What to Do When Your Child Gets a Bad Teacher

group of middle school kids rough-housing in classroom

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Truly bad teachers are unusual, but they do exist. Most teachers today are required to have a college degree and complete a mentored student teaching internship before being eligible to teach. The path to becoming a professional, certified teacher is challenging enough to stop most people who do not belong in the profession from becoming a regular classroom teacher.


Occasionally someone who might not be fit to be a teacher gets the credentials and a teaching position—or stays in the position long after their enthusiasm for the job has disappeared. If your child is in a class with a bad teacher, you are probably concerned about what your child will learn and what experiences they will have in that classroom.

You may worry that an entire school year is a large amount of learning time in your child's academic career. You understand your child needs to spend each school year deeply learning concepts that build from one grade to another with the new rigorous standards being adopted nationwide.  

While your concern is justified, the situation is far from hopeless.

Proactive Steps

There are several steps you can take to improve the situation. Part of what you can do is providing the right feedback to the school. The other aspect involves making the best of what you have been given—a life skill that we all need. Sometimes we don't get what we want.

Choosing the best strategies to take when handed something that does not meet our expectations can prepare us—and our children—for challenging problems we may encounter in the future.

Gather Information 

Usually, parents who worry their child has been assigned to a bad teacher do so for one of two reasons—either your child has come home from school telling you terrible stories about their day, or you have heard awful stories from other parents.

Remember that you are not seeing first hand what happens in the classroom. You are also getting a limited view of what is happening.

Your first instinct may be to jump right in and make changes—don't. You need to stop and really try to understand what is going on before you do anything else. The stories that you have heard from your child or friends may not be the whole story or even real. 

Your child may have misunderstood what the teacher was telling them, or they could be repeating a silly rumor that is going around the school between kids. Your friends who don't like the teacher may not have been willing to consider that their child was causing problems at school.


Ask your child open-ended questions to gather key details. Avoid yes or no questions, which do not describe circumstances. Examples might include:

  • "What happened today at school?" 
  • "What happened after/before that happened?" 

Do not try to guess or make suggestions as to what happened, as these questions can lead or confuse children.

Watch What You Say

In these early stages, you want to be careful not to say anything negative about the teacher. Children are sensitive to their parents' attitudes about teachers and education. Even if you disagree with what the teacher is doing, you still want your child to know that they should be respectful at school.

Identify the Real Problem

Teaching can be an extremely rewarding career. It is also stressful and fraught with change. Even talented teachers may have an off day or make a simple mistake. There are great teachers, teachers who might need encouragement to improve, and then there are the truly bad teachers. The truly bad teachers will consistently be ineffective.

Types of Truly Bad Teachers

  1. The Boring Teacher: This is the teacher who talks for a while and then hands out worksheets, and that is it. While modern teachers do give lectures and worksheets, they will also have hands-on assignments, projects, group discussions, and inspire their students.
  2. The No-Control Teacher: As in no control of their classroom. This teacher has a classroom that feels like a party with no adult supervision, even though the teacher is there. Students talk over the teacher and may even throw things during class. Parents will hear different stories from their children about this teacher. Some students may like this teacher, but can't tell you about what they are supposed to be learning in school. Other students may complain that the classroom is noisy, chaotic, and feels stressful or overwhelming.
  3. The Mean Teacher: This is the teacher who believes that kids are all out to take advantage any way they can, all the time. This teacher will rarely or never make exceptions for students who are truly struggling. This teacher will do the minimum required on an IEP, or not cooperate at all. They may yell at kids, make eye rolls when asked questions, and generally seem to dislike their students.
  4. The Lightweight Teacher: This teacher doesn't teach the material to any depth. Your child may complain of being bored or that school is way too easy. You will notice that your child's schoolwork is much easier than it was in the past, and requires little thinking. This teacher will not be able to explain how their lessons are teaching the required material of required rigorous standards or learning expectations of your state or school district.

Some teachers who are under stress or just having a bad day may fall into one of these categories briefly. The truly bad teacher will fall into one or more of the above categories all of the time.

If you have concerns about your child's teacher, but they are not as severe or persistent as the ones listed above, you may wish to bring up the problems to the teacher in a constructive way so they can be addressed. If the problems are severe and persistent you can try the following.

Using Diplomacy

Your child has been assigned to this class for this year. You want to do your best to have a positive relationship with the teacher and the school since that is where your child will be during the day for the rest of the year.

The actions you choose to take to help solve the problem should be aimed at having the best relationship between the school, teacher, your child and you that you can manage.

Actions to Take

Use what you have learned so far to decide what you will do. Remember that you may learn more about the situation as you try to solve it. If your child has a truly bad teacher, you will likely need to use more than one of the following strategies.

Teachers continue to learn and change over the course of their careers. 

Teachers in their first three years are still settling into the profession. They may even improve by getting feedback received through the following steps, especially if they are a no-control teacher.

Veteran teachers who have already been teaching for years are more likely to be set in their ways and refuse to change. However, schools across the nation have been changing their annual evaluation process to help veteran teachers notice their weaknesses and make improvements.

These actions will help a teacher who wants to improve do so while making it obvious that a truly bad teacher needs to find a different line of work.

Help Your Child

Suggest ways to your child that they can improve the situation. If the teacher doesn't answer questions, can your child find the answer in a book, from their classmates, a website or their notes? If the classroom is chaotic, can your child move to a quiet spot in the room or the hallway to do their work?

If the schoolwork is boring, can your child nicely suggest to the teacher to assign projects? Can your child create a reward system for themselves to encourage them to do unexciting school work? Your child may learn self-regulation and coping skills in order to do well in this classroom. 

Talk With the Teacher

Schedule a time to talk with the teacher. It is best to do this in person if possible. Let the teacher calmly know what your child has told you, and give the teacher a chance to respond. Be careful to present what your child has said without being accusatory.

For example, you could say "My son seems to think you don't like him, he says that when he asks for help with his math you roll your eyes and just tell him to try. He feels lost in math. What do you see in your classroom?"

The teacher may have a different explanation of the events. The teacher may have been unaware of their body language and may change after hearing about how the student felt.

The effective teacher will either be able to explain what has happened, or will use the feedback to make positive changes.

If nothing else, this will make the teacher aware that your child talks to you about what is happening at school. If they are a truly bad teacher, they might watch their step a little more around a child if the teacher knows that parents may complain.

Observe the Class

Sometimes seeing what happens in the classroom yourself will help you understand the problem.

Each school has different rules about parent visitors, so check with the office and the teacher before you come in to observe. Don't worry that the teacher will be able to cover up if they have a serious problem. The truly bad teacher won't teach any better just because you came to visit that day.

You may have to go and observe a few times to see if there is an overall pattern. 

You may find that your child is the one who is actually causing the problem. A teacher may be refusing to provide help or assistance because your child refuses to follow the directions or take notes in class.

Use what you see during your time observing to either talk with your child or the teacher. If you have serious concerns related to child safety after your visit, talk with the principal.

Talk With the Principal

This is a last or almost last resort solution. 

Only talk with the principal if you feel that there is no way you can solve this problem between your child, the teacher, and you.

Administrators are extremely busy and will try to respect their staff members as professionals. If the principal believes that it is a problem between a teacher and child or a parent and a teacher only, the principal will try to solve it at that level.

Involving the principal is complaining to the teacher's supervisor. The teacher may resent you "tattling" on them. A petty teacher may hold this against your child. Again, this article is focused on an extreme, rare unfit teacher. A professional teacher is unlikely to hold resentment over a parent complaint against a child.

More likely a teacher may feel more cautious around you. This step is unlikely to lead to a relaxed relationship between you and the teacher. However, if a teacher really is a bad teacher, this is an important step to take.

Be prepared to stay calm and stick with objective facts as you know them.

Begin by stating in one or two sentences what you see as being the problem. Be prepared to explain how you know what you know. Include what happened, and the effects of the events.

For example "Mr. Smith's classroom is unruly and my child cannot learn. My child has told me several times she feels stressed out by the noise and cannot complete any school work. I came and observed twice for 20 minutes during the reading lesson in Mr. Smith's room. Several students talked loudly while Mr. Smith tried to teach, and a few students were throwing paper wads covered in spit across the classroom. Mr. Smith clearly saw what the students were doing and did nothing about it."

Don't expect the principal to go into specific details about how they plan to handle any issues with the teacher. Any disciplinary action is a personnel matter and often legally needs to be handled with discretion.

What you are interested in is whether or not the situation improves for your child. If it does not improve and you feel the class cannot be tolerated for the remainder of the school year, look to change teachers or school.

Ask to Change Teachers

This should absolutely be a last resort option. Changing classrooms means adjusting to new peers, a new teacher, and classroom rules. Some schools may not be able to provide a different teacher due to staffing limits or district policies. This will leave the only option to change schools, which requires even more change and transition, possibly even transportation problems. 

If you can't change teachers or schools, do your best to try to fill in any learning gaps as quickly as possible. Look into tutoring or ways your child can learn outside of school. This will help them to be prepared for the following year, with a different teacher.

Talk With Your Child

Getting your child to think about the material they should be studying in school can pique curiosity and become a learning practice. An ineffective teacher may be giving out assignments but really following up to check their understanding.

To enhance your child's learning, ask questions that will get your child to think at a deeper level about the material. Some example questions:

  • Can you teach me what you learned about today?
  • What else are you wondering about what you learned?
  • How do you think you might use that knowledge in the future? (Come up with some ideas of your own if you need to)

Not only will talking about the school work enhance learning, but it will also provide information about the teaching happening in the classroom.

A Word From Verywell

Keep in mind that while a full school year with an ineffective teacher is far from ideal, it is not the end of your child's education. Other school years will bring different teachers into your child's life. The important thing to do is view this as a lesson in how to handle difficult or less than ideal situations. Your child will learn early how to handle difficult people, a skill that can be very helpful throughout life.

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