dissatisfaction at times with their child’s teachers; the teachers
may not be meeting the child’s needs or may be cold or inattentive.
Parents become aware of problems through their child’s com plaints:
“The teacher wouldn’t let me go outside today because I laughed at
Matt’s joke.” “Every time anybody talks she says ‘shhh.” “My teacher
wouldn’t let me finish my math problems because she said I was
taking too long.”
Parents get to observe the teacher themselves during field trips and
classroom visits. The teacher sets the tone in a class; her
personality and teaching style determine how the standard curriculum
will be taught. When parents are unhappy with her manner or
approach, they often feel helpless. Yet they have more power to
initiate classroom changes than they realize.
If they suspect a problem, they should listen carefully to their
child’s description of what goes on in the classroom. Are her com
plaints consistent? Is her work or self-esteem hampered by the
teacher? What seems awful to a child one day may be insignificant
the next, or may have no lasting negative effects. Also, kids
sometimes exaggerate, especially as a way of avoiding a reprimand.
For example, a child who did not complete an assignment may blame
“It’s not my fault. She never gives us enough time.”
If a child’s complaints seem to have merit, parents should call or
email the teacher: “My son says you’ve been dissatisfied with his
social studies work and he doesn’t understand why.” Parents also can
plan to meet with the teacher. Either option can be difficult for
parents who dislike confrontation or who fear that an angry teacher
will retaliate against their child. While some teachers may do this,
most will listen to parents and try to work out solutions to
classroom problems. As long as parents present their concerns in a
respectful way, they have little to fear. However, regardless of the
teacher’s response, it’s the parents’ right and responsibility to
set up a conference and try to improve their child’s classroom
If you request a meeting with the teacher, prepare ahead of time.
Gather facts and notes and have suggestions and solutions in mind.
Begin the meeting on a positive note: “You and I have Lisa’s best
interest in mind. What can we do together to improve her schoolwork
and make her feel better about herself?”
Make reasonable requests: “If you give Andrew a little more notice
about his assignments, he’ll have an easier time finishing them.” “I
think Mia would feel more interested and challenged if you moved her
to another reading group.” Tell the teacher about approaches that
work at home: “John generally does better when he gets some positive
feedback.” Ask for her ideas and suggestions. She should be willing
to make the changes you request or to explain why such changes are
Throughout the conference, remember to speak mildly and
respectfully. Many teachers feel vulnerable talking to parents and
become defensive if they perceive parents to be hostile or
aggressive. Let the teacher know you sympathize with her workload
and the difficulty of teaching so many students at once. You aren’t
there to attack her teaching methods, but rather to come up with
solutions and compromises. Give careful thought to her opinions and
recommendations since she may offer valuable insights. You should
leave the conference with a clear understanding of how you and she
will work together to make changes.
Let your child know ahead of time about the conference. She too may
be afraid the teacher will “take out” her anger in the classroom.
Assure her that it’s fine for teachers and parents to meet. Ask if
there are some things she’d rather you not mention during the
conference and as much as possible, respect her wishes. If she’s
very worried, tell the teacher during the conference: “Kara is
afraid you’ll be angry with her after this meeting.” When the
conference is over, let your child know something of what went on:
“Your teacher was glad to meet me.” “She answered my questions and
is going to give you more time to finish your reading.” You should
also pass on the teacher’s suggestions.
After the conference, you’ll have to wait and see if the teacher
makes the changes she promised. You’ll also have to see if she does,
after all, react negatively to your child. If you aren’t satisfied,
contact the principal to discuss your concerns. Gently but firmly
pursue your child’s interests. If you’re unhappy with the
principal’s response, you might want to contact her supervisor.
You can resolve many school problems if you’re persistent. However,
in spite of your best efforts, you may eventually fail to improve
your child’s situation. Many teachers, administrators, and school
systems are inflexible. If you can’t get improvements, you have
several choices: you can accept the facts and offer more home
enrichment and encouragement; you can hope that next year will be
better, or you can consider enrolling your child in another public
or private school. Let your decisions be guided, as always, by
what’s best for your child.