A good student-teacher relationship can contribute immensely to a student’s long-term feelings about school, attitude toward learning, and motivation for success. According to the American Psychological Association, “Students who have close, positive, and supportive relationships with their teachers will attain higher levels of achievement than those students with more conflictual relationships.” Students who feel personally connected with their teachers are “likely to become more trustful of that teacher, show more engagement in the academic content presented, display better classroom behavior, and achieve at higher levels academically.” But what should parents do when their children claim to dislike their teacher?
How many parents have heard their children blame the teacher for problems in school? More than would care to admit it, I’m sure. This happened to my family when my son’s attitude about school changed seemingly overnight. The happy, eager learner that he had been was replaced with a hesitant, sullen boy who complained about homework, cried about going to school, didn’t want to get up in the morning, and was generally miserable (and therefore, I was miserable, as well). It took a lot of prodding on my part, but he finally put a label on the problem: the teacher.
Here are some tips to help facilitate and support an easier student-teacher relationship at home:
Figure out why the child claims not to like the teacher. In the early elementary years, any number of things might trigger a child to have trouble relating to his teacher. Sometimes, the sole problem is that the teacher “isn’t Mom.” For young children who are just getting used to the routine of going to school versus being home with Mom or Dad all day, this new authority figure may do things a little differently than they’re accustomed to. This can lead to anxiety and distress, which kids may label as dislike for the teacher.
Remind the child that many teachers are very strict at the beginning of the year until expectations and rules are established. “Try to focus on the teacher’s positive qualities,” says Kristin Thorn, an elementary school teacher in Atlanta, Georgia.
It may also help if your child sees you and the teacher working together. “Building a good parent-teacher relationship is one of the first ways to foster a good relationship between student and teacher,” says Andrea Mason, a kindergarten teacher in Winder, Georgia. “When children see their parents and teacher working together as a team, they are more likely to trust and respect that teacher.”
Sometimes all the situation needs is a little time and extra encouragement on your part. Remind your child that the teacher is getting used to 25 or 30 new students, and that everyone is a little different. She needs to do things her way in order to establish control and authority in the classroom, but with time, she will learn what works best for everyone. If your child has siblings, talk about how their personalities and learning styles are different, and then remind your child that the teacher has to learn the different styles and personalities of many, many children. Encourage patience on your child’s part, but also open up the dialogue and ask for his or her thoughts on how to help make things easier.
If things don’t improve over time, a parent-teacher conference may be in order. Teachers can offer wonderful insight into what’s going on in the classroom, and parents can offer helpful peeks into the student’s home life. By working together, you can put the puzzle pieces together to reveal the whole picture of what may be giving your child trouble, and reach solutions.
With my own son, the trouble turned out to be a substitute teacher who had a very different style than the permanent classroom teacher, combined with my son being a very young kindergartner, and, we later figured out, having an undiagnosed learning disability. It took quite a bit of work and time, but through collaboration with teachers, administration, parents, and even the pediatrician, we got everything sorted out, and he’s back on track for a successful school career.
Lisa Kuebler is a freelance writer and editor based in Atlanta, Georgia. She's the mom of two lively boys with one more on the way.