remain objective and open-minded. If there is a problem, don?t immediately assume that it is entirely the teacher's fault; it could be a problem with your child or the school. If your school or teacher will allow it, sit in and observe what goes on in the classroom. If parent observation is not permitted, talk with other parents to see if their children are having problems. Also talk with parents whose child had this teacher in past years to determine if there is an ongoing problem.

Document the problems.

Write down the times and dates of incidents of a teacher's inappropriate behavior. If other parents are noticing problems, ask them to do the same.

Call or meet with the teacher.

Schedule a face-to-face meeting if you feel a phone call won't resolve the problem.

Approach the teacher as a professional and an ally.

Avoid a confrontational attitude and stick to the facts. Try to stay clear of personal criticism. Focus on classroom practices, curriculum and what you feel your child needs. Once you have had a conversation with the teacher, give him the opportunity and a fair amount of time to improve the situation.

Contact the principal.

If you don't see any progress after a few weeks, take your concerns to the principal. But be aware that it is always better if you can resolve the problem without involving the principal. Once you involve the principal, you cross a line, and your relationship and your child's relationship with the teacher will be forever changed.

Follow the school's policy.

Your school should have a policy on teacher-parent disagreements. Ask what the policy is and follow it. Give this process time to work.

Contact the district superintendent.

If you still haven't resolved the problem after speaking with the principal, contact the district superintendent. Ask what the district's policy is on evaluating teachers and how teachers are assigned to schools in the district. Gather other parents with you who are concerned about the teacher. Realize that this process takes time and may not end in a quick solution, but there is hope if you are persistent in working with other parents and continue to voice your concerns.

Comments from readers

"You left out one very useful avenue of fact-gathering. It is very helpful to speak to the parents of other children in your child's class, early on in the process. Compare notes on how their child is doing with respect to this teacher. I have done this whole process, with the result that the teacher resigned her post. She was completely at sea with how to establish a control pattern in a group dynamic. I sat in on a class, in the back of the room for a whole day and the pandemonium was unbelieveable. This poor woman just was emotionally unequipped to handle it. The children were learning NOTHING. I would encourage all parents to follow these guidelines. They worked for me. My child was so relieved when they got an interim teacher until a permanent one could be found and the wild behavior came to an abrupt halt. Your issue may not resove as quickly but be prepared to make lots of phone calls and document everything. "
"I feel from what my granddaughter told me, her teacher doesn't like her. The teacher gives certain children in the class special privileges openly in front of the other kids for no special reason. I know teachers will make differences in children(teachers pets), it's been going on since the beginning of time, but not in front of the other students.These are 5th graders I could only imagine how that makes them feel to be left out all the time. My granddaughter says the teacher always choose the same group of kids(her pets) when doing special projects...the rest of the class has to follow the rules, but her pets are exempt from the rules they are allowed to do whatever, whenever. I'm not going to sit idley by and watch the teacher make my granbaby's school yr. miserable, because once that happens the child starts losing interest in school because they feel they're being treated unfairly and nothing is being done about it. I have a call in to the principal now. If that doesn't ! work, the superintendant is next and so on. "
"The best intended teachers can experience parental grievances. 99% can resolve differences. Unions are too powerful. I strongly recommend approaching peers with the same fears, when superintendents refuse to cooperate and go to the newspaper. There is no room for administrative snobbery. It is rare, but when it abridges the right to a decent education and a positive and happy experience in the classroom it is time to put the gloves on. Perhaps you'll inadvertently ally yourself with an embattled superintendent."
"I have adopted kids who are doing great but have a certain typical number of issues related to language change, etc. I need a little extra from teachers -- not a lot, but some extra help. If I don't see some willingness to meet our needs in the first week or two, I pull my kids. Administrators hate this, but my kids know that I won't leave them in a no-win situation. I'm very happy to homeschool them, move them, or do whatever needs to be done until they are placed appropriately. We have not had much trouble finding good situations, but we have faced surprisingly bad situations twice. I'm not sorry I reacted quickly. In both cases, I did my research with other parents, initiated conversation, and quickly assessed that there would not be enough willingness to hear what was needed or problematic. Kids will accept almost anything, and will quickly develop the attitude that they must tolerate abuse, negativity, or boredom at school... unless a parent truly listens, acknowledges their pain, and tries to remedy it. Sometimes that is uncomfortable. I do not want that sort of tolerance developmed in my children."
"The first thing many parents feel compelled to do is go right to the top of the district with complaints about teachers. Everyone has a bad day, even teachers! I strongly suggest that anyone hearing complaints from their children call the teacher and get at least two of the three sides of any story. What are the three sides? Your side, my side, and the truth...! Once you have made an opinion about an issue with a teacher and have strong supporting evidence that the teacher is 'in fact' the problem then communicate with the principal. But, parents please show the respect that teachers generally show to others and talk to them first before running off to complain at a district level... "
"I certainly understand the frustration expressed here. My daughter is in 11th grade and is the top student in her class. Her English teacher has been very negative toward her and finds ways to give her bad grades. She never turns back work or gives any feedback on anything the students have done. The principal admitted there was a problem and so did the guidance dept., but nothing has been done to fix the problem. When we reached out to the superintendent we were threatened with the teachers union. Where do parents turn when this happens? Why are teachers above the law and why do school administrators and their union protect them when they do not do their job? Parents are afraid to stand up for their child because they are bullied by school. Now I know how the kids feel? "
"I really appreciate this information.But I have been there and done that! I have followed all the steps of your action plan even prior reading this article. My little girl is only 6 yrs old and she is in first grade. And as other parents expressed, she don't need her spirit to be broken by a so called teacher who doesn't really care about her students and their achievements but herself and her well being. This year has been the most stressfull year in my life and my daughter's life. I am so frustrated because no matter who you talk to is like talking to a wall. I don't know if there is a code of silence between staff and teachers in schools but this teacher in particular has mentally abused so many kids in the course of 4 years that she has been teaching and this kids show the same pattern that is unbelievable and I cannot conceive how no one has done anything to correct this situation. And on top of that is that this is a bilingual teacher who obviously have a minority grou! p in her hands. Can this be discrimination? "
"Article is marginally helpful. It could use more detail and examples. For instance, detailed questions regarding classroom practices and curriculum. I have also found that it is helpful to take it to the school board and superintendent early on if you do not get results from the Principal/Teacher."
"This is helpful, but my kids are going to a preschool where the teacher is very negative. She is negative about my children (never tells us what good things they are going- only the bad) She also makes these negative statements right in front of my children. She's not engaging, enthusiastic or happy toward the kids. Shouldn't that be a must for being a preschool teacher! She also has sent a couple of disturbing emails to me- Accusing me of things without knowing the entire situation. Then, of course, sticking her foot in her mouth. I am obviously looking for a new preschool at the moment- It's really very frustrating knowing that there are teachers of small children out there like her."
"I was dealing with a 4th grade teacher (new to our school) who failed my daughter's 'report' because she did not accept any sentence that used the 1st person. This is an A student who came home crying because her paper was an F and filled with all red 'this is wrong' notes. My husband is a high school teacher and responded with a letter asking about the grading and Target learning requirements ... a bit aggressive. But when I handed her the note, she asked to talk to me. Then she held out the letter and said 'I'm not going to read this!' Followed by my 'excuse me'. Which then led to her ranting, and then telling the kids 'I'm not here to be your friend or your parents friends.' So we finally receive her response (principal requested) which is snide and asks if 'why we are doing this to her, is it because I'm black?' Oh my goodness! WELL, not even going there ... we conferenced and I cried, stating 'Every year we have requested that our girls are challenged, because we! want them to continue to LOVE learning'. She honestly didn't know why we objected to her inappropriate comments like 'Substitute is an idiot'. I am so frustrated! I am thinking homeschool, which I would have never thought before ... but she is just breaking the spirit of good kids who don't need their spirit broken. "
"I found this article helpful, though not exactly what I was looking for. I am looking for direction re: the following issue. My son is in 7th grade. He is in a 'pod' of threee classes of students that rotate among the same 3 teachers. One teacher in particular is very different from the other two. No assignment will be accepted late, not one hour, not one minute, not 'it's in my locker right outside the door' It is an immediate zero. She has told me she does not accept it and will not look at it or correct it. Where is the learning process here ?? Since this has happened to my child many times it would seem he has an organization problem (which I could confirm) Clearly the zeros are not changing the behavior. Everytime it happens I think he'll cry. Additionally, she assigns what seems to be eccessive writing assignments that seem to be on topics that are above new 7th graders. I feel too little time is spent on quality and too much on quantity. More than one of these assignments is related to entering contests (I had already started thinking she is trying to gain feathers in her c! ap through this process as some students have placed) I have expressed to her that my son was just released from speech last school year after 7 years and language development and thought articulation were/are an issue. I asked if she could recommend a tutor (no response). I am sharing my concerns with her and am VERY dussatisfied with her responses. Now what do I do?? I can see my child feels defeated and has difficulty with all his other classes as her class takes so much attention and effort. Concerned parent"