Does Your Child Have a Bad Teacher?

School makes her bored

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Truly bad teachers are unusual, but they do exist. Today, most states require a college degree and a mentored student-teaching internship before someone can teach in the classroom. The path to becoming a professional certified teacher is challenging enough to stop most people who do not belong in the profession from even pursuing the job.

Occasionally, however, 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 is gone. When your child complains about a bad teacher, it's natural to worry about how they are doing in school. You may wonder what they are learning, if they are feeling anxious or sad, and if they will be ready to move on to the next grade level.

Remember, you are not seeing firsthand what happens in the classroom. You are getting a very limited view of what is going on.

While these concerns are certainly valid, there are ways to cope with this situation and help your child feel good about their teacher and their school day.

Types of "Bad" Teachers

What is a "bad" teacher, really? Is the label justified? While some teachers are victims of the rumor mill and develop an unfounded reputation as mean or ineffective, other teachers are just that.

The following are some of the most common types of teachers that get a reputation as being "bad" among kids:

  • The Boring Teacher: This teacher goes back and forth between lecturing the class and handing out worksheets. While more engaging teachers do give lectures and worksheets from time to time, they also incorporate hands-on assignments, projects, and group discussions to inspire their students.
  • The No-Control Teacher: This teacher's classroom feels more like a party than an organized learning environment. Students chatter during lessons, talk back to the teacher, and may even throw things during class. Some students may like this teacher, but can't tell you what they are supposed to be learning in school. Other students may complain the classroom is noisy, chaotic, and even stressful or overwhelming.
  • The Lightweight Teacher: This teacher doesn't teach the material to any depth. Your child may complain of being bored or say school is too easy. You may notice that your child's schoolwork is much easier than it has been in the past and requires little effort to complete.
  • The Mean Teacher: This teacher views children as always out to take advantage of others any way they can, all the time. A mean teacher is unwilling to 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, roll their eyes when asked questions, and make fun of students. They seem to dislike children.

How to Find Out More

Every teacher has bad days—but one bad day does not make a terrible teacher. The truly awful teacher falls into one or more of these categories on a regular basis. Before you act, you need to find out more about the situation.

Gather Information 

Usually, parents who worry their child is dealing with a bad teacher are concerned for one of two reasons: Either the child has come home from school telling them terrible stories about their day, or the parent has heard awful stories from other parents.

Your first instinct may be to jump right in and make changes—don't. Instead, pause and try to gather the information you need to fully 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 entire story.

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 may have had a hand in causing problems at school.

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 not following up to make sure the material is clicking.

You can help at home by asking questions to get your child to think at a deeper level about their classwork.

Here are some prompts to get you started:

  • Can you teach me what you learned about today?
  • Are you wondering anything else about what you learned?
  • How do you think you might use that knowledge in the future?

This kind of discussion not only gets kids thinking more about their studies, but it also gives parents invaluable clues about their teachers and what is happening in the classroom.

Give kids some time to decompress when they get home from school. Before asking about their day, consider making them a snack or going for a walk—they may be more likely to open up.

What to Do When There Is a Problem

Once you have a bit more information, there are several steps you can take. Your child has been assigned to this class for this year. Everyone benefits when parents have a positive relationship with the teacher and the school. Choosing the best strategy 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.

Support Your Child

Help your child by first asking them to pinpoint exactly what the issue is and what they think might make it better. Suggest some coping techniques they can use in the classroom to deal with the problem.

For example, 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 additional projects? Try a role-playing scenario where your child can practice approaching their teacher about the problem. Or, you can coach them with a few talking points they can use on their own when talking to the teacher.

Above all, it's important to support your child and assure them you take their concerns seriously. Let them know you understand and will be there to guide them every step of the way.

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 shared with 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 just tell him to try. He feels lost in math. How can we work together to improve his experience?"

The teacher may have a different explanation of the events. They may be totally unaware of how they are perceived. After hearing how your child feels, they may be moved to reflect upon their behavior and take a fresh approach.

It may not be easy to hear, but you may learn your child is part of the problem. For example, their teacher may be unwilling to assist them because your child refuses to pay attention, participate, follow directions, or take notes in class.

Always be respectful when talking with the teacher. Avoid being accusatory and playing the blame game, which may cause the teacher to shut down rather than respond productively.

Feedback enables the willing teacher to improve and exposes the truly bad teacher. If nothing else, reaching out to the teacher lets them know your child talks to you about what is happening at school. If they are an inept teacher, they may rethink their methods, knowing an involved parent is watching.

Observe the Class

Very often, watching the class in action is enough to help parents understand all the dynamics at play. Every school has different rules about parent visitors, so check with the office and the teacher before you schedule a day to stop by and observe. Don't worry that the teacher will be on their best behavior just to impress you. A genuinely bad teacher will have a hard time faking it.

Talk With the Principal

Administrators are extremely busy and generally defer to their staff members as professionals to resolve issues within their own classroom. Keep in mind that involving the principal is essentially complaining to the teacher's boss. The teacher may resent you "tattling" on them, and a petty teacher may hold this against your child.

However, it's more likely the teacher will feel more cautious around you and your child, inhibiting an open and honest dialogue about your child's progress moving forward. But if a teacher really is really problematic, you may need to take this step.

Begin by calmly and clearly stating in one or two sentences what you see as being the problem. Be prepared to explain how you know what you know. Talk about what happened and how it affected your child.

For example, you might say "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 things 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 likely to be handled with discretion.

Always document any communication with teachers and administrators. It's important to keep a paper trail to show the school is aware of your concerns.

Ask to Change Teachers

Switching teachers is a last resort. Changing classrooms means adjusting to new peers, a new routine, and different classroom rules. Some schools may not be able to provide a different teacher due to staffing limits or district policies.

If you can't change teachers or schools, do your best to fill in any learning gaps as quickly as possible. Look into tutoring or other options to provide learning outside of school. This way, your child will be up to speed and ready to move onto the next grade the following year.

Give your child some coping skills for navigating the situation so they feel empowered to advocate for themselves. Check in with them often to make sure the situation hasn't become worse and to monitor your child's emotional and mental well-being.

A Word From Verywell

Keep in mind that while an entire school year with an ineffective teacher is far from ideal, it is not the end of your child's education. Other subjects and other school years will bring different teachers into your child's life. View their experience as a lesson in how to handle difficult situations and difficult people—skills that will be very helpful throughout their life.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I deal with bad teachers in elementary school?

In the formative years, it is especially important for parents to step in to help address a situation involving a bad teacher. Your child's early elementary school experience can influence how they go on to feel about school and learning in general. Listen for clues your child is unhappy at school, share concerns with the teacher, and reach out to the administration if things don't improve.

How do bad teachers affect students?

A bad teacher is more than just a boring or impatient teacher. A truly bad teacher can have an impact on a child's emotional health. Research shows the way a teacher runs their classroom and engages with students plays a big part in how kids feel about themselves and their education. A positive classroom environment is a primary reason why kids want to go to school and enjoy learning.

How can you avoid bad teachers?

Unfortunately, the odds are your child is going to come across a bad teacher at some point. Instead of trying to avoid a bad teacher, which is most likely to be out of your control, teach your child coping skills to deal with their frustrations.

Take further action if a teacher is seriously affecting their academic performance, self-esteem, or mental health, in which case, you might consider contacting the school administration to request a change as soon as possible.

How can I deal with bad teachers in middle school?

As children approach the tween and teen years, it's natural for parents to take a step back and let kids handle tough situations on their own. Guide them by offering tips on approaching a teacher with their concerns.

The reality is, teachers at this level expect more independence from students and may not respond well to a parent's intervention. However, if there is a serious problem with a teacher, you may need to step in and contact the school at some point.

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2 Sources
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  1. U.S. Department of Education. Certification Requirements by State.

  2. Blazar D, Kraft MA. Teacher and Teaching Effects on Students’ Attitudes and BehaviorsEduc Eval Policy Anal. 2017;39(1):146-170. doi: 10.3102/0162373716670260