Another school year has started and children in the Washington area are settling into the routines of their new classes, homework and activities. For the majority of children the beginning of the school year is full of learning new, exciting subjects, enjoying their classmates and getting to know their teachers. However, parents often become concerned when the school year does not start off as planned and their child is assigned to a class where the teacher is not a good match. Teachers rarely work equally well with every child, and almost every teacher will have a bad year during his career. A teacher might work well with one of your children, but if your next child has a different temperament, it may not be a good fit. Maybe your child has a wonderful teacher, but the teacher's spouse relocates for her career and the new teacher or long-term substitute is not a good match. What should you do if the match between the teacher and your child is not working?
Why do you feel it is not a good situation? Is your child happy in class, but you feel it is not a good match? Do you feel he is not challenged? Does he need some extra help and the teacher does not offer it? Does the teacher have appropriate classroom management skills? Perhaps you feel your child does better in a more creative, less traditional setting, but the teacher expects the students to work quietly. Or maybe the teacher allows students to discuss their work with classmates, and your child has trouble focusing in a noisier environment. These are all situations that should be worked out in a cooperative parent-teacher team meeting.
If Your Child ...
… is miserable going to school because of the teacher, try to speak with your child in a matter-of-fact tone. Your first step is to listen objectively without fueling his feelings. Try to determine if the teacher understands your child and knows the classroom dynamics and your child’s capabilities. Does the teacher yell to keep the class under control and your son is extra-sensitive to this? Does your child have an IEP or 504 Plan and the teacher is not following the recommendations?
In some schools there is only one section of each grade, and in other schools the principal will not let parents transfer their children mid-year. You will have to work with the school to try to make the year a success for your child. Most people have bosses, teachers or coaches who are not the best match—it could happen several times in their lives. If the situation is harmful for your child, you may have to step in to help; otherwise part of your job is helping your child learn to work with some adversity, advocate for himself and develop resiliency.
… is happy but is not being challenged, ask about the GT program. Determine how to apply and what is offered (this varies from district to district). Make sure your child always has books to read when he is finished with class work. Ask the teacher if there is extra work that delves deeper into concepts that have been mastered or if your child can do some guided, independent research. Provide enriching opportunities at home by enrolling your child in after-school clubs or visiting museums or historic sites. Encourage him to keep a journal about interesting topics.
… needs extra help because he is having trouble in one or more subjects, discuss this with the teacher. Provide the teacher with examples that have worked previously. If you think your child has a diagnosable learning problem, ask for testing. Your child will probably be discussed, with you present, in front of a committee of teachers, special education teacher(s) and/or specialists in reading, the principal and others to determine if your child needs testing to qualify for services. If the committee determines that they don’t think your child is far enough behind to warrant testing, you should disagree and then schedule private testing. Share the results and recommendations with the teacher.
… already has a 504 Plan or IEP and it is not being followed, you need to bring this to the teacher’s attention. Review the goals and accommodations together. The teacher must follow these documents according to both federal and state laws. If the teacher does not cooperate, you need to speak to the special education department.
If the class is too noisy, ask if you can help set up a corner in the room for students who need a quiet space to work. If the class is more traditional and the teacher wants the students to work quietly and sit still, but your child needs to move ask the teacher if your child could work standing or become the class messenger.
… is sensitive and the teacher yells at the class, explain to your child that the teacher is not yelling at him. It is just a different way of managing the class; again, try to be objective and listen.
If the teacher seems to be picking on your child unfairly, document what has happened, meet with the teacher to listen to his side of the story and discuss ways to change the situation. If the teacher really is treating your child unfairly and is hurting him emotionally, you will need to continue to document this and then speak to the principal. If this continues, you can ask for a change of classes.
Make sure you are always objective, keep the lines of communication open and start and end each conference, email or letter on a positive note. If there are opportunities to volunteer at the school, get involved. At the end of the year, write the principal a brief, positive letter discussing your child’s learning style and personality and say that you hope this information will be taken into consideration when assigning next year’s classes.