Don’t smile until Christmas! is the old teacher adage but what if you teacher doesn’t even know how to smile?
The difference between being mean and being strict
A strict teacher has high standards for kids’ behavior and school performance and she applies these standards to everyone equally and applies them every day. Kids know where they stand with this teacher and they know how to stay on her good side: behave yourself and work hard. When this teacher bestows a rare smile, it seems like a gift. You know you’ve earned it.
The mean teacher is unpredictable. She seems to like some kids better than others and lets them get away with stuff other kids get punished for. She likes to catch kids being bad or doing poorly and she even seems to set traps for them. You almost think she believes kids are the enemy. When this teacher smiles, watch out! She might be plotting against you.
First, figure out if your teacher is really mean or if she’s just being strict. A strict teacher deserves no complaints. Students in her classroom will learn to stretch themselves and will discover just how much they can achieve. They just have to put in the effort and keep their hands to themselves. But if your teacher seems mean, check it out. Talk with other students and see what they think.
Dealing with a mean teacher:
The first step is to take the problem to the principal. Call and request a face-to-face meeting with her.
At this meeting, you will need data. The principal isn’t so familiar with the class. So gather data that demonstrate that the teacher is being mean and not just being strict. Remember that you are speaking only for yourself here, so the examples your gather of the teacher’s mean behavior shouldn’t include examples of what’s happened to other kids in the class. What makes you think the teacher is mean? How can you demonstrate that you are not the difficult one? Stick to the facts and don’t exaggerate.
Take your notes with you, so you don’t forget anything you want to say. Expect that the teacher herself may be at your meeting with the principal. Know what you want to get out of the conversation and be reasonable (getting the teacher fired is not reasonable, but moving to another classroom is). As before, listen more than you talk and stay in control of your emotions.
Everyone hopes that this meeting goes well: you do but so also do the teacher and the principal. If you are satisfied, then fine. Send a thank you email to the principal and teacher next day that summarizes what you’ve all agreed to do. Agree to meet in a couple weeks to review the situation. But if things don’t do smoothly, you still have some options.
What to do when nothing is working
If you are convinced that the situation is serious but you haven’t made any progress in talking with your teacher or the principal, you still have three options.
- You can take your complaint one step higher in a letter to the school board. Now you may need not only your own data but data from other parents, demonstrating that the problem is not just a problem for yourself. Obviously, this takes time – maybe more time than is left in the school year. You might take this step only if you feel this teacher is so unbalanced or unprofessional that she will be a danger to future classes too.
- You can withdraw and enroll him somewhere else. But imagine first all the difficulties this might raise: private school tuition, transportation to and from school each day, loss of your school friends, and maybe academic issues resulting from your need to adjust to a new curriculum. Like going to the school board, switching schools is a drastic step that you should consider only if you feel the situation is so serious you can’t let things go.
- You can let things go. Living for nine months with a mean teacher might be better than the alternatives. It can even be a good lesson in learning to manage adversity and handle difficult people.
Finding a teacher’s good side isn’t something any child should have to do. We all want our teachers to be paragons of virtue. But teachers are human being too. Your job as a caring human being yourself is to try to work things out agreeably.
Best wishes with that.