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Dysfunctional relationships between kids and teachers need to be addressed. Photo: Stockphoto

Patience prudent when dealing with teacher troubles

OPINION: Kids often struggle to settle in at the start of a school year, and finding a good fit with every teacher is challenging.

The start of a new school year marks the annual transformation of children from a focus on the pool, parties and PS4 to uniforms, homework and, of course, new teachers.

For some parents it soon becomes apparent their child and (at least) one of their teachers do not appear to be a good fit.

Telltale signs appear daily. Your child comes home upset or withdrawn, does not want to chat to you, has persistent stomach aches or headaches on school mornings, complains that school is a drag or simply declares they don’t like their teacher.

Your first thought may be to ask the school principal to switch your child’s teacher because you worry your kid has scored a rotten apple.  

Just like there are dodgy doctors, negligent nurses and rude retailers, there are terrible teachers.

But they are in the minority. So once you have taken a deep breath you realise a teacher swap may send the wrong signal to your child – that they cannot handle a difficult situation – and rob them of the experience of dealing with people from all walks of life.

And you do not want to develop a reputation as being ‘that parent’, but instead want to let go at the same time as staying connected.

For parents who believe they have a child-teacher mismatch on their hands, resolving what is often a difficult or anxious situation becomes a high priority.

It must start with parents trying to understand the reasons that led them to think their child and the teacher are a poor fit.

Maybe you are not surprised because the teacher has a less-than-flattering reputation among other parents. Perhaps your own first meeting with the teacher left you underwhelmed.

However, school leaders will be quick to warn that reputations and first impressions can be inaccurate and misleading. They will encourage you to explore several avenues before you assume you have a bad apple teacher on your hands.

Talking to a child, though sometimes challenging, can help reveal the point of the perceived issue: is it differing interests, personalities, learning styles or disciplinary approaches?

Unpacking a child’s statement is key because often they will come out with generic claims like ‘the teacher is horrible’, ‘I can’t stand going to that class’ or ‘going to school makes me feel unhappy’.

Consider, too, that teachers are only human and the demands on their time and energy often outstrip availably supply. Chances are the teacher under your microscope has not had a proper opportunity to connect with your child.

There is also the possibility your child is not without fault or blame, even if that is hard for parents to accept.

Even if a teacher is at fault or partly to blame for your child’s unhappiness, keep in mind that teachers make many minute-by-minute decisions daily with little time to reflect. Mistakes are bound to happen.

The point is, we are naturally protective of our children and do not want to see them under any threat.

Too often, though, we fail to appreciate the constraints within which our teachers work, leading to fingers being pointed at teachers for any perceived rift between them and a student.

If your child dislikes a new teacher, give the teacher an opportunity to earn your trust and keep open the possibility of working closely with the teacher to overcome any challenges. 

Arrange to meet with a teacher, at a mutually convenient time, to discuss your concerns and shed light on the perceived conflict. Most times a plan can be put in place to resolve the conflict and deliver a positive outcome.

Often the teacher will be unaware a problem exists and will appreciate your alert, allowing them to move swiftly to make things right.

The most difficult challenge for many parents, though, is determining when to intervene and contact the teacher.

There is no right time because sometimes relations improve as the school year unfolds, making any intervention unnecessary.

At the same time, school leaders will advise you to take immediate steps to meet with a teacher if you perceive there is even a remote possibility your child is at risk of any form of emotional damage.

It is only if your persistent and ongoing efforts with a teacher fail that you should escalate the matter to the principal.

Sometimes principals will move children to other teachers if they are unable to resolve challenging situations, particularly when it creates an adverse impact on a child.

If that happens, school leaders will always ensure your child is welcomed by a new teacher, leaving you content in the knowledge you have done your number one job: protecting your child.

• Professor Gary Martin is chief executive officer at the Australian Institute of Management WA.

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