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Written by:  Malia Jacobson
Date: January 1, 2013

Long before the first day of school rolls around, many kids dream of heading off to a bright, busy classroom helmed by a warm, supportive teacher. Sadly, the reality of school isn't always so rosy, especially when a child doesn't click with an instructor.

When a child dislikes a teacher — or feels disliked by one — school becomes a daily struggle. Just ask Constance Zimmer of Sanford. Her stepson, Harrison, now a happy fourth-grader, got off on the wrong foot with his first-grade teacher. "He felt picked on and singled out," she recalls. "He began to act out in class and refused to participate in projects and assignments." Fortunately, teacher-student traumas are often fixable. Read on for ways to smooth the bumps for a better school year.

Ages 0-5: Slow & steady
When a preschooler appears to dislike a teacher, longtime early childhood educator and co-author of "Monday Morning Leadership" Evelyn Addis warns parents against jumping  the gun and hastily switching classes or schools. When a child begins preschool, he may be responding negatively to the overwhelming experience of school rather than a specific teacher. "Allow a period of adjustment for your child in any new classroom setting," says Addis. "It takes time for classes to come together as a group."

Most schools welcome parents to observe a child's classroom in action, particularly when a concern arises. But beware: A short classroom observation doesn't present a true picture of an entire instructional day, and a parent's presence can alter a child's behavior. If complaints about a teacher persist, document your concerns and set up a conference with the teacher. Brainstorm a plan for addressing problem areas, along with a plan for daily or  weekly communication to monitor the situation, Addis advises.

Ages 6-10: Detective duty
When a grade-schooler complains about a super-strict teacher, don't impulsively jump to calling the principal or filing a complaint, says child and adolescent psychologist Kristen Wynns, founder of Wynns Family Psychology in Cary. Instead, go into detective mode: Gather information about the conflict in a log. After a few weeks of documenting the problem, request a meeting with the teacher to talk about a solution before you consider alternative options like changing teachers.

Sometimes, there's more to the "mean teacher" situation than meets the eye. Zimmer's stepson, Harrison, felt targeted by his teacher, but it turned out that he had undiagnosed attention deficit disorder. "Once the problem was treated, he made progress in leaps and bounds, and realized that it wasn't a matter of the teacher not liking him, but his own perceptions about his lack of progress in school," says Zimmer.

Ages 11-18: Obstacle course
Most teens will run into a teacher conflict at some point, says Wynns. "Any parent knows if you go to school long enough, it's inevitable you'll have that 'really mean' or demanding teacher." Though those experiences aren't always fun, they can teach valuable lessons about dealing with difficult people, she notes. After ensuring that the class in question isn't too easy or too advanced for the teen's academic abilities, Wynns advises parents to avoid automatically "rescuing" teens who find themselves in a tough spot with a teacher. When parents encourage teens to continue in the class instead of granting them the easy way out (like dropping the course), it conveys a strong message about the parent's confidence in the teen, says Wynns. Teenagers who see that a parent believes they can handle a tricky situation will often rise to the occasion.

Malia Jacobson is a freelance writer and mother of two.



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Encourage more independent decision-making by addressing fear-flooded beliefs like "I won't be able to do it," "I won't be good at it" or "They won't like me." Help your teen see past fears by reminding her that she's capable of achieving when she sets her mind to something.
 
 

From "Teaching Kids to Make Good Choices"

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