Managing Teacher-Student Conflict

What to do when your teen dislikes a teacher.

Posted Oct 29, 2018

Yulia Koltyrina/Deposit Photos
Yulia Koltyrina/Deposit Photos
Source: Yulia Koltyrina/Deposit Photos

It’s inevitable, at one time or another, that our teens will end up with a teacher they just don’t like. There are numerous reasons why teens don’t like teachers, but regardless of the reason, when teens get stuck with a teacher they dislike, it can wreak havoc on their school performance as well as their attitude. So, as a parent, what are we to do when our teen doesn't like their teacher?

Five steps to helping your teen work with a teacher they don’t like:

1.  Don’t rush to save them. There’s nothing wrong with a little conflict. In fact, your teen can learn how to work with people they don’t like and that’s a skill that they can carry with them. For example, odds are they are going to encounter a college professor or boss that they don’t see eye to eye with, and working through situations like these early can set the stage for how they'll handle similar dilemmas in the future. So, rather than rushing to the school for a teacher change, teach your teen to work through the conflict. We can't alter every situation we're in and sometimes we have to learn to make the best of what we've been given. You never know—by working through the conflict, your teen may end up with a new favorite teacher.

2. Listen to their side of the story. Find out what’s troubling them by asking specific questions about the teacher and the situation. When doing so, try to help your teen separate their emotions (the subjective experience) from the facts (the objective data). For example, teens like to make broad statements such as "The teacher's unfair," or “The teacher doesn’t like me.” What do these things really mean, and furthermore, what evidence does your teen have to support these claims? Helping your teen separate how they feel from the facts can help bring clarity to the situation. 

3. The other side of the story. As you talk with your teen, remember that you’re only getting one side of the story and it’s a biased one at that. If you dig deeper you may find that there is a common ground between both parties. Trying to see things from the teacher’s perspective may help your teen see the bigger picture of what’s going on as well as begin to find a solution to the dilemma.

4. Encourage them to speak with the teacher. Teens will typically avoid speaking with their teacher at all costs. They may feel intimidated by the teacher or fear it will only make matters worse. But in truth, a good old-fashioned conversation is just what your teen needs to have with the teacher. This can be done via an email or before, during, or after class, and preferably during a time when the teacher isn’t engaged in teaching or doing another task like hall duty.

5. Coach them to voice concerns. Prior to a meeting, encourage your teen to write down their concerns and refer to them during the conversation. Help your teen express their feelings in a non-accusatory way. You can do this by setting up a mock conference where you’re the teacher. Play out the whole scenario and help them prepare by throwing them some curveballs along the way.

6. Establish a working relationship. By teaching your teen to articulate and express their concerns and work through differences early, they can feel more confident in voicing their thoughts and feelings. Good student/teacher relationships are paramount in your teen’s academic development and overall success.

7. Navigate through difficult situations. Sometimes teens will refuse to meet with their teacher. If your teen is adamant about not meeting with a teacher, then you may have to step in and break the ice. Keep in mind that most teachers appreciate having their students approach them first, but they do understand that many of their students are reluctant to do so. In those situations, it’s OK for parents to help set up the meeting, but ultimately you will want your teen to do most of the talking, and so does the teacher.

8. Call in the reinforcements. School Counselors can be wonderful student advocates and they can help your teen work through the conflict. These professionals understand the system and they know the teacher, so they can assist your teen in developing a strategy to address the problem and potentially come up with a good solution to fix it.

9. Follow-up is necessary. Once your teen has met with the teacher, it’s OK to follow-up with your teen and the teacher to see how things are going. Be sure to let your teen know that you’re going to be checking in with the teacher. Monitor the situation, and if things don't get better, then you may need to set up another conference where you’re more vocal about the concerns.

10. Document, Document, and Document. For each appointment, email and/or phone call, keep a log of your contacts and what was discussed. This will assist you if you need to take your concerns to the next level, like the principal. There may be times that your teen has tried everything, and so have you. In these situations, you may have no other choice but to get an administrator involved.

Sean Prior/Deposit Photos
Source: Sean Prior/Deposit Photos

What to do when you’ve exhausted all the possibilities:

1. Supplying the documentation. When you’ve tried everything without success, it’s time to set up a meeting with the principal. Often, the first question administrator's ask is “Have you discussed your concerns with your child's teacher?” If you haven’t, it’s not uncommon for them to encourage you to do so in order to see if the two of you can resolve the matter directly. If you can provide the administration with a trail of communication, the ball is in your court and they will have little choice but to act on your concerns.

2. Addressing unresolved differences. After trying multiple strategies, if you feel your teen’s concerns aren’t being heard and the teacher isn’t working toward a resolution, you may want to request a different teacher. You’ll want to address a teacher change directly with an administrator.

3. Deteriorating performance. Don’t waste time and get help immediately if your teen is:

●     struggling academically,

●     avoiding or skipping class,

●     missing a lot of school, or

●     complaining daily about the same teacher.

4. Taking immediate action. There are times that you may need to altogether bypass communicating with a teacher, like when something unethical or unprofessional has occurred with the teacher. Although these situations are few and hopefully far between, they do, unfortunately, happen and should not go unreported. If something of grave concern has occurred then contact an administrator immediately. Unprofessional situations require prompt attention and should be documented immediately.

Deposit Photos/Monkey Business
Source: Deposit Photos/Monkey Business

Learning how to deal with personality conflicts and difficult people is part of life. By using the strategies outlined above you can begin to teach your teen how to work with teachers they dislike. More importantly, you can teach them to effectively communicate and manage conflict, two necessary skills that will stick with them throughout their life!