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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

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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.”

By Time or By Assignment?

TIP SHEET #11: By Time or By Assignment?

Knowing how to use time wisely is a life-long set of skills that carry over to work, home life and school, of course. Homework and studying can be done two different ways: by setting aside a specific amount of uninterrupted time to study, or by completing specific assignments or tasks. The idea is to use your time wisely and not allow homework and studying to drag on all night. Teens don’t need to spend all evening doing homework unless they are in a very difficult honors curriculum.

By Time or By Assignment

Which works best for you –

  • finishing a specific job, topic or project, or
  • using a specific amount of uninterrupted time to study and do homework?

Here’s an example:

I have to clean my messy house because friends are coming over for dinner. To motivate myself, I can:

1. spend a specific period of uninterrupted time cleaning my house so I know when I’ll be done with the chores and they won’t drag on all day, or

2. I can do specific tasks (dust furniture, clean the bathroom, clean the kitchen) for that feeling of accomplishment, relief and pride. We all want to feel a sense of accomplishment in the things we do.

Think about what technique of time management would work for you best in the evenings for homework.

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How to Make a ‘Plan’ Together

TIP SHEET #10: How to Make a ‘Plan’ Together

Plan a time to brainstorm ideas about school. Don’t just spring this plan idea on your teen but make a date to talk when you’re both relaxed. Ask your teen the questions below and write down her answers together. Sit at the kitchen or dining room table where you’re both comfortable and can have a business-like conversation. Try to keep emotion out of it, and look for behaviors to start up or eliminate in order to make high school more successful.

  • What do you think are reasonable grades to earn at the quarter? At the semester?
  • What time of day or evening is your best and most productive time?
  • What time do you want to be finished with everything at night?
  • Do you have all the school supplies that you need?
  • What can I do to support you in school, as your mom/dad?
  • Do you (the student) need to talk with the teacher? If so, do it tomorrow and bring back suggestions for improvement to me tomorrow afternoon so we can work on it together.

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What TEENS Need to Do for Math Success

TIP SHEET #8: What Teens Need to Do for Math Success

Classroom success begins long before you walk through the classroom door!

  • Ask the teacher questions in class or at tutorial. Ask as soon as you have one, and don’t wait until you get home.
  • Take your math book and homework home every day even if you’ve finished all of your homework. Here is why:
    1. to show your parents that you’ve completed the work and have them quickly check it
    2. to do a 5-minute review (practice) of the work you already did.
  •  If you have time at the end of class, start your math homework right away – don’t just shut the book to chat with friends and wait to start at home.
    Here is why:
    1. if you’re having trouble, you can ask the teacher right away
    2. starting work in class begins the important practice of making it stick.
  • Use the teacher’s format and show all of your work.
    Here is why: if you make a mistake in the process of steps, the teacher (and you) can see where you didn’t understand. Showing all of your work isn’t about cheating; it’s about discovering a mistake and correcting it in the process of steps.
  • Look in the book for help. Get in the habit of looking backward into the section just taught if you need help. Your mind is a wonderful resource if it knows how to use a book as a teaching tool.
  • Copy down the bold words and their definitions to make flash cards. Important words and concepts in the book are bold to help you learn.
    Here is why: this will impress your parents and make them happy!
  • Every night before bed, check your backpack to make sure you have paper, your books, homework and pencils. Put all of your school stuff in front of the door you’re going to walk out of in the morning. Check your printer to make sure there’s nothing left in it.

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Help Your Teen Get Organized For School

TIP SHEET #7: Help Your Teen Get Organized For School

When parents reinforce organizational skills at home, they become habits that increase a teen’s effectiveness across the board. A home environment free of distractions and interruptions greatly boosts your teen’s efficiency. Parents play a critical role in creating this tone to help their teens.


  • Keep a neat notebook with school papers separated by class with notes, tests, handouts and homework.
  • Take paper, pens and pencils to school each day. (Use a zipper pocket.)
  • Write down homework assignments and their due dates in your planner.
  • Ask the teacher questions before leaving class.
  • Bring all books and materials home for study and homework.
  • Sit at a comfortable desk or table with good lighting, pens, pencils, paper, and other materials. (Don’t study on the bed or couch.)
  • Study with a partner, if appropriate, for languages or reviewing for tests and quizzes.
  • After studying, put all materials together to take to school the next morning.
  • Look online at grades from teachers every few days.
  • Before going to bed, put all school stuff by the door so you have to trip over it going out the door.


  • Toss papers randomly into books and notebooks.
  • Leave homework at school.
  • Try to study in a cluttered or noisy area.
  • Interrupt your study time with texts or phone calls.
  • Scribble homework on scratch paper or rely on your memory.
  • Listen to loud music or TV while studying.
  • Go to bed without organizing your school stuff for the next day.

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What Seniors Say They Wish They Knew When They Started High School

TIP SHEET #6: What Seniors Say They Wish They Knew When They Started High School


  • Freshman classes and grades count for college admission.
  • “D” grades count for high school credit but NOT for college admission.
  • A’s and B’s are generally necessary for continuation in the college prep sequence throughout high school.
  • Your freshman year is critical for success in classes the next three years.


  • All “F” grades in required subjects must be made up in order to graduate.
  • Always complete and turn in all homework. Zeros on homework will pull down “A” and “B” grades on tests.
  • Study an average of half-hour for each class every night – whether you have homework or not.
  • Your number one job as a teen is to be a student.
  • Don’t miss class or fall behind on assignments.
  • Sit near the front of the class if you’re having trouble.
  • Students involved in some type of extra curricular activity – on campus or off campus – do better in school.
  • Keep an accurate record of assignments and deadlines in your planner.
  • It’s your responsibility to check with the teacher about missed assignments if you’ve been out sick.
  • A 2.0 GPA is required to be eligible for school extra-curricular activities.
  • Once you get behind, it’s very tough to catch up.
  • Teachers generally don’t allow students to take tests over, turn assignments in late for half credit, or do extra credit work.

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Words from a Successful College Sophomore

TIP SHEET #5: Words from a Successful College Sophomore

1. My family’s expectations were clear. “There was never really any other option discussed. It was just completely normal to talk about going to college.”

2. Distractions at home were minimized. “My mom would organize our time, and we’d read a lot. We had a simple structure when we came home from school: grab a snack and do homework. A couple of chores, then we could do whatever we wanted for the night.”

3. We were treated, not rewarded.  “My parents would treat us to things for a good report card, but it wasn’t consistent. The rewards, if you called them that, were sporadic and not planned at all. It wasn’t for the grades but to help us meet their expectations.”

4. Get a peer tutor.   “I’d highly recommend getting a tutor if you need help; it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. I had one for science and math the all the way through my last three years, and that little extra study time and personal attention made it easier. My parents used bright students who were a year or two ahead of me, and they paid them.”

5. No emotion allowed. “My parents knew I’d need a Plan to figure out what I didn’t understand. My mom helped by giving me options and ideas, and we came up with a Plan for me to talk to my teachers, get a tutor and extend my home study time. It was very business-like. I’d have to write out my Plan each time there was a bump in the road. Annoying but helpful.”

6. Practice your balancing act. “I learned how to be organized in high school and how to manage my time, especially because I was in sports. I’m beginning now to see the more adult payoff of that program, The Plan. My younger sisters watched me endure and develop, so there’s even a payoff for them.”

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Involved Parent or Interfering Parent?

involved parentDuring my years in the guidance office, I knew that all parents loved their teens with all their hearts. Some just have more productive skills they use with their teens at home. These parenting skills can be learned and used at home with your teens. Just be patient with yourself and practice them consistently.

Involved parents assume their teen …

  • has the ability and intelligence to learn on her own.
  • is strong and has friends who are good influences on her.
  • is able to solve life’s problems – with their help and guidance.
  • is able to make wise decisions – with their help and guidance.
  • is leaning how to negotiate and plan – with their help and guidance.
  • is able to speak with a business-like voice, posture and emotion.

Interfering parents

  • see the situation as adversarial between the teacher and the student.
  • display a lot of emotion to their teen regarding school.
  • assume their teen is a victim of the teacher’s dislike.
  • see the situation as isolated or a one-time occurrence instead of having a goal to solve the problem both long and short-term.
  • assume their teen is unable to solve the problem and doesn’t guide him to learn how to  solve problems.
    assume their teen is providing accurate information but don’t look for all the facts.

What do you think?

Is Homework a Hassle in Your Home?

Working on the ComputerYou’re not alone: it is in many homes. Wouldn’t it be great if your teens would study independently and efficiently without you having to nag and pester them all evening about homework? Studying and homework are hot buttons for teens and parents because there’s a lot at risk concerning school and power.

  • Try this: remove emotion from the homework issue. Yes, easy for me to say from here, but if you talk to your teen like you normally talk with your co-workers – reasonably, respectfully and calmly, without emotion – the drama is taken out of the interaction. I heard this often in my high school guidance office: “My parents treat me like a little kid; they don’t respect me so I don’t respect them.” Parents were often stunned by their teen saying this in the safety and comfort behind closed doors of an office.
  • If you respect them, they will respect you. The best teachers I knew were ones who respected their students by giving them enough independence to learn but still guide them if they needed help. They knew their names, shook their hands and held them to expectations and stuck with those expectations. If kids know your expectations, they know what to aim for.
  • Talk about your expectations for grades together. I knew a parent, who with all good intentions, said to her son in my office, “If you make straight A’s this semester, I’ll buy you a car.” Well… we were in my office because her son was making all D’s and F’s, so the expectation that he would earn straight A’s – something he had never done in his life – was not very realistic at all. Set realistic and attainable goals for grades together. Maybe all C’s would be realistic for him. We talked about sensible expectations, and they were negotiated nicely by mother and son.


Bribe Your Teen to Read this Summer

summer reading for teensWith summer vacation in full swing, your teen may look like a couch potato, letting time slip through his fingers while he meanders around the house or neighborhood with his friends. Here is one way to keep your teen engaged in learning – a fun way – during the summer: let him choose a book from a bookstore (used bookstores are great) or the library or an eBook and pay him to read it. What?? Did I say, “Pay him to read it”?? Let him choose how much; you might be surprised at his reasonable rate. On the other hand, he may want a new car for reading a book – to test you and get more information out of you. It seems that a teen tests us by pushing our buttons to see how far he can go, but it is really information-gathering.

Anyway, back to book-reading. Reading during the summer does these things:

  • increases vocabulary and spelling strength
  • provides quiet and solitude which is often lacking in teen lives
  • sends the strong message that reading is good and pleasant for its own sake
  • takes the reader to new places, people and events
  • offers intellectual stimulation to keep in practice for the school year.

You might want to have a little competition with your teen, seeing who can read the most books in the summer – it doesn’t matter what kind of book – just read! If you have several children, you can make a fun chart together and keep track of books read. Remember the Summer Reading for Teens Programs at the public libraries? Stop by and check those out; you can borrow their ideas to use with your own kids. What do you think?