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What to do when your child doesn't get along with their teacher

By Dr Michael Carr-Gregg & Sharon Witt 4 min read
Sunday, March 15, 2020

As with any relationship, there will be some teachers who your child will warm to and some they will not.

The fact is that teachers are there to guide your child through their schooling and to help them learn and discover many things for themselves, not to force-feed them tonnes of useless information that they will never remember anyway. As with any relationship, there will be some teachers who they will warm to and some they will not. They will find it easier to relate to some teachers rather than others, and that’s just a part of living within any community. (If they think their teachers are tough, wait until they get a boss.)

It’s a bit like with an extended family—aunts, uncles and cousins. There are some family members who we get along with really well. Some others we will just have to learn to at least tolerate. Parents need to remind their child that teachers are people too, and they went through school just like everyone else. They really do know what it’s like to be a student and their job is to help your child learn, gain greater independence as a learner and help them to discover things for themselves.

4 tips for getting along with teachers

Remember, teachers are humans too. They are worth getting to know.

1. Show respect

Parents should stress that students should show respect for their teachers at all times. They may not always agree with them and they may not always feel like settling down and paying attention in class, but they do need to demonstrate that they can show a basic level of care and respect towards adults.

2. Listen

Listening is a learned skill and one that is very important, especially during secondary school years. Remind your child that they will miss out on valuable information and instructions if they don’t listen. It is also a sign of respect for their teacher when they listen. They can further demonstrate their attention by maintaining eye contact.

3. Seek further explanation

Your child will not always understand everything that they see and hear in class. If they are unsure about some information or a task that needs to be completed, encourage your child to speak to their teacher about it. Ask questions. If the teacher is too busy, ask to arrange a suitable time that they can ask the questions they need for further clarification. Many secondary school teachers are more than happy to receive emails from their students, using their specific school address, which allows them to answer at a time that suits them.

4. Never gossip about the teacher

Spreading gossip means talking about someone behind their back. It’s all hurtful, no matter how trivial it may seem. Live by the rule to never say anything about someone that you wouldn’t be comfortable saying to one’s face.

If you or your child hear a rumour about a teacher, do not pass it on. If they do happen to hear some gossip about a teacher the best thing is to speak to someone else in authority, such as their class teacher or school counsellor. This also goes for online chatter on social media. Be the one who puts a stop to such gossip.

When you hear something about a teacher from your child, remember that often how your child perceives a teacher is just that—their perception. Their emotions often relate to how they are feeling about themselves, their stress level and what else might be happening in their life at the time.

What to do when they don’t get along with their teacher

Unfortunately, schools, like parents, are never perfect, and not all teachers are perfect either. Sometimes, teachers are just not suited to the difficult task of guiding children, especially teenagers. Trust me, it’s not an easy job.

If your child encounters a difficult teacher, or for some reason they just cannot get along with a teacher, there are some things to consider to help give some perspective and help your child manage this issue.

It’s really important that they don’t make it personal, even if they feel like the teacher is making it their mission to single them out and make their life a misery. Never let it become a personal vendetta, or draw other students together against a teacher. Your child's experience is their experience, and they need to be mature about dealing with this issue. I am not saying to be silent or to assume it’s all the student’s fault all the time, but there is a right and a wrong way of dealing with a teacher/student clash.

Encourage your child to have a conversation with their pastoral care teacher, year level coordinator, school chaplain or welfare officer. If that doesn’t help, or if you feel that it is an important enough issue, seek out a meeting with your school principal. Generally speaking, though, your child’s year level coordinator should be able to offer valuable guidance and strategies to sort through issues they are having with a teacher.

Certainly, a teacher should never put your child down in front of other students (or when alone for that matter!). Nor should a teacher threaten or intimidate the student in any way. If your child feels that they are being picked on or victimised by a teacher make sure they discuss how they feel with someone they trust. They may have to be taught by this teacher for a few years so it’s best to try and resolve any issues as early as possible. As a word of caution here, don’t try and inflame the issue by being rude or disrespectful to the teacher concerned. It just doesn’t help either student or parent.

A word of caution here also for parents: please be aware that some students come home telling some of the story, while leaving out some of the more important elements of the scenario.


Book cover of Starting Secondary School

Extract from Starting Secondary School by Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg and Sharon Witt, published by Penguin Random House Australia on 3 March 2020, RRP $32.99

Dr Michael Carr-Gregg is a psychologist, a well-respected speaker and one of Australia's leading authorities on teenage behaviour. Sharon Witt has been immersed in teen world for almost three decades in her role as a secondary teacher, author & presenter.