I sometimes find it difficult to contain my emotions in front of my child when I feel that certain teacher’s methods for teaching are damaging my child’s “self esteem”. I don’t want to teach my child that it is okay to speak disrespectfully about their teacher; at the same time I don’t want my child to think that improper actions by a teacher are acceptable. Any tips?
Our Rabbis equated a teacher to a parent. The honor due to a parent is the same honor that is due to a teacher. That being the case, it is imperative in my opinion to reserve your negative opinions about a teacher for someone who can help the situation, not for your child. As a teacher, principal and parent I have always found the best approach to be the following. First one goes directly to the teacher and in a respectful manner presents one’s concerns. A good approach is to say to the teacher that your child feels that the teacher does not like him. That alone often changes the teacher’s behavior toward the child. If that doesn’t help one can go to the teacher’s supervisor, normally the principal, and ask for some help. If none is forthcoming one can request that your child be placed in another teacher’s class, for there are times when the personality of a teacher and a child clash. Of course in an extreme case one can move the child to another school.
I would like to add, however, that your child is going to meet many teachers, employers and authority figures with whom he or she may have difficulty. In my opinion school is a life learning laboratory where a child prepares for the “real world”. If the child learns that it is his responsibility to win over the teacher (where that is possible) and attempts to do so, the child has gained a great lesson that will truly prepare him or her for life as an adult. How to win over a teacher is fuel for another discussion.
What concerns me is that you find it difficult to contain your emotions. If a certain teacher’s methods may (in your view) be damaging your child’s “self esteem,” why is your child in that teacher’s classroom? Have you spoken (not in the presence of your child) with the teacher? With the principal? I would think that those discussions (the second, if not the first) should be able to address your concerns. If they don’t, then you should think about another school for your child. In any event, it shouldn’t be necessary to speak to your child’s teacher in your child’s presence (which, as you undoubtedly realize, is not a great idea). Nonetheless, if you have witnessed the teacher behaving inappropriately toward your child, it is important that, in speaking with your child, you not condone that behavior. It is not necessarily disrespectful to the teacher to criticize it -- and it may be disrespectful to your child not to.
As a congregational educator I deal with this type of situation on a regular basis. The Jewish values that are central in this situation are two: The responsibility to refrain from gossip and the responsibility to rebuke one’s neighbor.
Beginning with the latter, the first step is to speak calmly with the teacher, to let him or her know that your child’s performance is suffering because the teaching methods are not what your child responds to the best. Assuming the teacher is a professional, he or she will want an open discussion and will make sure that your child’s particular learning style and personality are accommodated in the classroom. It is possible that the teacher is using methods that he or she thinks work, but no one has ever pointed out a problem with it, so the teacher continues unaware of the effects.
If that does not create a difference, it is important to go to the administration and discuss the situation. This is where the Jewish value of not gossiping comes in. It is important to make the discussion with the administration about the method, not about the teacher. Casting aspersions like “he’s out to get my child” or “she’s a lousy teacher” are not going to get very far. Specific examples and suggestions for improvement will make the greatest difference.
Most important is that your child maintain respect for the teacher, so it is important for you to be careful with the language you use in front of your child. Speaking about the teacher as a person who is always learning, just like the students is a good tone to use.
If these remedies do to work, remember that any particular teacher is only for a year, and likely for only a portion of the day. It will be a valuable lesson for your child, and build your child’s self-esteem, to learn that not everyone gets along with everybody, but sometimes you simply have to work through and make the best of a difficult situation. If your child makes it through a year like that, any damage done by ineffective teaching will be surpassed by the character and sense of perseverance achieved by your child.
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