What to Do About a Problem Teacher

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At some point in your child's education you may have an insurmountable personality conflict with a teacher. What can you do then? 

Meeting with the Teacher

Meet with the teacher and express your concerns in a gracious and tactful way. Use "I" statements rather than "you" statements as you talk about the problem. Instead of saying, "You are causing Sally to hate school," say, "I sense that Sally doesn't like coming to school any more." Solicit suggestions from the teacher on what may be causing Sally's problem and discuss various solutions. This conveys that you are not attacking the teacher but are seeking her advice on how to solve the problem. It is also important that you help the teacher understand why your child is upset by something that is going on in the class. If the teacher suggests that your child needs to change in some way and it seems reasonable, acknowledge it. Then tactfully ask how the teacher will change in order to create a win-win situation. Guide the conversation and suggestions to a satisfactory conclusion. If you can't seem to resolve the problem with the teacher, it will be necessary to meet with the principal. 

Meeting with the Principal

Visit the principal to discuss your concerns. However, realize that the principal will not outwardly agree with your criticism of the teacher. It is important that the principal maintain a positive and supportive relationship with all the teachers in the school. He will not undermine that relationship by siding against one of his staff, at least not in front of a parent. Does this mean the administrator is indifferent to your concern? No, not at all. However, he is not going to appear to undermine the teacher's classroom authority. It would be unprofessional of him to criticize a member of his staff in a conversation with a parent. 

When talking with the principal, be gracious and positive about finding a solution. List your concerns on a note pad to refresh your memory as you talk. Your concerns need to focus on the problems that are causing a disruption of your child's education. Also, list a few suggestions for how you think the problem can be resolved. The principal will discuss your concerns with the teacher and seek a resolution. However, there are occasions when the best course of action is to transfer your child to another class. 

Asking for a Transfer

The principal can transfer your child if he thinks it is best. When talking to the principal, emphasize that you are not attacking the teacher's competency – you are concerned that your child isn't doing as well as he could because of the problems between the teacher and the student. Reassignment may not be easy for an administrator to do. He may be concerned about setting a precedent; he may have no room in other classes; he may be concerned that such a move would undermine staff morale. 

It is important that you use your best "people skills" to persuade the administrator that moving your child is the right thing to do. The principal most likely will not transfer a student simply because the parent doesn't like the teacher or the teacher is unpopular with students. The principal will need to see legitimate academic or social concerns that warrant such an action. 

He may also want to wait a little while for space to open up in another classroom. In most schools there is a constant stream of students moving in and out of classes due to families moving in and out of the community. The principal will most likely wait for this to create an opening for your child. 

Sometimes the problem is not the teacher, but a specific book the class is reading or a subject they are studying. In this case, you don't need to transfer your child to another class, but you may want to temporarily remove him from the classroom. 

Removing your Child from a Lesson

If the problem is over a particular book or curriculum being used by the teacher, you may wonder whether you should remove your child from the classroom. I suggest to parents that they should seek to remove their child from a program when they can no longer influence their child's learning. That means that either they cannot influence their partner – the teacher – to choose another educational strategy, or they cannot sufficiently undo what the child is learning in class. 

You don't need to remove your child from an activity if you can influence the teacher to choose a better alternative. The mother of an eighth-grader told me how she was able to influence her child's teacher to alter the lesson plan. This not only saved her from having to remove her child from the activity, but it improved the lesson plan for the other children, too. 

The teacher announced she would be showing an R-rated movie (Blade Runner) as part of a science fiction unit. "I called her, expressed appreciation for her hard work, and told her I felt R-rated movies were not appropriate for the classroom. I suggested some positive alternatives. She considered my suggestions and changed the movie." 

© Eric Buehrer