What To Do About A Bad Teacher

What can you do about a mean teacher?
Bad teachers can be difficult to deal with. Selimaksan/ Getty Images

Truly bad teachers are rare, but they do exist.  Most teachers today are required to have a college degree and complete a mentored student teaching internship before being eligible to teach.  The path to becoming a professional, certified teacher is challenging enough to stop most people who do not belong in the profession from becoming a regular classroom teacher.

Yet somehow, occasionally someone who might not be fit to be a teacher gets the credentials, and a teaching position.

 If your child is in a class with a bad teacher, you are probably concerned about what your child will learn and what experiences they will have in that classroom.

Your concern is justified.  An entire school year is a large amount of learning time in your child's academic career.  Your child needs to spend each school year deeply learning concepts that build from one grade to another with the new rigorous standards being adopted nationwide.  Spending a yea with a truly bad teacher will mean that your child will not be learning the material they need for their future grade levels.  

First, Get All Of The Information 

If you are truly concerned your child has a bad teacher, either your child has come home from school telling you terrible stories about their day, or you have heard awful stories from other parents.  Either way, you need to remember that you are not seeing first hand what happens in the classroom.

 You are also getting a limited viewpoint of what is happening.

You will want to jump right in and make changes -- don't.  You need to stop and really try to understand what is going on before you do anything else.  The stories that you have heard from your child or friends may not be the whole story, or even real.

  Your child may have misunderstood what the teacher was telling them, or they could be repeating a silly rumor that is going around the school between kids.  Your friends who don't like the teacher may not have been willing to consider that their child was causing problems at school.

Begin by asking your child open-ended questions about what is happening at school. Ask questions like "What happened today at school?"  "What happened after/before that happened?"  Avoid yes or no questions, which do not describe circumstances.  Do not try to guess or make suggestions as to what happened, as these questions can lead or confuse children.   

In these early stages you want to be careful not to say anything negative about the teacher.  Children are sensitive to their parents attitudes about teachers and education.  Even if you disagree with what the teacher is doing, you still want your child to know that they should be respectful at school.

Identify The Problem  - Is It Really A Bad Teacher?

Teaching truly can be a rewarding career.

 It is also stressful and fraught with change.  Even talented teachers may have an off day or make a simple mistake.  There are great teachers, teachers who might need encouragement to improve, and then there are the truly bad teachers.  The truly bad teachers will consistently be ineffective. 

Four Types of Truly Bad Teachers:

  1. Boring Teacher This is the teacher who talks for a while and then hands out worksheets, and that is it.  While modern teachers do give lectures and worksheets, they also will have hands-on assignments, projects, groups discussions, and inspire their students.  
  2. No Control Teacher - As in no control of their classroom.  This teacher has a classroom that feels like a party with no adult supervision, even though the teacher is there.   Students talk over the teacher and may even throw things during class.  Parents will hear different stories from their children about this teacher.  Some students may like this teacher, but can't tell you about what they are supposed to be learning in school.  Other students may complain of the classroom being noisy, chaotic, and feeling stressed.
  3. The Mean Teacher This is the teacher who believes that kids are all out to take advantage any way they can, all the time.  This teacher will rarely or never make exceptions for students who are truly struggling.  This teacher will do the minimum required on an IEP, or not cooperate at all.  They may yell at kids, make eye rolls when asked questions, and generally seem to dislike their students.
  4. The Lighweight Teacher This teacher doesn't teach material to any depth. Your child may complain of being bored or that school is way too easy.  You will notice that your child's schoolwork is much easier than it was in the past, and requires little thinking.  This teacher will not be able to explain how their lessons are teaching the required material of required rigorous standards or learning expectations of your state or school district.

Some teachers who are under stress or just having a bad day may fall into one of these categories briefly.  The truly bad teacher will fall into one or more of the above categories all of the time.

Remember You Will Need To Be Diplomatic

Your child has been assigned to this class for this year.  You want to do your best to have a positive relationship with the teacher and the school since that is where your child will be during the day for the rest of the year.  The actions you choose to take to help solve the problem should be aimed at having the best relationship between the school, teacher, your child and you that you can manage.

 Decide Which Actions To Take

Use what you have learned so far to decide what you will do.  Remember that you may learn more about the situation as you try to solve it.  If your child has a truly bad teacher, you will likely need to use more than one of the following strategies.

Teachers continue to learn and change over the course of their careers.  Teachers in their first three years are still settling into the profession.  They may even improve by getting feedback received through the following steps, especially if they are a no-control teacher.  

Veteran teachers who have already been teaching for years are more likely to be set in their ways and refuse to change.  However, schools across the nation have been changing their annual evaluation process to help veteran teachers notice their weaknesses and make improvements.  

These actions will help a teacher who wants to improve do so, while making it obvious that a truly bad  teacher needs to find a different line of work.

Help Your Child Solve The Problem

Suggest ways to your child that they can improve the situation.  If the teacher doesn't answer questions, can your child find the answer in a book, from their classmates, a website or their notes?  If the classroom is chaotic, can your child move to a quiet spot in the room or the hallway to do their work?  If the school work is boring, can your child nicely suggest to the teacher to assign projects?  Can your child create a reward system for themselves to encourage them to do unexciting school work?

Talk With The Teacher

Schedule a time to talk with the teacher. It is best to do this in person if possible.  Let the teacher calmly know what your child has told you, and give the teacher a chance to respond. Be careful to present what your child has said without being accusatory. For example, you could say "My son seems to think you don't like him, he says that when he asks for help with his math you roll your eyes and just tell him to try. He feels lost in math."

The teacher may have a different explanation of the events.  The teacher may have been unaware of their body language and may change after hearing about how the student felt.  The effective teacher will either be able to explain what has happened, or will use the feedback to make positive changes.

If nothing else, this will make the teacher aware that your child talks with you about what is happening at school.  If they are a truly bad teacher, they might watch their step a little more around a child if the teacher knows that parent may complain.

Come In And Observe The Class

Sometimes seeing what happens in the classroom yourself firsthand will help you understand the problem.  Each school has different rules about parent visitors, so check with the office and the teacher before you come in to observe.  You may have to go and observe a few times to see if there is an overall pattern.  Don't worry that the teacher will be able to cover up if they have a serious problem.  The truly bad teacher won't teach any better just because you came to visit that day.

You may find that your child is the one who is actually causing the problem.  A teacher may be refusing to provide help or assistance because your child refuses to follow the directions or take notes in class.

Use what you see during your time observing to either talk with our child or the teacher.  If you are seriously concerned by what you have seen, talk with the principal.

Talk With The Principal

Only talk with the principal if you feel that there is no way you can solve this problem between your child, the teacher and you.  This is a last or almost last resort solution.  Administrators are extremely busy, and will try to respect their staff members as professionals.  If the principal believes that it is a problem between a teacher and child or a parent and a teacher only, the principal will try to solve it at that level.  

Involving the principal is complaining to the teacher's supervisor.  The teacher may resent you "tattling" on them.  A petty teacher may hold this against your child.  More likely a teacher may feel more cautious around you.  This step is unlikely to lead to a relaxed relationship between you and the teacher.  However, if a teacher is truly a bad teacher, this is an important step to take.

Be prepared to stay calm and stick with objective facts as you know them.  Begin by stating in one or two sentences what you see as being the problem.  Be prepared to explain how you know what you know.  Include what happened, and the effects of the events.  For example "Mr. Smith's classroom is unruly and my child cannot learn.  My child has told me several times she feels stressed out by the noise and cannot complete any school work.  I came and observed twice for twenty minutes during reading lesson in Mr. Smiths room.  Several students talked loudly while Mr. Smith tried to teach, and a few students were throwing paper wads across the classroom.  Mr. Smith clearly saw what the students were doing and did nothing about it."

Don't expect the principal to go into specific details about how they plan to handle any issues with the teacher.  Any disciplinary action is a personnel matter and often legally needs to be handled with discretion.  What you are interested in is whether or not the situation improves for your child.  If it does not improve and you feel the class cannot be tolerated for the remainder of the school year, look to change teachers or school.

Ask To Change Teachers or Schools

This should absolutely be a last resort option.  Changing classrooms means adjusting to new peers, a new teacher and classroom rules.  Some schools may not be able to provide a different teacher due to staffing limits or district policies.  This will leave the only option to change schools, which requires even more change and transition, possibly even transportation problems.  

If you can't change teachers or schoools, do your best to try to fill in any learning gaps as quickly as possible.  Look into tutoring or ways your child can learn outside of school. This willhelp them to be prepared for the following year, with a different teacher.

Continue Reading