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Dealing With Difficult Teachers is the Best Lesson Your Teen Can Learn

Over the years, my kids have experienced a variety of teaching styles in the classroom. And, though most of their teachers have been awesome, my son has had two teachers that made life more challenging for all of us—and taught us a lesson in resiliency.

When the Teacher is Mean

My son walked into his sixth grade Algebra class feeling pretty confident. He had always done well in math and liked the challenge and complexity of working numbers in his head.

But that all changed.

For the first several months of his semester, his teacher belittled his ability and would tell him that he wasn’t as smart as he thought he was. She graded him harshly, mocked him when he needed help with concepts, and was short with him in class.

For a 12-year-old, having a negative teacher was a tough pill to swallow. For a parent, it was even worse. The friction between my son and his teacher made sixth grade a living hell for him. When I found myself reduced to tears during a conference with the teacher, I realized that no matter what we did, we weren’t going to be able to resolve the situation.

While it was a stressful and miserable time for all of us, having a tough teacher ultimately taught my son valuable lessons. He learned how to communicate with a difficult person and to accept the fact that not everyone he might meet in life will like him. I learned that there are some situations you can’t fix for your kid, no matter how many emails you write to the administrators.

We just had to suck it up and wait out the school year.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned from my son’s math teacher is that there’s a difference between having a personality conflict with a teacher and having a teacher who is ineffective in the classroom. His math teacher may not have liked him, but her students performed well and her resources and techniques in the classroom were solid.

She didn’t like my kid, but he did manage to learn algebraic equations this year.

When the Teacher is Ineffective

But what happens when your kid has a teacher who doesn’t teach effectively or one who gives confusing and contradictory information in class and on tests?

Unfortunately, we lived through that scenario too.

My son, now a sophomore in high school, was enrolled in his third semester of a foreign language. Though he was on the fence about taking more than the required language credits, he enjoyed learning a new language and many of his friends would be in his class. Plus, as we’ve become accustomed to hearing, colleges like to see languages on transcripts, so he kept the class on his schedule.

He quickly realized that he wasn’t able to effectively learn from the language teacher’s techniques. Coupled with a complicated and cumbersome online teaching tool that was required for homework, he found that he was spending upwards of two or three hours a night studying. Frustrations ran high as he was juggling his first AP class and a demanding honors schedule.

Recalling my difficult situation with his math teacher and knowing that we have to prepare my son for challenging college professors, my husband and I opted to let him navigate the difficulties in the classroom.

I didn’t email the teacher.

I didn’t email administrators.

I helped him when I could with my rudimentary memory of Spanish, and we reached out to friends who knew the language well when he was really stuck on his homework.

As the semester progressed, we noticed he was frequently speaking Spanish at home, though we weren’t sure how it was happening.

Somehow, despite his teacher’s ineffectiveness in the classroom, he was learning quickly.

When he told us how, I was stunned. He and his fellow classmates did their homework together, every night, on a group chat via text message and FaceTime.

They set a time to connect and five or six of them would start working out the night’s homework of verb conjugation and word identification.

They spoke to each other mostly in Spanish, often teasing each other as they stumbled over the words and phrases.

And their test scores showed that when teens look outside the classroom to solve an educational problem, it is muy bueno.

My son and his classmates chose to problem solve ways that would allow them to learn in spite of an ineffective teacher. They chose to band together for video projects that required them to write scripts entirely in Spanish and they spent hours studying at Panera together when finals rolled around.

His grasp of the Spanish language is better than it would have been if he’d been repeating verb conjugations over and over in a classroom rather than learning to speak Spanish with his friends.

Want to read more about dealing with adults?

Every teen is likely to encounter a teacher who doesn’t like them or one who is ineffective in the classroom. You may not be able to change the teacher’s opinion or teaching style, but your teen can learn to adapt to teachers who aren’t meeting their needs in the classroom. Discovering that they have some control over their educational experience is a lesson that will put them at the head of the class for a lifetime.

Christine Burke

Christine Burke started the popular parenting blog, Keeper of The Fruit Loops six years ago on a whim. Since then, her work has been featured on the Today Show, Scary Mommy, Grown and Flown and other parenting websites. In her spare time, she runs marathons, collects thrift shop finds and eats ice cream like it’s her job.