Prev Next
Helping Your Child Handle a Mean Teacher

Your Child Says Their Teacher Is Mean, What Do You Do?

By Chris Jordan

Over the past few days I have had several friends tell me that September is wearing them out. I know the feeling. Between getting everyone organized for school and re-establishing a routine, September is never as relaxing as you imagine in August when the last bits summer and family togetherness have worn you down. All the free time you thought that you would have when the kids went back-to-school is just a myth. My closets are still just as cluttered. My rugs just as dirty. My DVR just as full of shows not appropriate for children as it was a month ago.

We are a few weeks in and the shine of going back-to-school is wearing off. Waking up early, doing homework, packing lunches… all of it is a whole less fun than it was just a few weeks ago. And not just for the parents. It is also the time of year when you begin to hear complaints from the kids about their teachers. Cries of “My teacher hates me!” “My teacher is mean!” are played out over the dinner tables in many of our homes.

So what do you do? None of us wants to raise children who go through life looking for excuses when things don’t go their way. “I got a bad grade because my teacher doesn’t like me.” “My professor is a jerk.” “I didn’t get a promotion because my boss hates me.” We all want our children to be empowered and have a sense of personal responsibility.

How do you know when to step in and when to let your child work it out for themselves?

1) Get to the bottom of it. Ask questions. What specifically happened that makes your child think their teacher is mean? Often a one-time misunderstanding can cloud a child’s perceptions. Helping your child see that situation from the teacher’s point of view can help in these instances. Young children, especially, often use the words always and never, when in reality they are describing a one-time event.

My son came home from school once saying his teacher was mean because “she would NEVER let him have a drink during recess.” Since it is not unusual to have days that are over 100 degrees here, this could raise concerns if it were true. Knowing his teacher, however, I also highly doubted the accuracy of his story. After asking a few questions I realized that the kids were lining up to go back inside when my son asked to get a drink. One time.

2) Empathize with your child and their frustrations, but don’t jump on the I-hate-the-teacher-bandwagon. Even if you really want to! Doing so will just fuel their anger and cloud their ability to rationally think about the situation. Allow for the possibility that your child is misinterpreting the teacher. Some people are more difficult than others to get along with. Not so much for the younger elementary school aged children, but those in high school need to realize that they will have to get along and work with people in their lives that they don’t like. This is a good time to practice that skill.

3) Is the teacher “mean” or just one who demands excellence from her students? The teacher is not mean for making you rewrite a messy paper. A teacher isn’t mean for making you skip recess because you were too busy socializing to finish your schoolwork. A teacher isn’t mean for making you sit in the front of the room next to her if you are being disruptive. However, as a parent, if these things are happening on a daily basis you probably need to go speak with the teacher and find out what’s going on in the classroom and what you can do to help your child be successful.

4) Help the child see things from the teacher’s point of view. Role playing situations can help them empathize with what the teacher is going through. It might seem funny to the children when someone acts like a class clown, but how would it feel as the teacher to constantly be interrupted. Being able to see the world through someone else’s eyes is truly a life skill. If everyone learned this skill as a child what a better world this would be.

5) If your child’s complaints are ongoing, reach out to other parents you know who have children in the class and ask them if their child is coming home with any complaints. You might want to ask how your child behaves in the class. Prepare yourself for that answer. I speak from experience here.

6) If you decide to approach the teacher, do it carefully. Most teachers are good and caring people, who really do love their jobs, at least that has been my experience. They want to know if your child is unhappy and come up with strategies to make the classroom experience a positive one. But don’t go in to talk them in a way that puts them on the defensive. Use positive language, not negative.

7) Volunteer at the school or in the classroom. There is no better way to know what is going on in the classroom and the school than to be there. And no better way to make sure that your child is on their best behavior.

And despite all of this, sometimes you do get a teacher, or class, that just isn’t a good fit for your child. And there are times you get a teacher who really is a jerk, though I have found these to be few and far between. If you try everything above and there isn’t any improvement in the way your child feels, then it would be time to reach out the administration and see what they suggest.

October is right around the corner, parents.  Hopefully all the wrinkles will be ironed out by then.  Lord knows those TV shows aren’t going to watch themselves.

Chris Jordan
About the Author

Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children. Yes, the...

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.
Yes, they are all hers.
No she’s not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.
Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That’s why her youngest is almost 6.
Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.

icon icon
chat bubble icon


  • Claire

    September 23, 2013 at 6:15 am

    O As a teacher myself I would love it if some parents followed this advice. Most do, but the parent who blindly listens to their child without talking it through will either end up horrendously embarrassed when I explain the situation to them, or is a parent who causes trouble no matter what because their child is an angel and never does a thing wrong. Blindly defending your child does precisely nothing to help them and is creating a whole new issue with kids who believe they can do whatever they want because their parents will back them up. I’ve had to deal with kids whose parents won’t ‘allow’ them to do detention. So these kids cause chaos because they know mum and dad don’t follow through with consequences. But this is a whole other story and might be more of a UK thing. Either way, thank you – more parents need to think like this.

  • Cheryl S.

    September 23, 2013 at 11:30 am

    My daughter had a teacher that she didn’t like last year (This was 2nd grade). The woman was fine as a teacher, but was coasting toward retirement and wasn’t terribly interested in the children. Since the woman wasn’t crazy, or vindictive, I just made my daughter gut it out. There are going to be people in life that you have to deal with, whether you like them or not.
    It was hysterical to watch my daughter’s face when over the summer she said “I really didn’t like Mrs.X” and I said “Me Either” I explained to her that I didn’t tell her during the year because Mrs. X was a technically good teacher (The kids learned what they needed) but she wasn’t “warm and fuzzy”.
    Luckily, she LOVES her teacher this year!

  • anonymous

    September 26, 2013 at 2:14 am

    I remember whining many a time about teachers who “haaaaaaaaate me!” to my mother as a middle and high schooler. She always swore that teachers don’t hate children, and would go through the scenarios above. And then when I became a teacher, I learned… sometimes there are kids you just cannot stand. I would never tell the kid that, or the parent that, but sometimes a kid is just SO weird and annoying you can’t muster up any lovies for them. And then I would feel GUILTY that I didn’t like them. Oy. Anyway, just saying, it’s a possibility that your kid is right, ha ha. (I’m no longer teaching, if that makes anyone feel better about this).

  • Sam

    October 1, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    As a 31 year old mother, I can still remember a 4th grade teacher I had that was cruel. I was terrified of her and even asked my parents if I broke my leg, if that meant I could stay home from school. She picked on students and berated us in front of the rest of the class. I was so terrified of her that I peed my pants in class one day because I was too afraid to ask to go to the bathroom. That year was a hell that I still remember as an adult. So don’t brush off your kid’s complaints if they are consistent and fearful. No kid should go to school fearing the bully at the front of the room. And just for the record, I was a straight-A kid that was never sent to the principal’s office.

  • Gale

    February 3, 2015 at 1:20 am

    I had two very mean teachers when I was in the fourth and sixth grade. I have been to my son’s school because two of his teachers are disrespectful, intimidating, and sarcastic, and there is no room for that in teaching! If my son was a brat are just respectful I would probably understand it a little more, but he is a very shy kid, smart, gets good grades.
    he had a question about some work the teacher said she was too busy get help from your friends! She also had the class read out loud to him, the rules of the classroom because he asked a question. She embarrassed him on the first day of school, and many times since then. Because of the stitches he no longer wants to go to school. He’s hurt, he’s embarrassed, he feels bullied, he doesn’t understand why It’s okay for teachers to treat students that way.
    Now my child thinks he’s “stupid” and he hates going to school. There is no excuse for a teacher to treat a child that way! And I have heard many people complain about teachers who are mean, teachers who are bullies, teachers who intimidate, to make their job easier. So when your child complains, investigate, they may just be telling the truth.

  • Gale

    February 3, 2015 at 1:27 am

    To correct the above statement! I meant because of the teachers, (not stitches) he no longer wants to go to school.

  • Dory

    January 19, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    This is really one-sided advice. Yes, many teachers want to do a great job, and it is important not to be reactive in front of your child—and understand there are two sides to every story. However, it is *also* important to listen to your child when these things happen as there are some teachers who are abusive or simply not in a great position to do the best job they can (or should simply not be teaching).

    I had a lot of wonderful teachers who I credit with becoming a good person—and I remember most of their names including childhood teachers.

    Then I had a third grade teacher who beat the kids with a yardstick (including me) and locked a couple up in the closet. Sometimes she’d have a nervous breakdown and lay on her desk crying. I’d come home to my mom who’d be empathetic, yet also followed this kind of advice. Because of this, I was stuck with a year of psychological and physical torture, and my desire to learn as a child was nearly crushed—along with my grades. I also had an 10th grade teacher who’d scream at the class, and a 9th grade social studies teacher who’d disappear most of the class and sometimes say awful things like “slavery was great” (most of that class was BLACK). Kids need to learn to work with all kinds of people, but they also need to have parents who advocate for them. It is hard enough for an adult to deal with crazy people. That is not something a child should have to be put through alone. 

    Write down dates and specifics when a child complains. Then talk with the teacher in private to see what is going on. If that teacher is unresponsive or things do not get resolved, it’s time to involve the principal—for everyone’s sake. Make sure to always CC admin in emails. I also recommend surprise visits if the child talks about the teacher screaming or hitting students. 

    We had to pull our daughter out of preschool, because the teaching assistant was doing things that endangered her. She was screamed at by the teaching assistant during circle time and was punched in the stomach by a boy. None of the teachers informed us of her being punched, but told us later they witnessed it during a meeting. When I spoke to the preschool director a month later, she was in shock, because it was the preschool’s policy that teachers inform her if a child is violent in class. Then I drove up early to find my daughter standing by herself next to a very public driveway (one that people speed down). By this point, it had turned into a circus. The director was kind and I think if she witnessed what happened herself she’d have fired the teaching assistant right away. Because our daughter was in danger, we decided not to wait it out. We pulled her out of school a week later. I heard from other parents the teaching assistant mysteriously left a couple months later. She was probably let go, but it’s very hard to fire people—especially ones in teaching positions. I love the school and felt terrible to take my daughter out, but I’ve very glad we didn’t wait it out. 

  • DC

    March 28, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    It’s a huge relief to hear this. I’ve been the weird, dislikable kid a few times, and then felt even weirder because even though it seemed like the teacher didn’t like me, I’d always been told Teachers Don’t Hate Kids. Which left three options: (a) this was an unusually horrible teacher, (b) I was an unusually horrible student, (c) I was making it all up and couldn’t trust my own perceptions. I’d actually have preferred (a) or (b)! Anyway, thanks for the reality check…I hope that’s true of all teachers, because it seems totally normal to me.