Sometimes a teacher may seem to ignore your child or say something insensitive. Most of the time, teachers don’t intend to be mean or to hurt your child’s feelings. But sometimes teachers may lack information about learning and thinking differences.
Or, though it’s rare, they may be intentionally hurtful. Here are steps to take if a teacher seems to be shaming, embarrassing or being mean to your child, whether on purpose or not.
1. Do some detective work.
Ask your child for details and examples of the kinds of things coming from the teacher that feel hurtful. Try to be empathetic and ask open-ended questions, without commenting on what you’re hearing.
2. Reassure your child that you understand.
Talk openly with your child. Be clear that you’re an advocate and that you’ll work to improve things at school. Watch for signs of depression, and don’t hesitate to talk to your child’s doctor about any mental health concerns you may have.
3. Keep a record of what you’re hearing.
Once you’ve gotten some information from your child, consider sending an email to the teacher to explain what you're hearing. Stay as calm as you can, and ask the teacher to help you understand what your child is describing. Use a parent-teacher communication log to keep track of your conversations.
4. Discuss your concerns in person.
Schedule a meeting with the teacher to talk about your concerns face-to-face. If you’re worried that the teacher will be defensive or that you won’t be able to keep your cool, you can ask that the principal be in the meeting, too.
It’s worth knowing, though, that asking the principal to be there has the potential to negatively impact your (and your child’s) relationship with the teacher. But there are ways to avoid this. One way is to consider asking another teacher or specialist to join, instead of the principal.
5. Explain as much as possible.
Communicate exactly what you’re concerned about. Try to help the teacher understand how your child is feeling. And come to the table with suggestions for different ways the teacher can work with your child.
You’re likely to have a more productive conversation if you focus on your child’s feelings and experiences—not your perception of the teacher’s intentions. Give the teacher a copy of the or if your child has one. You can also explain more about your child’s learning and thinking differences.
6. Climb the chain of command.
If the negative comments continue, or if you feel the teacher really is being mean to your child, move up the chain of command. Request another meeting. But this time, have the meeting with just the principal and the case manager, not the teacher. Show all your documentation and explain what you’ve already tried.
7. Request a different teacher.
If necessary, ask about having your child change teachers. This is something to think about if you’ve tried all other avenues to solve the problem and nothing is getting better.
Working on the issue may have permanently affected your relationship with your child’s teacher at this point, too. The principal may be hesitant to make a change, but you need to advocate for what’s best for your child. (Read what one parent learned when her son had the “wrong” teacher.)
8. Write a letter of complaint.
Summarize all the conversations you’ve had in a letter to the teacher, the principal, and your child’s case manager. Stick to the facts and try to keep your emotions out of it. Ask that a copy of the letter go in the teacher’s personnel file. (In the end, though, it’s up to the principal and district policy whether to include it in the teacher’s file.)
9. Look ahead to next year.
Before the next school year starts, meet with the principal. Request that every consideration be made to provide your child with a more positive experience. And learn how to frame a request for a specific type of teacher for your child.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.
Bob Cunningham, EdM serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.