Michele Borba: My TODAY segment-When Your Child and His Teacher Just Can’t Get Along

by | Nov 12, 2009 | Uncategorized

Yesterday I appeared on the TODAY show. Natalle Morales asked me a question that every parent sooner or later faces: “What should you do when your child doesn’t like his teacher?” Here are the steps to take to help you navigate this tricky teacher trouble that I shared. You can see the video clip here: 

ISSUE: Your child complains, “I hate my teacher!”

STEP 1: At some point, most kids are going to come home complaining that they hate their teacher. So don’t be too alarmed when you hear those first complaints as you are pulling out of the carpool line after school. It’s completely normal for children to feel frustrated with their teachers at some point during their school years so don’t fly off the handle.

Best Parent Response:

Listen calmly to complaints and be reassuring. The best policy is to be patient. A child’s complaints could be the result of a particularly bad day, her frustration with a difficult test or assignment, or embarrassment over being called down in front of the class. Just listen. Bite your tongue and be reassuring.

Pose “What”, not “Why” questions. Asking your child “Why” questions will typically reveal little, so pose “What” queries instead. “What did the teacher do that upset you?” “What time of day did this happen?” “What could your teacher do to make it better?” The answers will help you figure out if this is your child’s problem or a conflict with the teacher. (Most common reasons kids say “I hate my teacher”: 1. Humiliation because they’ve been punished, reprimanded or made fun of; 2. Mimicking other kids’ comments; 3. Can’t meet teacher expectations (which may be too high or too strict); 4. Personality or style clash with the teacher.) You’re just gauging if the complaint is really justified. See if your child repeats it — or if it’s just a one-time occurrence.

Watch for your kid’s ability to bounce back. Your child may be upset now, but the key is to watch to see how long it takes for him to bounce back. Is he still upset an hour later? Does he have trouble going to sleep? Does he say he doesn’t want to go to school the next day? The longer the complaint lasts or the more intense the stress, the more you should pay attention. If complaints cease or your child skips off to play video games ten minutes later, great — move on. If he doesn’t, and the stress lasts (or becomes more intense) it’s time to go to Step Two. (For severe stress, go straight to Step Three.)

Warning: Be careful not to badmouth the teacher in front of your child. If the problem miraculously disappears within a day or two, you will run the risk of tainting her view for the rest of the year.


ISSUE: Complaints continue — but there’s no evidence of a clear problem

STEP 2: If complaints continue, seem justified, or your child can’t shrug off intense feelings, then it’s time to take the next step. Your goal is to see if you can form a plan for resolving whatever issue is as hand. Get to the heart of the matter. Is there a quick resolution?

Warning: Don’t be too quick to call the principal and demand that your child be reassigned a new teacher. Doing so only sends your kid the message that you are going swoop in and solve every little problem for her — and she does need to learn how to get along with all kinds of people.

(If you’ve identified the problem or see a noticeable unhealthy change in your child’s behavior, skip Step 2. Go to Step 3.)

Best Parent Response:

Help your child find a simple solution to resolve the problem at the core of the complaints. For example, if he has poor grades because he can’t recall homework assignments, provide a notebook to put inside that backpack so he can write down the assignments. If he gets in trouble for talking to a chatty classmate, tell him to ask the teacher if he can move his seat.

Get perspective from others parents. Talk to some of the other parents to see if their children have expressed similar concerns. Is your child alone with his complaints? Are the complaints justified? Eavesdrop on the carpool conversations. Perhaps the teacher yells at everyone or picks certain children to frequently or assigns too much homework. It’s important that you don’t just jump to conclusions — and into action — before you get the story from all sides.

Visit the classroom. Go to open house night at the school and listen to the teacher’s expectations and watch her style so that you can get a feel for how she may interact with the students and run her classroom. Plant yourself outside the classroom door as if you’re there to pick your child up early, so that you can watch how they relate to one another. Or just pop in (with the principal’s okay).

If what you hear is in line with the complaints you’ve been hearing at home, then it may be time to take action. If not, then it may call for a little more investigation before you stage a teacher takeover


ISSUE: You’ve identified the problem. It’s time to make a date with the teacher.

STEP 3: If the complaints last at least a week or if you see a sudden change in your child’s behavior (i.e., he becomes more anxious and clingy, has trouble sleeping, or starts refusing to go to school) set up a conference ASAP with the teacher. The goal in the meeting is to see if your child and teacher are able to talk through their differences and come up with a positive solution.

Best Parent Response:

Call the teacher. Set up an appointment. Let her know that you have some concerns that you want to share and that you hope you can resolve them together.

Start on a positive note. Briefly describe the problem and stick to the facts as you know them. Use caution and listen to the teacher’s side. Once you’ve laid it on the line, ask her what the two of you can do to solve the problem. Letting the teacher know that you are willing to work with her, and not against her, will go a long way towards garnering results.

Bring your child to the meeting. If your child is older, have him attend the meeting with you and let him do the speaking. Explain to the teacher that you are there to support your child but that he needs to try and work things out on his own. Once there, watch the teacher’s interaction with your child. Are you catching positive vibes and a genuine concern? Is your child more anxious or relaxed? The goal in the meeting is to see if your child and teacher are able to talk through their differences and come up with a positive solution.

Clue your child in to the consequences. Let your child know he may not be able to transfer classes before you go into the meeting. It’s important that he understands that a positive resolution with that particular teacher is the best solution in the likely event that he will remain in the same classroom for the rest of the school year.

By the end of the meeting, you and the teacher should come up with a positive solution. If not (or if you see things are tense) go to Step 4.


ISSUE: No resolution with the teacher. It’s time to take your issue to the higher-ups.

STEP 4: If things continue to be tense despite the meeting, if the teacher refuses to meet with you or if your child’s behavior or learning begins to slide, set up a meeting with the principal or counselor immediately. It’s important that you get someone involved who is in a position to address your concerns about the teacher with some action.

Stay calm and stick to facts. Tell your side of the story from a factual point of view. It may also be helpful to have a written record of the complaint and any steps or actions (like the previous teacher conference) that you have taken up to that point.

Meet with superintendent or school board. If there’s no resolution, request a meeting with the superintendent or school board.

Realize you may have to switch schools. Keep in mind that you may end up having to switch schools, but a positive learning experience is crucial for your child’s education. In the end, you just want to find the solution that provides the safest, healthiest environment for your child to learn and grow.

Like any other parenting problem, the key to solving this one is patience. In most cases, our children are spending their days with qualified educators who will help them to grow and prosper as the school year progresses. If there truly is a problem that needs to be solved, it will benefit both you and your child if you handle it in a calm, respectful way that isn’t accusatory or attacking. After all, you are your child’s teacher outside of the classroom…so always keep in mind that those little eyes will be watching!

 Get more Parenting Solutions by following @MicheleBorba on Twitter.

Dr. Michele Borba is the author of over 22 books including her latest, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions.  She is a leading educational consultant, national parenting expert, contributor to iVillage, adviser to Parents magazine, regular guest on NBC’s Today show, and mom of three.