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Bad Teacher: Here’s Your Road Map for Dealing with Difficult Teachers

Dealing with Difficult Teachers

Dealing with Difficult Teachers

Bad Teacher: Here’s Your Road Map for Dealing with Difficult Teachers

July 21 – 2015   2:25 PM
Contributing writer
OC Family

[Click here to read/print a PDF file version of this article.]

This is not a story about teachers who are sex offenders, or selling drugs or hitting children. This is a story about teachers who walk a complicated line. They may speak to their students in a harsh tone, or read grades aloud to shame the underachievers, or play favorites in a way that’s difficult to pin down. They are not breaking the law or even school rules, but they are making your child miserable.

Most teachers are good people. They are hard working, compassionate men and women who care deeply about learning and about the children they teach. But there are a few bad apples, and most parents will have to deal with a problematic teacher during their child’s school career. When your kid lands in the classroom of a bad teacher, how should you handle it?

What should a parent do if her child comes home complaining that a teacher doesn’t like him, or if she suddenly stops wanting to attend school? How can you unravel whether it’s the teacher, your kid or something else that’s the problem? And what should you do about the situation?

Stay Calm and Investigate

“Collect information,” advises Karyn Rashoff, a counselor at El Toro High School in Lake Forest for more than 20 years and now an author. “Most teachers have websites. Read them to learn classroom expectations and whether your child has missed any assignments.”

Speak with your child about his or her concerns, and try to get specific details.

If you’re worried that a teacher used degrading or inappropriate language, “Get the quote,” says Rashoff. “Ask, ‘Exactly, what did he say?’ ”

Keep questions somewhat casual, so your child doesn’t exaggerate or clam up. A kindergartner might say a teacher is “mean” because she makes him stay in his seat or do his work, so it might simply be a case of explaining to your child the normal expectations at school. If you do start to hear things that concern you, try to keep your emotions in check as you decide what to do next. That’s not always easy for parents.

If you do think there is a problem, let your child know that you want to work with the teacher to make sure school is a positive experience.

“If the parent is not happy with what he or she perceives is going on with the school, I would always encourage parents to say something,” says Leslie Coghlan, director of Pupil Services for the Anaheim City School District.

“We know that children who are happy to be going to school have higher success rates,” adds Yesenia Navarro, Curriculum Specialist for parent involvement for the Anaheim City School District.

Go to the Teacher

“One thing you never want to do is blindside a teacher,” says Maureen Christensen, president of the Fourth District Parent Teacher Association, which represents all of the PTA councils in Orange County.

Until you talk with the teacher, you do not have the full picture of what is happening in the classroom, just your child’s perception of it. So don’t request a meeting with the school principal or school board without talking to the teacher first. If you feel an issue needs to be raised, make an appointment with the teacher.

Try to be diplomatic, and use non-blaming language. Say something like, “I’m wondering if you could help me understand what’s going on with Steve,” rather than, “Steve says you are mean.” Go into the meeting assuming the best of the teacher and your child, but be prepared to hear your child may have done something to annoy the teacher. Contrary to many parents’ assumptions, our little angels aren’t always perfect.

“Maybe it’s a case where your child hasn’t turned in four assignments. If you     don’t do your work, you’re not going to be as respected as a kid who does his or her work,” Rashoff says. Ideally, the teacher will shed light on the situation and become your ally to make sure your child is in the best learning environment. If that’s not the case — or if the teacher becomes defensive — try to keep your calm and reiterate that you are just trying to learn as much as you can about the situation. 

One practical tip from school experts: To schedule a meeting with a teacher, email is better than the phone, and it is reasonable to expect an answer within about 24 hours.

One more reminder: “It is best to establish connections with your children’s teachers before any problems arise”, says Marisol Cordova, a community liaison at Edison Elementary in Anaheim, who works daily as a link between parents and school officials. Many schools — especially ones with large populations of English-language learners — have community liaisons like Cordova, and they can be a valuable ally to help parents best advocate for their children.

“Make yourself present. Even if you work, email the teacher at the beginning of the year to introduce yourself and offer support. Stop by back-to-school night so they know who you are,” Cordova says. Christensen adds: “If you are in constant communication, then there shouldn’t be any surprises.”

Now, Reassess

Maybe your meeting with the teacher cleared up a little misunderstanding. Maybe you learned that your child’s teacher is a little grumpy or serious, which means you can help your child understand that just because someone doesn’t smile all the time, it doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t like him.

“It’s important for kids to learn how to deal with different personality types because they have to deal with them in the real world,” says Rashoff. But if you have raised concerns with the teacher on more than one occasion, and don’t feel you have gotten a good resolution, it’s time for a decision. Do you help your child make the best of the current situation — or go over the teacher’s head to complain to the principal?

Christensen says her son had a dour kindergarten teacher that he didn’t really like during his school career. She dealt with the problem by volunteering to help more in the classroom and reinforcing to her son that he was still learning in school even though his teacher didn’t seem like the warmest person.

“While principals want students to be in an environment where they can succeed, there is no ‘constitutional right’ to have the teacher you choose,” Rashoff says.     “In middle and high schools in particular, sometimes a particular teacher is the only one who teaches a certain subject, so students have to adjust to different teaching styles.”

In that case, it is important to work with your teenager to make sure they don’t sabotage themselves. Rashoff recalls that her son didn’t like his AP European History teacher, so he stopped doing the work and his grade suffered for it.

“He was really punishing himself,” Rashoff says.

In the rare case a principal cannot resolve the issue, only then should parents consider contacting the district office to complain. The takeaway for parents is that they should really consider themselves a partner with their child’s teacher. That’s all the more true now that the new Local Control Funding Formula for schools specifically names parental involvement as one of eight priorities for districts, says Coughlan of the Anaheim City School District.

“Parent input is always valued and appreciated, and teachers want to know when they feel their child is being challenged too much, or not enough,” says Coughlan. “They know their child best.”

Article in OC Family Magazine by Kelly St. John Regier

Retired counselor and author has sage advice for parents of teens

By Kelly St. John Regier, OC Family Magazine, February 2015

[Click to read the digitized version, then go to February 2015 issue, page 56 OR read the full article below.]

OC Family Magazine

Feb. 2015 issue, pages 56 – 58.

Karyn Rashoff figures that she has held nearly 20,000 counseling sessions with high school students, parents, teachers and administrators during her 33 years as a guidance counselor.

After she retired in 2012 from her last post – 20 years as a counselor at El Toro High School – the Irvine resident decided to share what she has learned about navigating the homework wars, college admissions process and other power struggles that often flare up between teenagers and their parents.

The result is a book titled, Parents in Highschooland: Helping Students Succeed in the Critical Years (available as an e-book on Amazon for $4.95 and in paperback) which is filled with “real life” stories and concrete advice Rashoff collected from dozens of school officials, teachers, parents and teenagers.

It’s almost like having a group of experienced friends gathered in a living room to tell the reader what they wish they had known when they were navigating the tumultuous high school years.

“I think of it almost like a recipe box,” says Rashoff. “I tried to write is as a nuts and bolts approach, so parents can pick and choose what to use.”

The desire to write Parents in Highschooland came to Rashoff in part as a response to common themes she encountered during her decades in education.

“High school students are not just learning subject matter, but also life skills. I felt that some parents were at a loss about how to help their teen get ready for life after high school,” she says, noting that learning to be on time for class and turning in work on time will help them succeed in school and the ventures that follow.

“One trend I’ve seen is parents who are turning over the responsibility for raising their child over to the school,” she says. She described one conference for a freshman who wasn’t doing well in school. The parents’ response was akin to “He’s in high school now so he needs to handle it on his own.” That, she says, is a big mistake.

“Don’t back off,” she advises parents. Instead, monitor your kids, whether getting to know their friends or keeping an eye on their grades online. Also, try to stay tender and attentive, even when they try your patience.

“Tell your kids you love them all the time. Then when you correct them, it comes from a platform of love, not power,” she says.

As for talking with your teens about school, she suggests parents try to keep it business-like as a way to keep a teen’s often heated emotions in check.

Ask your child, “What is it you need me to do to help you with school?” she advises. Then, listen to the answer.

But that doesn’t mean to make excuses for them when they miss assignments or shirk responsibilities. “When you make excuses for your kid, you are turning your kid into a victim,” she says.

Rashoff, mother to a 25-year-old son who graduated from Woodbridge High School and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, does not hold back from sharing some of her own parenting regrets either.

“Here’s a tip I had to learn the hard way with my own son,” she writes in Highschooland. “When you’re in conflict with your child over school, take one deep breath and give yourself time to remember that we humans tend to do the opposite of what we’re told if it’s repeated enough times to annoy us.”

“I regret nagging him,” Rashoff says. A better approach to getting teens to handle challenges is to help them make a plan and support them as they work out their concerns or problems, she says.

Rashoff also urges parents to think twice about taking away an activity a child loves as a punishment for grades.

“Don’t put restrictions on something your child wants that benefits his education, such as his wanting to buy books, join clubs or participate in sports. This kind of interest is a signal to you that your child is excited about something, and every instance of excitement of this sort is a learning opportunity for both of you,” she writes.

After all, Rashoff says, the research shows that the more extracurricular school related activities teens do, the better their grades are. She thinks that is because they feel more invested in their school and education.

Rashoff hold firm beliefs about setting your child up for success with homework.

“One of my big pieces of advice is to take your kids’ cell phone while they’re doing homework,” she says. “Tell them, ‘I’ll protect you from yourself.’ They have so many more distractions than we did in our day.”

She suggests that instead of doing homework behind a closed bedroom door, have your teens do their homework in an open place like the dining room table. (But don’t hover over them, she insists.) If they struggle with time management, use a timer to break work down into manageable 20-minute chunk of time, with breaks in between.

When it comes to planning for college, Rashoff has other tips for parents. First is to help your child research and learn about colleges.

“Early on, even if your kids are younger, take them to a college campus so they can decide ‘This is cool. I want to be here.’” She says. The summer between freshman and sophomore years is often a good time to visit colleges, which offer free tours to families, she says.

If your student in interested in a particular school, you can fins the college freshman profile for that school, which give the make-up of the class, including average SAT scores and GPAs.

“Then your teen knows, ‘That’s what I have to shoot for,’” she says.

Students should take advantage of the free college-planning resources offered by their high school guidance counseling office before they consider pricey private counseling, Rashoff says.

That said, for families who can afford it, an SAT prep course is usually a good investment, she notes.

So what did Rashoff learn from the families who seemed to have mastered the parent-teen dynamic?

“The families who had it together had parents who held their children responsible and accountable, not in a mean way, but a businesslike way,” she says. “There’s so much parents can do to support their kids.”

Karyn Rashoff leads parenting workshops based on Highschooland, including one that will be held in March at Irvine Valley College. For more information, go online to

Interview in Publishers Weekly by Grace Bello

Interview in Publishers Weekly – In the Trenches: PW Talks with Karyn Rashoff by Grace Bello

Click here to read the article on the Publishers Weekly website.

A high school counselor with 33 years of experience, Karyn Rashoff self-published Parents in Highschooland: Helping Students Succeed in the Critical Years last year. The guidebook for parents and students received a starred review from PW Select with our reviewer saying, “Rashoff has compiled such a helpful book — well researched, on topic, with plenty of good examples — that it’s hard to give her anything but an A.” PW caught up with Rashoff recently to talk about indie publishing and the issues facing parents and adolescents.

Why did you choose to self-publish your book?

I’ve been going to writers’ conferences for about eight years. I’ve learned so much information about the publishing industry. But with traditional publishing, you need an agent, the publisher has an editor — so you lose control when you publish traditionally. And if you publish traditionally with an agent and a large corporation, the time frame for actually getting your book in print and on the shelves to the public could be years. And I was just too impatient for that. I wanted this book to come out as soon as possible — while it was still in my head — and to get this information out there.

How does your book fit in with other books about parents and adolescents?

There hasn’t been a book written that I could ever find from someone in the trenches like I was for 33 years as a high school guidance counselor. I wanted something that talked about real families, not theories. The other parenting books on the market are kind of scholarly. They go into, for instance, brain research on ADD. This is not like that. It’s very concrete, it’s very behavioral.

One of the stories in your book was about a mother giving too much help with a homework assignment. The paper came back, and the teacher had written “Mom’s grade: B.” What’s your advice to parents who are unsure when to step in and when to hang back?

I think it has a lot to do with their [children’s] age. So little kids need to have a lot more help and support and guidance than older kids. But don’t step back all the way from helping them with high school. We want our kids to be happy and successful, and that’s why we try so hard. We want to guide them, but we can’t manage them every step of the way. The most important thing is to talk with your teen. Find out the facts. You might be surprised at what your teen doesn’t know.

You also write about how teenagers actually need structure when it comes to studying and homework. Can you give us a few examples of a good amount of structure to give?

I’d say that even at the beginning of freshman year in high school, start out having them study 20 minutes each night for each subject. They’ll say, “No, I don’t have any homework in math or science!” But they still need to study it for 20 minutes. And then they can get up and run around or have something to eat or walk the dog. But they have to be in charge of their time.

Parents tend to micromanage, and that sometimes creates a really bad relationship. So give them the freedom to keep track of their own time. And don’t let them do their homework in their bedrooms. The best place to do homework is the kitchen table or the dining room table. You don’t need to sit with them at all; they would hate that, and you would, too. But be around and make sure they’ve got their nose to the grindstone.

You mentioned that some teens who don’t do well in school will often blame teachers. And parents tend to side with their kids, of course. So what’s really going on here, and how should parents deal with it?

Parents need to see this as, you’re all on the same side. You’re all interested in the student getting good grades. And a teacher likes to give good grades! In my book, I have different instructions for parents. So in this case, I’d ask my teen, “What can I do to help you at school?” And you might be surprised what you hear back. Once, I was having a parent conference with a mother and her son. We were not getting anywhere. And I said, “Well, what can you ask your mother for that would help you improve in school?” He stood up, and he faced her, and he almost yelled, “Turn off your TV!” Who knew that was bothering him? So it could be something as simple as having a quieter house.

Grace Bello is a freelance writer in New York.

Press Release: Trying to Figure Out Your Highschooler?


CONTACT: Karyn Rashoff,, 949–939–2549.

Trying to Figure Out Your Highschooler?
Here’s a Book You Can Use Tonight.

IRVINE, CA—September 1, 2013—Parents in Highschooland: Helping Students Succeed in the Critical Years, is Karyn Rashoff’s caring and supportive account of thirty-three years of dedicated work as a high school guidance counselor.

During her career, which began when she was only 23 years old, she documented nearly 20,000 counseling interactions with students, parents, teachers and administrators, and in this book  she identifies, analyzes and resolves the complex and usually conflict-filled interactions between students and their parents, using some fifty stories taken lovingly from ‘real life’.

Rashoff started her career as a middle and high school counselor in a rural town in Northern California, and over the years she has worked with students and families in large cities and in suburban high schools, as well, all the time realizing that parents—regardless of income, ethnicity, race or social status—just want the very best for their children’s education and lives.

“The source of many of these problems,” she observes, “is the simple lack of communication; parents and students just don’t speak the same language. In fact, all too often they just don’t speak.”

Concrete anecdotes and examples of positive things parents can do and have found successful in their homes and in their direct contact with school officials, teachers, coaches—and of course, their teens—are supplemented throughout the book by tips, interviews and true stories told by both students and parents.

To sum up, this book can be used as quick reference for ideas and approaches that parents and students may use immediately, both at home and in school.

Parents in Highschooland: Helping Students Succeed in the Critical Years ($12.95, ISBN: 978–0-9897606–1-4), a 176-page paperback published by BarkingDogBooks, is also available as an e-book, in bookstores, major book retailers and online booksellers.


CONTACT: Karyn Rashoff,, 949–939–2549.