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Teacher-related issues

My Child’s Teacher Is Mean to Her. What Can I Do?

By Bob Cunningham

My 9-year-old daughter has ADHD and dyslexia. Sometimes the teacher is mean and abrupt when my daughter doesn’t understand something or hasn’t followed along in class. The teacher has also put my daughter down in front of her classmates. How should I handle this?

Bob Cunningham

Advisor-in-Residence, Understood

It’s always frustrating when I hear that a teacher’s words and actions have had a negative effect on a child. Especially if it’s a child with learning and attention issues, who faces greater challenges than other kids.

I have spoken to many parents over the years who were concerned that a teacher wasn’t treating their child well. They’ve described teachers who embarrass kids and make them feel bad about themselves. I’ve also heard parents describe a teacher as “mean.”

I am sure there are some instances when a teacher really is mean to kids or intentionally puts them down. Those individuals just shouldn’t be teaching. But they are the exception. Typically, teachers who are described this way don’t intend to be mean. More often than not, they lack awareness.

These teachers probably don’t understand what’s going on with a student. They don’t realize the effects their words and actions are having. And sometimes they’re overloaded with the demands of the job and react without thinking.

In any case, I tell parents that if they have concerns about how their child is being treated, it’s important to bring them up right away.

I also tell them to talk to the teacher first, rather than going around him. I’ve always found that direct communication with the teacher is the best way to promote change. (However, if the conversation goes poorly or isn’t effective, don’t hesitate to go to your child’s IEP team or the principal.)

As a parent, you’re in a unique position to have a positive impact. Here are four things you can do when talking to the teacher:

  1. Provide information. Try to give the teacher the benefit of the doubt going into the conversation. Assume he doesn’t know all he needs to know about ADHD, dyslexia or your daughter. The teacher may also not be aware of what your daughter is feeling or how what she’s hearing is affecting her. Be sure to share that key piece of information as well.
  2. Keep the focus on your child. Try not to get into what the teacher says or does. Focus on your daughter and how her issues impact her work and behavior. Bring work samples and point out specific mistakes or difficulties that are the result of her issues.
  3. Encourage empathy. Share simple examples from home of how frustrated your daughter gets. Describe what she will do to get out of a frustrating situation, and how she feels about herself when she isn’t able to do things she knows how to do and wants to do. This will help the teacher see your daughter differently.
  4. Share ideas and insight. You can suggest better ways for the teacher to communicate with your daughter. Start by asking what your daughter does that frustrates him. If those are things you see at home or in other contexts, share that information. Also share what works for you or what has worked for others.

You may want to engage allies to help you keep the conversation positive. These may include a school counselor or a special education teacher. They might be able to make suggestions in a way that isn’t confrontational.

In the end, it will take more than you to make change happen. It has to be a team effort from you, the teacher and your daughter. Direct communication is the best way to start.

About the Author

Portrait of Bob Cunningham

Bob Cunningham serves as advisor-in-residence on learning and attention issues for Understood.

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