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September 2013 / Bronx/​Riverdale Family / Brooklyn Family / Long Island Family / Manhattan Family / Queens Family / Staten Island Family / Elementary

How to manage child-teacher conflict

Teacher trouble 101

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An elementary school child’s disdain for her teacher may grow out of a variety of factors, like adjusting from a beloved former teacher’s management style to a new teacher’s approach. Other influences on a child’s attitude toward her teacher include class size, peer competition, increased homework, more demanding and independent school work, as well as differences between home and school environments.

Take, for instance, 9-year-old Elora (whose name has been changed to avoid conflict at school). One day, she came home from classes in a huff.

“I hate my teacher,” she declared to her mother. But, when her mom pressed for details, Elora buried her head in her knees. So, her mother tried a different approach.

“I engaged her in a fun activity,” she says. “Then, I lightheartedly asked questions like, who does she like the most at school, who does she like the least, followed by, ‘Oh, how come?’ What I found out was that she felt like the teacher yelled at her.”

If your child comes home grumbling about a new teacher, do some digging. Allow your child time to adjust to her teacher’s expectations and rules. If complaints persist, ask objective questions, like: “How is the work for you? How are you getting along with the other kids?”

“By doing that, you can get a flavor of the environment rather than the situation,” says Dr. Stephanie Mihalas, a child psychologist and a nationally certified school psychologist who frequently helps students and parents manage and resolve school conflicts. “You may get an idea that something else is happening that’s triggering the ‘meanness’ and then at that point, you have more information to call or e-mail the teacher.”

Review class work. Notice patterns like red marks and notes from the teacher on classwork. If your student struggles and seems afraid to ask questions, discuss appropriate times for her to talk to her teacher about the work and what types of questions she should ask.

Make real-world connections. A child may grow disenchanted with school and her teacher if she doesn’t understand how the subject matter relates to real life. Due to increased pressure to focus on testing and assessments, teachers devote less classroom time for experiential learning opportunities or class projects.

That’s where a parent can help.

“Engaging in the learning piece is key,” says Dr. Ashley Norris, assistant dean of the University of Phoenix College of Education.

On the weekends, integrate classwork into your daily errands. For example, if your child is learning about soil and climate in science, take her to the Saturday morning farmer’s market. Practice multiplication skills to tally up the tip at a restaurant.

“Parents (then) become a partner with the teacher. Once that engagement starts to happen, the perception of the student-teacher relationship changes,” Norris says.

Recognize the signs of a child-teacher conflict.

“The single biggest factor is a change in grades. If grades are starting to slip, that’s a huge indicator,” Norris says. Behavior changes can also indicate a problem, including disengagement at school, forgetting homework, and lack of effort.

Resolve a personality conflict, but rather than getting angry or defensive, take a calm, diplomatic approach when conferencing with the teacher.

“The last thing you want to do is instigate more conflict between the teacher and your child, and if you start to pit sides, that’s what ends up happening,” Norris says.

Also, ask if you can sit in during class one day.

“Your presence might change the nature of how your child acts, but it will give you a flavor of how the teacher teaches,” Mihalas says.

When do you contact administration? Only go over a teacher’s head only as a last resort.

“One of the only times to bring in administration is if your child is covered by special education law and the teacher isn’t following special ed law,” Mihalas says.

Other times you might seek help from administration:

• The teacher agreed on a set of interventions, but isn’t following those strategies.

• Your child comes home crying every day.

• You talk with the teacher and are unable to resolve the issue.

Do you request a different teacher? Sometimes, a child’s personality and a teacher’s personality simply clashes. Unless the teacher is abusive, help your child understand that she’s not always going to like everyone, stressing the importance of remaining respectful and learning how to manage personality differences.

“In my humble opinion, I don’t think it’s a good idea to show children that because there’s a problem, then they need to move from that classroom,” Mihalas says.

Instead, teach flexibility by creating a link between friendships and getting along with others. For a younger child, you might say: “Everyone is different. Just as mommy and daddy do things differently, this is how your teacher is. It’s really good to learn how to work with all different kinds of people.”

Only seek professional help if interventions at school are unsuccessful. Seek help from a child psychologist to rule out learning disabilities and anxiety.

Freelance journalist Christa Melnyk Hines is a family communication expert. Connect with her at www.christamelnykhines.com.

Updated 7:04 pm, October 28, 2016
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