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5 Tips to Improve Student-Teacher Relationships

Some student-teacher relationships aren't a positive match, which can be stressful for everyone involved: parents, student, and teacher. Here are 5 tips for handling these tricky relationships so that your child can still enjoy school.

By
Cheryl Butler,
October 8, 2017
Episode #449

Page 1 of 2

student's ideas constrained by teacher

Our children’s school environment is packed with many variables that affect not only how they learn but also how they interact socially with their peers and their teachers. There’s nothing a parent likes more than hearing their child talk excitedly and positively about his or her school day. On the flip side, it can become a parent’s worst nightmare when their child is having a negative experience in his or her school life, particularly when things get so difficult their child pleads not to have to go to school each day. 

There are many reasons kids become discouraged with school: struggling with a learning difficulty, lack of interest in certain subjects, challenging peer relations and possible bullying, and being placed in a classroom where she and her teacher have clashing personalities or simply just don’t like one another.

Truthfully, one of my biggest reliefs at the beginning of each school year is knowing that my kids have teachers that are not only excellent educators but, just as important, that they like and feel comfortable with. Parenting eight kids for the past two decades has definitely delivered a wide variety of school experiences to my family and me. Thankfully the majority have been positive. However, I’ve faced the unpleasant scenario several times where one of my children does not have a good match with a teacher. Although it can be challenging, Mighty Mommy shares five tips for handling these tricky student-teacher relationships so that your child can still enjoy school.  

How to Improve a Difficult Student-Teacher Relationship

  1. Investigate the situation
  2. Keep negative comments to yourself
  3. Reach out
  4. Equip children with tools to cope
  5. Time for a change

Let's explore each one a bit further. 

Tip #1: Investigate the situation

When you first learn your child is unhappy about the relationship with his teacher, investigate to see what’s really going on. If a child complains that his teacher doesn’t like him, he may be misinterpreting something the teacher does or says. Ask your child for details without agreeing or disagreeing. Your job at this point is to see the situation as your child sees it, and in order to do that you need to be a really good listener.

Put away all distractions (cell phones, laptops, the magazine you might be reading) and make eye contact with her while she tells you her interpretation of what’s happening in the classroom.

In 5 Smart Ways to Handle Teacher Troubles, Susan Etheredge, Associate Professor of education and child study at Smith College, says it’s important for parents to act like a reporter when delving into the situation. “Sometimes kids will make generic claims, like 'The teacher's mean to me.' You want to find out what that means."

Etheredge calls this "unpacking" what your child is saying. Try to get as much detail as possible. Ask, "What exactly did she say? What was happening in the class when she said it?" (You might want to inquire casually, so your child doesn't clam up or exaggerate.) "Mean" might mean, "She makes me do my work," in which case you could explain that the teacher is trying to show the kind of behavior you need to have at school; after all, some things are very reasonable under the circumstances, but they may not seem that way to a six-year-old. The idea is not so much to uncover "the truth" of what went down but to get a more concrete sense of what your child is seeing.

Tip #2: Keep Negative Comments to Yourself

Now that you’ve gathered the nitty-gritty details from your child about why she feels her teacher doesn’t like her, regardless of the information shared, refrain from speaking negatively about the teacher in front of your child. If you’re upset and go off on a rant about how your kid’s teacher should know better than to treat her so poorly, you’re going to not only fuel the fire, but you’ll be sending your child a message that it’s OK to respond with anger and negativity without even knowing both sides to the story. 

Instead, stay calm and neutral and assure your daughter that you’re going to look into the matter further and thank her for sharing this situation with you. Remember, we as parents are our kids' biggest influencers. Regardless of how upset we are that (heaven forbid) a teacher might not like our precious child, we need to model how to handle the situation with self-control.

In addition, don’t go badmouthing the teacher to friends or post anything damaging on social media. I can’t tell you how many times other parents will offer criticism about teachers in our district and warn me about the bad experience we are going to have in their classroom, only to have my child get “said” teacher and we’ve absolutely loved them.

Tip #3: Reach Out

Most school districts have teacher e-mail addresses available on their websites in order to provide easy access for communication between parents and teachers. As a busy, working mom I find this way of reaching out to my kid’s teachers extremely helpful and convenient rather than having to call the school and leave a message for the teacher to call me back. I do, however, pick and choose when I use this method of communication.

When you are upset, contacting the teacher by email can be problematic depending on the tone you use when sending your message. If you can email matter-of-factly and ask the teacher to call you regarding a concern you have, then by all means do. But if you use email as a tool to accuse or vent before you speak face-to-face, you could start your interaction about this touchy matter on a contentious note.

When you do meet with the teacher express your concern and ask for the teacher’s point of view. Remember, you already have your child’s perspective on the situation so now it’s her turn to share her thoughts about what she feels is going on inside the classroom. (Even if you don’t agree, you still need to get her side of the story.)

Don’t withhold any information that will help the teacher understand your child and be more effective with her.

If your child is being affected by problems at home or had a negative experience with school last year, for example, he may be acting out at school. It’s important for a teacher to know something about your child’s past experience with school and his attitude toward learning. Be careful in your approach, says Cynthia Tobias, author of Middle School: The Inside Story—What Kids Tell Us But Don’t Tell You. Her latest education book has a section on how to deal with your child’s teacher. “When getting information from the teacher,” she says, “start a lot of your sentences with the same four words: 'What can I do?'"

For example, say Tobias: "‘Mike just doesn’t seem to learn the way you teach. I think it’s great that he can stretch out of his comfort zone sometimes. What can I do to help him with that?’” This puts the responsibility on parent and child, yet elicits input and suggestions from the teacher, says Tobias. Often the teacher will get the message without becoming defensive or angry.

I was brought up with a mantra that I have passed along to my eight kids—“You get more with honey than you do with vinegar.” Bottom line is that teachers are human beings, just like us, and the majority of people I know prefer to be treated with kindness than with sarcasm or contentiousness. When I have faced the scenario where a teacher and one of my kids didn’t see eye to eye on something, the outcome was usually very favorable when I approached the conversation with a smile and kindness rather than being accusatory without knowing all the facts.

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