- As children often take things personally, find out what specific teacher behavior made them feel disliked.
- Ask your child how their teacher treats their favorite student—is it different from how they are treated?
- Challenge your children’s conclusions by asking if there might be other reasons for the teacher’s behavior.
- If necessary, speak to teachers about what they might say or do differently to shift your child’s perception.
No one wants to go to work and feel disliked by their co-workers, much less by their boss. For students, their teachers are essentially their bosses, and their peers are like their co-workers.
If your child comes home stating that their teacher doesn't like them, it's probably time for a discussion. There certainly are cases where teachers don't warm to a particular child or may even dislike a student in their class, but most educators would agree that their students shouldn't know this. They work hard to treat their students equitably.
If your child is coming home telling you their teacher is mean or doesn't like them, you need to understand what is behind your child's statements. Ask what their teacher has done that indicates they are mean or makes your child think they're disliked. You need to examine the evidence behind your child's assumptions and possibly challenge their conclusions if their observations could be explained by more benign/neutral and alternative explanations.
We can all misinterpret behavior, but false beliefs about teachers can significantly negatively affect the students they teach. Years ago, I recall a high-school student telling me that her teacher did not like her and that, as a consequence, she wouldn't ask him for help even though she was struggling in the class. When asked what evidence led her to this conclusion, she said the teacher sighed when she asked him a question one day after school.
Now, the teacher could have sighed for many reasons—he might have realized he hadn't explained something as well as he thought he had, or this student might have been one of many who had already come to the teacher with this question, or it may have simply been an indicator of his fatigue at the end of the day.
Most importantly, had the student's assumption gone unchecked, she could have gone through the rest of the year assuming her teacher disliked her because of something as innocuous as a sigh. As the student indicated at the outset of this anecdote, they would never have sought help from this teacher for the remainder of the year—a stance that would have only hurt the student.
If your child misperceives their teacher's behavior, your focus should be helping them reinterpret these cues. Considering alternative explanations also increases your child's possible stances in interacting with this teacher.
You might also ask which students your child believes the teacher likes a lot; what does the teacher seem to do that indicates they're favoring those students? How does this differ from the way the teacher treats your child?
You might discover that the teacher treats everyone similarly, without obvious bias, but with a little distance or roughness around the edges. In this case, emphasize that such distance may be how they establish a professional boundary or that their brusqueness is likely not personal, as the teacher's behavior is not explicitly directed at your child. You and your child might prefer a teacher with a fuzzier disposition, but at least your child will realize that this teacher has no particular dislike for them.
Often, it is the personalization of people's behavior that hurts us the most: "Why are they being this way to me? What did I do to deserve this?" These self-focused beliefs can lead to the conclusion that the treatment is selective and unfair—and children are particularly sensitive to what they perceive as inequity.
This is why it is essential to help them consider that a teacher's prickliness can also be due to personal challenges or stressors they may be experiencing. Question or suggest whether a sick child, relationship issues, financial problems, or challenges at work could contribute to the teacher's mood and have nothing to do with the students in the class. Pointing out such influencing factors also teaches your children about empathy and compassion. It gives them less self-centered possibilities for why others may behave as they do, even when that behavior is distasteful or distressful.
When Should You Talk to the Teacher?
The teacher's actions that your child sees through a more negative lens can also create distance between teacher and student. If your child's attitude towards the teacher persists and seems to be getting in the way of their learning experience in the classroom, it may be time to have a conversation with the teacher.
Take a non-critical approach, acknowledging that your child might be misinterpreting behaviors or be more sensitive than others. Start the conversation with a soft start-up, maybe a compliment or acknowledgment of the teacher's presumably positive intentions. Express that your goal is not to blame them but to improve the situation. Discuss the specific language or behaviors that might change your child's perception and ask if the teacher could implement them. Mention a plan to follow up in about a week to give the teacher feedback.
When you get home, encourage your child to notice changes in the teacher's behavior and to acknowledge positive efforts. Remind them that change takes time and may not happen overnight. Share personal stories about people you've grown to understand or tolerate in your life to help your child accept that not everyone has to be their biggest fan all the time. Ultimately, your goal should be for your children to have confidence in themselves and their efforts and to focus on their pursuit of success, regardless of how their teachers seem to feel about them.