It’s human nature to want to spend time with people we like, and to hate any occasion we are forced to spend with people we find unpleasant. If your teen doesn’t like the teacher, he or she will – unsurprisingly – have no love for the teacher’s subject. So, the first point to keep in mind is: Don’t blame the teen; their emotions are totally understandable.
The second point, even more important, is to take the issue seriously – it may sound like a little thing, but it is a big thing to your child, and so your advice to “toughen up” might not go down well on this occasion.
And thirdly, kudos to your teen for sharing with you – you may have even had an actual conversation about this probem, right?
Depending on how advanced the problem is, you will need a tailor-made treatment. If the teacher is not purposefully mean to your teen, and the clash doesn’t seem personal, you may get away with the band-aid solution. However, if you suspect your child is being picked on, or if it seems that the teacher is making several children miserable, it might be time for sutures and staples.
The band-aid solution
- Without diminishing what your teen is going through, work together to try and see the teacher as a person. What is going on for them at home? Are they struggling with their health? Do they hate their boss? You’re not looking for excuses – teachers are supposed to be professionals and not bring their private life into the classroom – you’re simply seeking to put yourself in the teacher’s shoes. Teachers are often seen as power-wielding monsters, not as human beings.
- Again, without diminishing what your teen is going through, and without suggesting it’s the teen’s fault, try to find out whether there is anything your child can do differently in class in order to change the student-teacher relationship. Now is the time you can use the phrase “Just putting it out there.”
- If your teen feels comfortable approaching the teacher, perhaps they could send a friendly email asking what they could do to improve their performance.
- Suggest to your teen that they separate the teacher from the subject in their mind. Repeat this mantra: “The teacher is not the same as the subject.” Figure out ways in which you can inject joy into the subject at home: Watching YouTube tutorials, organising a field trip, relating class material to real life, etc.
- Help your teen to identify any positives in the class: Sitting next to a friend, sitting by the window, using their favourite pen.
Sutures and staples: If the band-aid is not enough
- Talk it out: All the bad and the ugly. Brainstorm all the possible reasons (not excuses, just causes) why the teacher is mean.
- Brainstorm all solutions that spring to mind, including the impractical ones (change schools, be mean right back, write to the Minister of Education – you may even allow the teen to vent their frustrations by thinking up gory endings for the teacher). Once all the solutions have been written up, evaluate them and agree why you have to discard all the ones that break the law.
- One of the solutions left on the table will probably be to talk to the teacher – with the teen’s permission, of course. Your dialogue might go like this: “Josh doesn’t seem to be enjoying science. Have you noticed anything in class? Is he sitting near a noisy person? Is he disruptive? What can we do to resolve the situation?” Avoid giving the impression that you’re a hovering parent; instead, you’re a parent who’s trying to support the teacher as well as the student.
- If the teacher is not receptive to your input, you might consider taking the matter to the dean. Be aware, though, that going over the teacher’s head may have further repercussions on your child in class.
- Keep the teen in the loop at all times. Let them know what you’re doing and what response you’ve received.
- If your teen doesn’t like the subject, they might fall behind as a consequence. Extra lessons from a professional tutor could help.
As a closing thought, remember this. School teaches many things – subjects, for sure, but also social skills and resilience for life. As upsetting as the process may be for you and your child, this teacher is coaching your teen how to deal with people they don’t like. And, to keep it in perspective – year-end is around the corner.
YVONNE EVE WALUS IS AN EDUCATION SPECIALIST, SENIOR CONSULTANT TO CREATIVE LEARNING SYSTEMS IN AUCKLAND, AND A MOTHER OF TWO CHILDREN.