Annie's Mailbox: Parents always should talk to teachers

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Dear Annie: I am a middle-school teacher in California and would like to thank you for your wonderful response to “Frustrated,” who wrote about her son dealing with a “mean and degrading” teacher. You said to first talk to the teacher.

At Back to School Night, I tell parents that open communication between the teacher and parent is the responsibility of both parties and that if they have an issue with something I am doing, I would appreciate the opportunity to explain myself before they go to my boss. A parent who first goes to my principal with a problem does not set up positive conditions for an open dialogue. I am immediately placed on the defensive.

Sometimes teachers have a reputation for being “mean” because they hold their students accountable, don’t give extra credit, etc. I always have told my students’ parents that if they have a concern, they can meet with me, call me, e-mail me or send me a note. I have had many potentially confrontational situations defused because parents met with me and allowed me to explain my reasoning.

I’m not saying the teacher in question is innocent of all charges. In this particular case, since there is a waiting list of kids who want to leave her classroom, I would say she is probably guilty of degrading behavior. But in most cases, a reasonable solution can be found. As you said, the first step should always be to talk with the teacher.

— A Grateful Teacher in Fontana, Calif.

Dear Grateful: Most of our readers were terribly upset with that teacher, and with good reason. We still believe it’s best to approach the teacher first, but sometimes that is not enough. Read on for more:

From Boston: There are a few teachers who enjoy the terrorizing effect they have on young children. When our daughter was in first grade, she often would cry in the morning, asking me not to send her to school. I did not react until the day she came home hysterical. When I went to the principal, I discovered several children already had been transferred, and my daughter was put on a waiting list. I was fortunate enough to be able to transfer our daughter to another school, and she thrived until second grade, when the math teacher was a clone of her first-grade teacher. We transferred her to a private school, and she needed a year of psychological help. A few years later, I learned that three other children still were receiving psychological help after their experience with that one first-grade teacher.

Washington: If their son is on a waiting list to get out of the class, it means there are other parents who are displeased with this teacher. I’d recommend organizing the parents to take turns sitting in on the teacher’s classes to monitor her behavior and speak up whenever she belittles a student or otherwise acts inappropriately. After a few weeks of this, she might get the idea.

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