"I'm not learning from my teacher!"
At some point in your child's schooling you are bound to come across this statement. When I was younger, it was my maths teacher: she was old-school, liked to write some sums on the blackboard and then sit at her desk for the rest of the lesson while we tried and failed to work out what we were supposed to be doing. Any requests were met with derision... I think that very few teachers would do that today, where teachers are trained to spend the lesson doing the rounds of the classroom, helping out where possible and building relationships with pupils.
However, when our children come home from school saying that they are not learning from a particular teacher, we have to take that seriously. I have come from all three sides on this one. I'm a teacher, parent and have also been the unhappy student. So my question is, how can we tell when there really is a problem?
So what is the problem?
I think working out what the issue is, is the first step. Often when I hear about teacher problems from parents, the problem is that there has been a change of teacher for whatever reason. Children are creatures of habit: they love routine. They are often also intensely loyal. I have found that even the most tricky characters in my classrooms through the years will defend you to the end if anyone dares to attack you. That is, unless you are a new teacher or even new to them. Every teacher knows that at the start of the school year, there is a period of adjustment where many children will test boundaries and start off from a place of mistrust. It takes time to break this down. If a teacher is new to the school then this mistrust is magnified as the child has never seen this teacher before and the teacher has no reputation yet in the school. When a teacher has to take a class over mid-year, the mistrust is ten-fold. The children feel that they have been abandoned often by a teacher they have really grown to respect and it is going to take some time for them to trust this unknown teacher and to adjust to the teacher's different ways of doing things. Behaviour is often worse in these times of transition as the children try to push boundaries and teachers try to establish them. Therefore, I would ask yourself first of all, is the source of dissatisfaction either due to your own child's dislike of change, mistrust of new people or even the fact that the rest of their class is behaving less well due to a new teacher being in place?
Even after the transition period, the problem could be that your child is feeling fed up with the behaviour of his or her class and feels that the teacher is unable to control this. There are three reasons that this may be the case: 1) the teacher has not had enough training with behaviour management and could be really struggling on a day-to-day basis. 2) They may not be receiving support from leaders - teachers need to have consequences for bad behaviour but this is often a school-wide issue rather than the single responsibility of one teacher. 3) There may be a class with some students with very challenging behaviour. I saw all three of these scenarios every day of my teaching career in mainstream education. If behaviour is the issue, I would straight away get in touch with the school. You may be doing this poor teacher a massive favour and help them to get some support!
Differing personality types
Another issue can be that teachers and children have different personalities and likes and dislikes. Some students really like teachers who are extroverted whilst others might feel that is too much for them. Some might like the teaching style of a particular teacher and others may hate it. The great thing about secondary education is that pupils are not with one teacher all day and they tend to get a new teacher for a subject each year at least up until year 10. Therefore, during a day, most students are going to see a variety of personalities and teaching styles in their teachers. So the next thing to ask yourself is, is the issue down to bad teaching or is it down to your child and the teacher having different styles and personalities?
If you have considered whether it is a time of transition that is causing the problem and that it may be a personality clash that is causing issues, you can move on to what to do. It is fair and reasonable for a teacher to be allowed some time to win over the class. It is fair and reasonable for a school to have staffing shortages at certain times and this will often disproportionately affect certain year groups: students in years 10-13 and also in the SATs years at primary school are more likely to get teachers that are expected to stay at the school and for schools to clear the way so that they get the best possible education at those really key moments. Unfortunately, that means other year groups may get a less easy ride and may more often get split classes (where they have 2 or even 3 teachers for one subject) or get teachers with less experience. Just remember, all teachers need to get experience to become experienced (and some of the most inspiring teachers can be newly qualified) and that your child's time will come when they are in those all-important years.
However, when you are in those moments where your child is becoming disengaged with school or with a subject because of a teacher, it may be time to get in touch with the school. I would go directly to the teacher in question if at all possible. Ensure that you go in with a clear head and talk rationally about the issue. Teachers are extremely busy and it may be that whatever problem your child is experiencing is completely unknown to the teacher. Accusations and rudeness are likely to make the problem worse rather than better. Take some of the possibilities I have mentioned above (possibility of a problem with the transition/ a personality clash) as an olive branch to the teacher. It may be that the teacher sees that this is a personality clash and endeavours to move your child to a more suitable class or they may make some changes to how they deal with your child with some insight from you. After all, you know your child better than anybody!
If the problem continues and you are really worried that this will have a long term impact on your child there are a few things you can do: go back to the school, this time dealing with a head of department or with a head of year (again a reasoned, calm approach is likely to get you a long way). You can also look at helping your child out in the meantime at home. For example for English, there are textbooks, revision books, you can join my study group (www.wordacademyoxenhope.com/waworkshopcontact), you can start a family book club so you all read a book together, you can get tuition (https://www.facebook.com/groups/NationalTutorsUK/ is a free Facebook group to find a tutor and First Tutors is cost effective. I run flexible online tuition too - www.wordacademyoxenhope.com/online-courses - as well as face-to-face tuition classes), you can follow my free How to Support Your Child through AQA GCSE English Facebook group. All of these things might just get you through the year that is causing your child an issue!
Michelle Mapstone is a professional English secondary teacher, now tutoring from her home classroom in West Yorkshire for age 8-18 and running online study skills groups and online tuition for GCSE.