How To Deal With A Difficult Teacher

Most teachers are amazing.

The vast majority of teachers are amazing, selfless people who spend countless hours working to teach our children while being woefully underpaid. They are the unsung heroes who not only take our children off our hands while we go to our jobs, but who lead the way in teaching our children how to read, count and act in a classroom setting. (Know one of these kind of teachers? Nominate him or her here!)

But – as with every profession – there are also some teachers who suck. I probably shouldn’t say “suck,” but that is probably a verbatim response you’ll get from your child if he or she has a bad teacher. If you’re one of those households where “we don’t use the word ‘sucks,'” just know that’s how your child is describing the teacher to friends.

The worst part is that a bad teacher can have as big an impact on a student as a good teacher can – only in the worst way. 

Being boring doesn’t make a teacher bad, but can make learning in that class more difficult.

Now not every “less than great” teacher is terrible. There are some that are difficult, but not horrible. And dealing with difficult people is something that your children will need to do for the rest of their lives. In a perfect world, your child wouldn’t have to deal with difficult teachers. Of course, in a perfect world, every student on the planet would be playing our games (like this one!). We don’t live in that world at the moment.

Instead we live in a world where some teachers are boring or are strict or are basically just teaching out of the teachers manual. They’re not necessarily bad, but they can be difficult. 

Dealing with a difficult teacher – and your role in this process – is obviously going to depend on your child’s age. You’re going to play a much more active role if your child is in first grade (by the way, my girls’ first grade teacher is AMAZING) versus if your kid is junior in high school. 

My first piece of advice is the biggest. 

Be on your kid’s side.

Just trust me on this one. That doesn’t mean storming into your teacher’s classroom like a nut job just because your child says, “My teacher is mean.” But it means don’t just brush it off or imply it’s your kid’s fault, asking, “Well, what did you do?” Find out why your kid feels that way. Let them know that you have their back.

Give your kid some strategies for dealing with the teacher.

Encourage your kids to bring their concerns to the teacher before getting too involved. For example, if your son says his math teacher “doesn’t explain” how to do the math assignments, have him directly ask her if she can explain it to him. If you’re daughter is unhappy with grades she is getting on her homework, see if she can ask the teacher to give her more feedback so she can improve going forward. Help your child try to find the solution.

Sometimes, it really is just as simple as  talking to the teacher. 

Talk to the teacher.

Now, if your kid says she’s struggling with a teacher, you don’t need to drop everything and arrange a meeting. But you also don’t want to wait until it gets too bad. If your kid isn’t getting anywhere with his or her efforts, then it’s OK to step in. But when you do, know what you want the end goal of that conversation to be.

Come with solutions. 

Don’t just come with complaints. If your kid isn’t understanding math homework, see if the teacher can carve out a few more minutes for explanation, whether it’s in, after or outside of class.  If your daughter would like a little more feedback on assignments, any decent teacher will be wiling to make that happen. We’re not talking demanding essays of teacher commentary – but a sentence or two should be doable until your kid gets the idea. If a teacher brushes off clear and basic requests, read that as a red flag.

Sometimes, a teacher just wants to get home at the end of the day – or maybe has his own kids to pick up.

Be realistic. 

Depending on the grade, your child’s teachers could have been  have between 20 to 80 kids in their class(es). Expecting your child’s teacher to anticipate your kid’s needs isn’t a practical ask nor is expecting the teacher to give Timmy an hour and a half of individual tutoring after school every day. But responding to requests for help isn’t too much to ask. Also keep in mind, school rules are not going to be the same as home rules. If Francine is getting in trouble because she’s using a mechanical pencil when she’s supposed to be using a yellow No. 2 pencil – because the rule is everyone is supposed to use a yellow No. 2 pencil – even if you think it’s a stupid rule, it’s a pencil. That doesn’t mean you can’t complain when you think things are unreasonable, just make sure your definition of unreasonable is reasonable.

Follow up.

If you’ve come to agreement with the teacher, stay on top of it. I don’t mean sitting in the back of the classroom to make sure she follow through. But ask your kid about it. See if it’s getting better. If the teacher tells you, “If Zoey has questions on how to do her history assignments, please have her let me know and I will work with her after class.” Make sure that Zoey is letting her teacher know when she has questions – and that her teacher is working with her when she does.

Let them know when things improve.

Be appreciative. So often, we get worked up when things aren’t going well. But when they’re going good, we don’t even think about it. When a teacher does take that extra step (even if you think it’s a step they should have been taking in the first place) and things improve, tell them you recognize their efforts.

Take it to the top.

Don’t start off demanding a meeting with the administration. Because the first thing a good principal will do is ask if you’ve talked to the teacher.  That said, if you’ve tried to be reasonable and waited a reasonable amount of time, then yes, maybe it is time to “talk to a manager.”

Know when to go! 

Get the hell out of there. 

Did you ever have an awful teacher? I’m not talking one who was boring or overly strict. I mean bad. Mine was my fourth grade teacher – and to this day, I think she was one of the most awful people I have ever met. If your kid ends up with one of those teachers, do whatever you can to get your kid as far away from that person as possible. Those kind of teachers are toxic – and just like you would keep your kid away from toxic chemicals, keep them away from toxic people.

Dealing with difficult teachers is no fun. But you know what is fun? Playing Fish Lake! The game teaches fractions and history in a cool 3D virtual world. Available for Mac and Windows (and coming VERY soon) for iPad!

Fish Lake

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