Surviving a Bad Teacher: How Do You Deal?

Last year, we decided to move from an apartment that we outgrew to our very first house. With it came renovations, a load of excitement, new favorite hangouts to discover . . . and a new school. We weren’t too worried though: 1) Everyone raves about this school, 2) It has great reviews on and 3) Our incoming first grader wasn’t only a passionate learner, he was also surprisingly good with change.

On the first day of school, we accompanied our little one to class – like all the other parents. We were thrilled to see him talking to other kids in line. He stood up in class, without any prompting, and introduced himself to the others. All was well. An overall perfect first day at a new school. But our happiness didn’t last long. In fact, it was all downhill from there.

Our confident and enthusiastic learner started to get quieter as the months went by. He didn’t complain but he didn’t have to – you could see in his demeanor that something was wrong. You could hear it too... While our son wasn’t whining or protesting, it was all bottled in. Instead, he developed a tick of repeated audible little grunts like he was constantly clearing his throat that became stronger as he lay in bed at night. It had to come out somehow, I suppose.

From the get-go, I volunteered in his classroom on a weekly basis. There, I saw a number of things that were cause for alarm. Firstly, on the academic front, the teacher constantly taught things incorrectly. By that, I don’t mean that she took the wrong approach... I actually mean she taught them things that weren’t right or true. For example, she told them non-fiction was fantasy storytelling and fiction was a factual account. She would say that verbs were descriptive words, instead of action ones. The classroom was riddled with spelling mistakes and math drills done together on the overhead projector often came out wrong.

There are so many examples; I won’t go into them all but you get the picture. Unfortunately, I only saw or heard the ones that took place during my volunteering time and was able to correct them when my son came home – I didn’t know how many other mistakes were being made by the teacher and sadly, I never dared to speak up when she made them in front of me.

Worse than her apparent lack of education though, was her total lack of passion. As time wore on, she would have side conversations with me in the classroom. She told me about how she’s now over forty and is still looking for a husband... Could you set me up on a date? She sent me a link to her Facebook page out of nowhere – it was meant for me to pass on to potential candidates.

The page was plastered with photos of her, scantily clad – most often in a bikini with a martini. Now, I have no issues with teachers having a life outside of school, but this was starting to feel like a parent-teacher relationship that just wasn’t comfortable.

She would tell me how much she hates her job... Hello! I’m a parent to one of the kids here!! She would come in hung-over from her date last night. She would say things like, “Jimmy over there is so spacey; he never listens to what I’m teaching. Maybe he’s bored. I can’t blame him though, I’m mostly bored myself.” Again, hello?!?!?!

There were two things she was passionate about was vacation (Yay! She would scream out to the parents at pick up. Seventeen more days until break! And the countdown would go on daily) and the other was discipline.

The school has a disciplining system in place where all the kids start the day off with green cards. If they do something wrong, they have to change it to yellow, then orange, and red. Most teachers use the system to correct behavior that’s really out of order. But not this teacher.

Too often, she would have kids change their cards for the most minor offenses. For example, she would ask the kids to go outside, line up quietly, and face forward. The kids would go outside, line up, and all was quiet. But five or six kids weren’t facing forward. They were looking off to the side.

She immediately had all these kids – remember they’re 6-7 year olds – go back inside and change their cards, without even telling them why. Well, they politely went inside, changed their cards, came back out, and took their place in line quietly. Again, they didn’t face forward. Again, they had to go back in to change their cards.

So many of the kids looked terrorized. I don’t even know what I did wrong, they would tell me. I would overhear them supporting each other, Don’t worry, your mom won’t be mad – just get the yellow card and go to the bathroom, it’s better than peeing in your pants. Yes, that’s right, they would get penalized for having to go to the bathroom – six and seven year olds! It was ridiculous. They would cry and comfort each other.

On paper, my son did well throughout the year – though the difference in his enthusiasm was striking for anyone who knew him. Needless to say, we had to do a lot of extra work at home to keep his spirits up and feed his passion for learning. Also, needless to say, my heart broke to see him struggle with such a horrible teacher as early as age six. He never asked to go back to his old school, but when we drove by he was wistful and longing. He never complained. He toughed it out.

Personally, I struggled myself with what to do. I didn’t want to go to the principal to request a teacher change because 1) I didn’t want to be the sort of parent that steps in and creates a false world for my child 2) I doubt a principal would respond to a request like that anyway and 3) What would happen if the request was denied and now the teacher (who actually liked my son) would know that the feelings weren’t mutual? I, too, sucked it up, toughed it out.

What would you have done in my situation? Have you had a similar experience and how did you resolve it?

Tags : confessions   school   

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