Dr. Michelle Golland: It's a classic story: A teenager attends the first day of school and winds up hating one of his teachers. (Can't you just hear the angry whine of a 14-year-old telling you how this teacher is the worst teacher, mean and a difficult grader to boot?!) As he slams the door to his room, you hear him mumbling about how the teacher "hates" him, too. With their teens' hormones raging -- and peer pressure not helping to open kids' minds to the possibility that this or that "horrible" teacher may not be as bad as they think -- what are parents to do?
Our first reaction may be to just rush down to the school and get them out of the class. But that may not be such a good idea. Dealing with personality conflicts is a part of life. We've all had bosses and coworkers that we just didn't get along with, but we don't get to just quit our jobs because we don't like someone. In life, sometimes we just need to deal with what we've been given and try to make the best of it. This is a very important lesson for our kids to learn. Whether they're in college or at their first jobs, we need to help them be resilient and flexible when dealing with others in their world -- even if those others are "mean" and "hateful".
1) Listen to your teen's concerns about his teacher. (Remember that you're only getting one side of the story, though.)
2) Encourage your teen to meet with the teacher during office hours, and help him articulate what he wants to say. Helping your teen be independent and create a working relationship with the teacher will be a valuable learning lesson.
3) If he refuses to talk to the teacher on his own, set up a meeting with the three of you -- but have your child do most of the talking. (You're just there to provide support and foster understanding between them.)
4) Follow up with your child and the teacher to see if the resolution has been successful. Check in via e-mail with the teacher occasionally.
5) Document all interactions, whether they be phone calls, meetings or e-mails. If the problem is not being dealt with to your satisfaction and you decide that further action is needed (i.e., taking it to the principal and counselor), you will need documentation.
WHEN TO SEE THE PRINCIPAL
1) If something inappropriate or unethical is occurring in the classroom or with your child, you must immediately go to the school counselor or principal. These situations must be documented, and they require prompt attention.
2) If you've tried all of the strategies above yet the issues between your child and his teacher are still not resolved, then you must go over the teacher's head.
It is imperative that we help our kids deal with conflicts in their world. We want them to be able to articulate their thoughts, feelings and concerns in a clear manner to the adults in their lives. Our teens need to know that they can have a successful outcome by confronting problems directly instead of just avoiding conflict. Once they go off to college, we won't always be there to help them solve their people problems. So build their confidence now by teaching them how to face issues head-on in a mature manner -- with you as their model.