Dealing with a mean teacher or listening to a child who feels miserable in the classroom can be tough. We all want our children to be happy, and sometimes they come home with some stories that are so upsetting. But don’t worry, you’re not alone. Thousands of parents have heard their children complain of a mean teacher before. In this post, we’ll share some tips on how to deal with a mean teacher (or at least, accusations of meanness) with a series of steps you can take.
Trust, but verify.
If your child comes home and claims her teacher said something awful, or made her cry, it can be truly shocking for parents. It’s tempting to march straight into the principal’s office, and unfortunately, a lot of moms do exactly that. Often, they end up eating humble pie.
As teachers, we have a saying that we like to tell parents: “Don’t believe everything your child says about me, and I won’t believe everything your child says about you.”
We’re not exactly accusing your child of being a liar, but the truth is, most kids tell lies from time to time. Twice a week, at least. As you can imagine, this is a challenging habit to break after preschool!
So how do we resolve this? First, always ask your child how she knows the teacher said or did something. Ask for context and find out what was happening in the classroom at the time. Consider talking with other parents you know, to see if other kids are complaining or making similar claims.
If your child remains his or her usual cheerful self, and the claim he or she is making seems outrageous or like an exaggeration, it probably is.
It can be a good idea to have a more in-depth conversation with your child before contacting the teacher, if possible. The next day is fine. Really. It’s important to not overreact, as it can lead to long-term resentment from your child toward you, and the teacher will likely not change how they behave in front of your child.
Consider your child’s temperament and personality.
This is a separate issue from lying, but be mindful of your child’s personality when assessing whether or not a teacher is truly mean. Is your child very sensitive? Maybe he is taking the teacher’s tone of voice or body language personally. Teachers are allowed to be annoyed, but some kids struggle with even a whiff of disapproval.
Is she particularly excitable? Maybe she gets overly excited, and the teacher is struggling to manage the chaos and keep other children focused.
Is your child shy, introverted or otherwise less inclined to engage with others than most children his age might be?
The truth is that not every child will be a perfect personality match with every teacher. That doesn’t mean we need to mow down any obstacles and ensure a picture perfect school year. Learning how to deal with different types of authority figures is part of life.
Have a meeting with the teacher before you go to administration.
If you want to be mature and to hold your head high, go to your child’s teacher before you report your concerns to the principal, unless it’s an extreme circumstance.
I’ve seen so many horror stories of moms who only know how to deal with a mean teacher by going straight to a supervisor. Grown ups settle things between themselves, or at least make a respectable effort to do so. To learn more about parent teacher conferences and what you can expect, read my post here. Keep your meeting peaceful, open-minded, goal-oriented, and in-person.
It serves no purpose at all to have a knock-down drag out fight with your child’s teacher, other than to make you feel better for a short moment. In the end, you’ll still be the parent of a child in that teacher’s class, and you don’t want to make life harder for your kid.
If things get heated during your meeting with the teacher, ask yourself how much you really care about winning this fight. You can always let off some steam when you get home later!
Also, being a hot head that bullies teachers won’t earn you any points with the principal, particularly if you’ve become a known entity in the school. Be aware that if you have conflicts with multiple teachers, the campus leaders will make the determination that you’re the common denominator.
Seek peace at all times.
Stay open minded about what your child’s teacher may have to say. Often, parents or students will accuse a teacher for being mean, when really, they’re upset about a policy that’s considered perfectly reasonable in the education world (read this post about teacher bathroom policies).
If your concern is about a grade that’s been given to your child, a rule the teacher has about snacks or bathrooms, or a seating arrangement decision, be prepared for the principal to defend the teacher’s choice.
Often, conflict between parents and teachers arise out of a lack of parent understanding about normal classroom environments, rules and expectations.
You’d like your child’s teacher to listen with an open heart to your concerns, so be sure to return the favor.
Make sure you stay focused on the purpose of the meeting – to reach a resolution to whatever problem your child is facing in class. Your goal is not to be right; your goal is to help your child grow academically, socially, and emotionally.
A meeting with a teacher is not a place for you to vent, complain or attack.
So many conflicts between parents and teachers could be avoided if the matter was discussed face-to-face, rather than in-person. Parents often don’t trust their own conflict resolution skills, and prefer for everything to be in writing. While documentation is nice, you’ll reach a peaceful agreement far more often with an in person meeting.
If you’re wondering how to deal with a mean teacher, you may not have a lot of confidence in your conflict resolution skills. So many people avoid in person meetings for that very reason. I think that’s pretty normal, but staying focused on being peaceful, goal-oriented, and open minded are key. It’s much easier to accomplish those things in person.
Ask the teacher for specific changes.
As you’re preparing for your meeting with the teacher, think clearly about what specific changes you’d like the teacher to make in his or her dealings with your child. It doesn’t help for you to speak negatively and in generalities about the teacher.
If you’d like for the teacher to give your child more warnings before issuing a consequence, you should ask for it specifically. Perhaps your child is complaining that the teacher yells too much; if that’s the case, ask her to be more private when correcting your child.
If you’re too vague about how you’d like the teacher to change, the educator will likely feel blindsided and unprepared for your conversation – which is not how you want him or her to feel.
Be willing to meet again if necessary. Sometimes, these conversations can turn in unexpected directions, and you may run out of time, or simply need a moment to regroup, consider what’s being said, or calm down.
Document the conversation carefully with a third party present.
It’s not wise for either the parent or the teacher to lack an objective third party in the meeting to mediate and document what’s being said. It’s also fairly expected that both parents might attend, as well as a principal, co-teacher, or academic coach.
If your child is having trouble with one specific teacher in a departmentalized grade level, it can be really smart to ask all of his or her core subjects to attend the meeting. That way, you can get a more well-rounded opinion of your child as a student, and a clearer picture of how different personalities on the grade level mix.
Here’s how to handle differing opinions.
If your child’s teacher, the principal, or another adult you’ve brought with you has a differing opinion than your own about how your child is currently being treated in class, it can be hard to hear. Be ready for that moment with one clear statement: “I’m grateful that you came to the meeting so I could get multiple perspectives. I’ll be thinking about everything you’ve shared.”
Pay close attention to your child’s behavior.
Be mindful how your child is acting when they come home from school. If you sense that something has changed, continue being proactive and solutions-focused.
Often, kids will make offhand remarks that their teacher is mean, but have no meaningful behavioral changes. They’ll continue acting like their normal, happy self, even while occasionally saying things like, “Wow! Mrs. Teacher Lady really yelled at me today. She’s so mean!”
If that’s the case, you may not need to act further. Kids who are still happy and succeeding in school can do just fine with a “mean teacher.”
However, if your child has dramatic mood or behavioral changes while complaining that their teacher is mean, or embarrasses them, act quickly. Kids who are embarrassed may become anxious, depressed, or even act out in class.
Discuss possible changes with your child.
Often, kids just want to blow off steam after school, but don’t like any reasonable solution you put forth. Kids can find major changes in their school year much more traumatic than dealing with a teacher they don’t like very much.
After you’ve met with the teacher and tried without success to change their behavior, there’s not much else to be done that isn’t fairly extreme. You only have two options: moving to another class and teacher if possible, or switching schools. Both are considered major life changes for a child.
One possible option to try and discuss with your child is moving to a different class. I’ve got an entire blog post about the challenges of switching elementary school teachers here.
The trouble with this option is that usually, after first grade, students have multiple teachers during the day. If your child has problems with their reading and social studies teacher, the school often won’t have another teacher available.
If the homeroom teacher is the problem, realize that your child likely only spends an additional 20 minutes at the start and end of the day with that teacher as compared to the others. Parents often don’t realize this, because the homeroom teacher is responsible for parent communication.
In most cases, unless your child is in kindergarten or first grade, switching teachers will not solve the problem.
It’s also a big deal to move a child to a different class once the year has started and friendships have formed. You may have a difficult time getting the principal to agree unless there are very serious allegations being made.
You may find that your child doesn’t even WANT you to pursue this solution.
Switching schools is a major change for a child, and most of the time, this decision won’t be warranted. After all, your child will only have this difficult teacher for 9 months, and in many cases, not even for the whole day. Switching schools or districts is a decision that affects multiple years, and may even involve relocating your family home.
Unfortunately, while mean teachers are rare, it’s likely you’ll face teachers at the new school that don’t mesh well with your child, either.
In most cases, it’s best to teach our kids how to deal with conflict and authority figures they don’t like. If you’re truly dealing with a teacher who is a bully, and an in-person meeting doesn’t resolve the issue, you’ll want to consider meeting with the principal to find out your options.
Again, you may find that your child doesn’t even WANT you to pursue this solution.
Meet with the principal when all else fails.
If you’ve followed all the steps above and you’re not making progress, it’s probably time to meet with the principal to discuss your options.
For most situations, this is the least desirable option. However, it can sometimes be necessary, so here is some guidance.
First, remember that principals are often very short on time. Do not call and ask to speak over the phone, launching into a lengthy explanation of the situation. Have a quick phone conversation for the purpose of scheduling your in-person meeting.
Come to the in-person meeting prepared and focused. If you tend to ramble, get nervous, or emotional when it comes to your child, make a short list of bullet points for yourself and practice being concise and to the point.
Be respectful and professional. If you’re a person who has a hard time keeping your voice level when upset, ask a friend to listen to how you sound when describing the situation. You want to be firm but not angry or emotional in any way.
Avoid being overly critical of the teacher. This will actually make you seem less credible. Instead, focus on the one or two behaviors and speak in terms of specific incidences that tell a broader narrative about your concerns.
Come with a list of questions about policies and procedures on the campus, if relevant. Sometimes just understanding the campus expectations for both teachers and students can be helpful.
Present a couple of possible solutions that would make you happy. If you arrive to the meeting just eager to complain, you won’t win hearts and minds. A parent who wants what’s best for their child focuses on outcomes.
The Instillery has a great article about principal meetings, if you’d like to read more!
There’s no way of knowing how kids will respond to their first experience with a teacher who is truly mean at the time, but most students handle it fairly well. Parents are a different story.
Ask yourself: is this a question of policies and procedures, a personality mismatch, or a truly bad teacher who has lost his or her way with children or teenagers? These are all separate problems that require different solutions.
Most of the time, kids learn a lot from having to deal with different personality types, and to some extent, they can even grow from having to cope with a mean teacher. But if the situation has become dangerous or your child’s demeanor is changing in alarming ways, it’s time to take swift action using the steps above.
How to deal with a mean teacher depends on a lot of variables, but your success depends mostly on your willingness to engage gracefully in conflict resolution. Good luck!