Problems with the Teacher

Questions & Responses:
When your kid's teacher has a poor grading system(8 responses)
Experience with removing a bad teacher(3 responses)
Archived Responses: 




Problem with teacher - principal blowing us off

May 2014


My son is in kindergarten at a highly regarded east bay public school. We were very pleased to learn that our house was in the district for this school rather than the others. Unfortunately our experience with the school has not lived up to its ratings and we are looking for advice on how to handle a situation that has come up.

We have very mixed feelings about our son's teacher. She's close to retirement age and doesn't have much energy or enthusiasm. Our son has problems sitting still and staying focused. We have gotten the impression that she was not interested in trying to keep him focused on his work and instead was just trying to get through the year and make him someone else's problem. We finally requested a meeting with the principal and school psychologist to determine the best way to address the behavior issues and some inappropriate conduct by the teacher.

Two days before the meeting, the principal tried to reschedule it for 2 weeks later. We did not agree to delay addressing the problem for that long but did reschedule the meeting for the next day when the principal said that she would be available. Only the psychologist showed up for the meeting. The principal sent an email afterwards saying that she hadn't seen the email with the final decided-upon time. It sounded like an excuse to us but we let it go.

The psychologist scheduled a follow up meeting at a time that worked for her, the teacher and the principal. I had to take a half day off work to attend but was willing to do it because the time worked for everyone else. The psychologist confirmed the meeting time with the principal the day before. We were all surprised when the principal no-showed for a second time.

I don't know what to do. The lack of respect shown for us, our time, and our son's educational development is appalling. If she had taken a half day off work to attend a meeting with someone who didn't show up, I'm sure that she would be furious. But it was okay in her mind to do that to us. What do we do? I'm not willing to take more time off work in the hopes that this woman will actually treat us with respect and show up for a scheduled meeting. She clearly doesn't want to have the meeting and, at this point, I'm not even sure how much good it would do. Do we write a letter of complaint about this? If so, to whom should it be sent? Will anything change or will our son just be punished? He has six more years left to go at this school and I don't want him to suffer, especially if nothing with the principal will change.

I work in the private sector and people who blow off meetings lose their clients and their jobs. It's hard to accept how rude government employees can be and still keep their jobs, their pensions, their benefits. Going to the office at this school is worse then the DMV. If you have gone through anything like this, I would love your insight. What is our next step? We are in the WCCUSD.
-Is there any accountability?

This is a stressful situation. I am so sorry that you've been disrespected. This kind of thing is super irritating. A couple thoughts for you: First, how much have you talked to the teacher? What kind of specific requests have you made? Have you put them in writing? Principals don't welcome conversations with parents who go straight to the principal without working with the teacher in a meaningful way. It puts the principal in a no-win situation. Second, what do you specifically want the principal to do? He/she is not able to fire a teacher who's been on the job this long without extraordinary circumstances. He/she is unlikely to transfer your kid out of that class because they can't provide that option for every kid whose parents would want that. If you want your kid to have more challenging work, ask the teacher for differentiated homework assignments or reading levels. There is not too much more that she can do for you. As for your comment about her being fired if it were the private sector, you're probably right, but there is a vast world of difference between your job which skims off only those customers from which you can profit versus serving at a public school where you have to address every kid with any profound social deficit/learning disability/incompetent parent/lack of home/lack of food/etc. May you have a good summer & may next year go better. Sympathetic Friend

Your disappointment and frustration is clear, and I certainly can't blame you (we're also in the WCCUSD - Fairmont - and our principal is so responsive she met with us twice before our kid even started there!). BUT my advice is to move past those feelings to get what you need for your child. Nobody is going to apologize to you for your time and aggravation with those missed meetings. Nobody else cares that this is supposed to be a good school but you have had a bad experience. Just keep working with the school psychologist (??!) and teacher to get whatever the next step is - if there's some form the principal needs to sign, ask them to handle it. I'm not sure what else the principal needs to be involved in? - maybe that's why she is avoiding you, because you are asking too much of her. Or maybe there's something really wrong with your kid (reality check) and she doesn't want to be the one to give you the bad news. Who knows. Ask other parents with older kids if they've experienced something similar in any aspect, and listen ''between the lines'' to what other parents, the teacher, and the psychologist are telling you. I concur with your hunch that elevating it at the district level will just tick off the principal and cause bad feelings for years to come (there's always a transfer option within the district). Try to make it less about you and more about getting whatever service(s) your child needs. I know all this is blunt, but if I were in a similar situation I'd want the same (I think!).

Of course there's accountability for principals. You commented that in the private sector there are consequences when people don't do their jobs, and the implication seemed to be that you presumed this wasn't the case in the public sector. But, what would you do if someone you worked with in the private sector blew you off? You'd let their boss or supervisor know. That's what you do here too. Complain to members of the school board and to the Superintendent-- that won't magically fix the situation, but it will put them on notice about this problem principal and perhaps something can be done. Principals of public schools are not kings and queens of their schools-- they are part of a large bureaucracy that has rules and procedures and a chain of authority-- use that to your advantage. --confused by confusion

Yes the principal did not show up and it is challenging to force a meeting with her. And it is frustrating, I imagine, to not be able to do so. What I suggest is focusing on what you can do and on those who are responsive. Focus on working with the school psychologist for the remainder of this year and next. Try to get their help in getting a suitable teacher for. Next year. Consider some outside-of- the-school help for your student.

Don't waste your time on trying to fix your son's teacher, or on trying to complain about the principal. Yes she pissed you off but move on. Keep your mind on what is best for your son and don't focus on how you were disrespected. Maintain your persistant respectful attitude, although in this situation it can be hard.

And please don't paint broad brush generalities about government employees in the process. Everyone is an individual... The teacher, your son, the principal, you ... Each of us. -One Who Takes Deep Breaths


Our childrens' teachers are yellers - stay in public school?

June 2013


We have now experienced a private and a public school education. Our older son moved, after two years, from private to public. This year our younger son started kindergarten. We had prepared ourselves for the differences between public and private and were ready to support and work to fill gaps. We really want to be a part of our neighborhood community and really enjoyed this side of it. However, what we didn't plan for was the teaching. Although, our school has plenty of good teachers, both our children ended up with teachers that were yellers. I witnessed belittling, berating, and general unkindness toward the children in their classes. It appeared these teachers may no longer even enjoy children. I have worked with children for many years, so I know trying to get children's attention and respect can be difficult. However, these teachers just appeared to be run down and no longer interested in looking for new ways to improve classroom management. At the end of the school year, my older son said, ''I used to like going to school. Being at school was my favorite time of the day. Now I cannot wait to get out and get home.'' What do I do about this? If a school/teacher has taken the joy of school out of my child, do I risk another year? Due to job changes, we can only afford a little output for school, but not a huge tuition. confused

I would whole-heartedly encourage you to stay in public school! If you are having issues with your child's teachers, I hope that you have discussed it with the principal. So many parents hesitate to report teachers who are behaving badly in the classroom, and so their bad behavior goes unreported. The principal cannot make staffing changes or implement behavior modification plans with teachers if he/she doesn't know the extent of the problem. Parents MUST speak up and advocate for their children and all the children in the class. That said, every year your children will have a different teacher, so you cannot assume that this year's experience will be repeated next year. If you enjoy being a part of your neighborhood school community, then stay, and help make your school even better by working with the principal and other parents to address the teaching issues you witness. Choose Public School! Public school parent

I'm sorry to hear that two teachers in your children's school are ''yellers.'' Bay Area school districts give teachers ample training in best classroom management practices, and yelling at students is not considered acceptable and should be addressed immediately. While it can feel risky to do so, it's really important let the school principal know what's going on ASAP. Awkward as it may be, you should consider putting your concerns in writing and possibly copying someone besides the principal. Creating a safe, conducive learning environment is paramount, not only for your child but for all the children at the school. As you know, teaching is a demanding profession and not for everyone. It can be particularly hard at the end of one's career after so many years of working hard with insufficient resources, dealing with ever-changing district mandated programs, and teaching students with a wide range of skills--and very little assistance. The teachers involved may be in need of additional support/guidance from the administration. Or they may need to have an administrator working closely with them and telling them, ''Yelling is not an option.'' Someone needs to say it. Have you considered teaming up with other parents that you think may have held the same concerns? If several people write to the principal or call and request a meeting before school starts, you may be able to gain some traction. Good have an important job in front of you. Sarah

Your question is a little confusing, because your title suggests you are trying to choose between public and private, but then your closing suggests you cannot afford private regardless. So maybe you don't really have a choice? But then getting to the gist of your story, you seem to think that you are at higher risk of ''bad'' teachers in public school. I think at every school you may run the risk of a ''bad'' teacher, or at least a teacher who is not so effective with your particular child. And I'm sure there are a few yellers around. But our public school experience (in Oakland) has been happy. That's really the best word for it--happy! My kids love their school. My rising 6th grader is so sad about leaving elementary school because he loves his school so much. And my rising 4th grader did not want the school year to end, because she loved her 3rd grade teacher so much. She wasn't even happy about summer vacation! I hope your children can have similar experiences at their public school next year. I'm sorry they both had to suffer through a year of yelling teachers, but I think the odds are in your favor that this won't happen next year. Do you talk with other parents about the teachers at your school? Perhaps they can offer advice or information? I've heard of bad teachers in local private schools too, so I wouldn't necessarily count on avoiding them entirely even if you could afford the tuition. Momx3

If a teacher is not a good match for your student, you have the right to ask that he be placed with another teacher (and one advantage of public school is there are usually more options). Use this carefully, as doing it too often gets you a particular reputation. But do use it in the case where your child is being yelled at and berated to the point that he is unhappy with school.

My son had a teacher in kindergarten who was very difficult for him. This teacher yelled, but only at a few students (mine was one of them), and was very harsh sometimes. I didn't figure out what was happening early enough to ask for a different teacher, but I did write a letter to the principal at the end of the year explaining that my son had had a very difficult year, and explaining what I wanted for him in the future. I didn't make accusations, nor did I ask for any specific teacher, just outlined my son's needs very carefully. Every other teacher he had in that school was ideal for him. All were very kind, none of them yelled (we missed one other known ''yeller.'') We ended up with him loving school, loving his teachers, and very happy. It's OK to ask for what you want

Dear ''Stay in Public School?'' parent,

Your experience of the yelling, belittling, berating, and unkindness of a classroom teacher is familiar to us. On one hand I have seen a Berkeley public elementary school teacher throw a table at his students. Nonetheless, the worst school abuses of children we have seen have been at private schools in the East Bay and Marin. Having watched a child experience this in several school settings, please know that stressing your family out financially to support private school will not necessarily protect your child.

It is worth asking yourself if your child is contributing to this reaction from a teacher. We came to the conclusion that you can rule this out If you see this teacher's behavior directed towards kids in general and not specifically your child, and if your child is consistently well-liked by children and adults in all other settings.

Beyond home schooling,the only good solution to this situation that I have to recommend is ensuring that your child is in a school where there is a great deal of visual and physical oversight of students/ classrooms/ and activities by numerous adults with the hope that teachers will ''supervise'', set limits for, and support one another (not in that order). The physical layout, and philosophical or administrative structure makes this kind of child abuse much more likely (and almost predictable) in some school settings than in others.

What we used to do was pull our kid out of a school, at least by the end of that school year and try another place. We are now of the opinion there are potentially abusive people at most schools and that our child's best protection is to learn how to deal with such people.( Of course our kid is now in their teens and not in elemenary school.) We currently deal with this kind of situation by: 1) NEVER EVER sending our child to a school where they do not allow visitors/ parents to volunteer REGULARLY, 2) Telling our [now-older] child that there will always be people like that in the world, and just because they are out-of-control and mis-treating others, does not mean that our child is powerless or has to take it in (.. ''like water off a duck's back''), 3) having our child take Kid Power / Teen Power to learn both physically and psychologically self-protective skills, 4) asking abuser teachers what we can do to support them to try to provide some protection for our and other children, 5) addressing such incidents consistently and gently if at all possible with an abuser teacher (though we still have never seen this result in any significant change on the teacher's part). I sincerely hope that this situation was a unique one for your child and that all will be well from here on out. Sadly wishing you all the best


Teacher is bullying my 4th grader

March 2013


My 4th grader had a terrible experience with a teacher yelling everyday, using inappropriate language, calling the children stupid and lazy, ripping their incomplete papers off their desks, slamming rulers on their desk and throwing away their backpacks if not perfectly stowed. We were able to change teachers mid year, but this women continues to harass my child on the playground and whenever she can. It's clear to me that this teacher is unable or unwilling to control herself and my child does not feel safe. My child will attend this school for another year and a younger sibling will be there for several more years. Many parents have complained but noting has been done about this teacher after meeting with the principal and other administrators. What should I do? anon

If it is at all possible to catch it on video that would be the best bet to getting this woman away from kids. Someone I know did it and a teacher who NEEDED to go was finally taken out of the classroom. I am so sorry your kids are going through that. I have reported teachers after witnessing verbally abusive behavior and nothing ever happens. Hate that the system works like that. anon

I am so sorry to hear about your child's experience with the bullying teacher. My child has experienced something similar. This kind of thing is just unacceptable. Here are some ideas/ options that come to mind. Take what's useful, leave the rest.

1) Remove your children from the school, whatever it takes.

2) Go yourself, or hire someone to go to the playground during all school breaks to observe/ protect your child (or do a trade with another parent if you work days and cannot be there). Or get together with other parents who are concerned about this person and set up a schedule with families taking turns volunteering to help on the playground to ensure that such abuse there does not occur.

3) Find a way to video tape the teacher in action. Share a copy with the Principal. If that doesn't work, go on up the ladder of responsibility.

4) Call the newspapers and get them to interview parents and to write an article on the situation. Or send a copy of your video to a TV news station

5) Find a way to pick up your child at lunch and bring them home or go somewhere nearby to eat together to give them a safe place away from this person... or find someone else to do this if you can't.

6) Call the police or Children's Protective Services and report the teacher if the school will not take action.

7) Write a calm letter to the principal/ school board/ PTA etc. stating what you have observed, the effect it is having on your child (as well as other children), what you have done to date, and specifically what you are requesting. Get as many parents to sign it as are willing. Sending you much moral support

Wow, I hear your frustration. You want this behavior to stop and are concerned about your relationship with the school. Are other children experiencing the same thing from this teacher? If so, perhaps a group approach would be helpful and/or recording the teacher's behavior on your phone. A formal letter to the principal, administrators, or board president if this is a private school. Debbie

This is awful! I have been in your shoes with a middle school teacher and in fact the entire school culture, including principal, was one of shaming and you could say bullying the children. this teacher just happend to be over the top even compared to the other teachers. We didn't get anywher with the district b/c the school's test scores put them the highest in our district. But here are some ideas I have:

1) talk with your child about it, but at his level and framing it in a way that you are not setting him up to act out or feel entitled to be rude back to her (that will not help). He needs to know her behavior is not ok and is not his fault. He needs to know he can talk to you about it. Some of the stuff that happened with my kids we didn't know about until later b/c the kids were bullied into not telling their parents.

2) give him strategies. sometimes avoidance is the best strategy to the extent he can. Look on the internet for other ideas. there's a great response kids can do to not take in the bullying, yet not get themselves in trouble: make a fist with your thumb on top. the fist is the garbage can and your thumb is the lid. when the teacher - or anybody - says something rude/mean/disrespectful to him he can ''lift the lid'' and ''put it in his garbage can''. Practice this with him at home in a matter of fact way, sometimes you can even be humorous, rolling your eyes (as long as he doesn't do this in class!) - ''can you really believe she said THAT?'' and it goes in the trash can.

3) it sounds like your teacher really has it out for your child, but sometimes kids personalize ''scolding'' as pertaining exactly to them when it is to the larger group (i.e. maybe your kid did his homework but the class is being yelled at because most of them didn't). NOT to say this is ok, but it is important for him to be able to distinguish and not personalize stuff that doesn't apply to him.

4) do you mean you've talked to administrators at the school or have you gone higher up the chain of command? in most districts there is a superintendent of elementary schools, or some such title. as I said, that did not work for us, but it might for you.

5) for a while, parents organized ourselves to sit in on this teacher's class regularly. (You have that right.) It did help tone down the bullying somewhat, and I think probably the principal also talked to the teacher, because it would have been pretty embarrasing for her also.

Not great answers here, but you have my sympathy in dealing with it. anon

Our child was bullied by a teacher in a small private French-language school. The school's administration said ''You would understand if you were French!'' and did nothing to protect our child. Because that teacher was openly bullying our child, other students thought it was ''OK'' to bully our child, too.

We suggest you check to see if you child has been identified as a ''Target'' by other students. The best advice, the most helpful suggestions, were from: Alison Townley Executive Director, Playworks East Bay 155 Filbert Street Suite 234 Oakland, CA 94607 t: 510.768.7345 c: 510.812.1590 email: atownley [at]

Now, our child also has weekly therapy. We send best wishes to you and your family


Teacher's joint emails to me and abusive ex

Dec 2012


I realize this is such a small issue, but it bugs me and I don't know how to say something to my daughter's teacher without revealing too much info or coming across as petty.

My daughter's teacher (4th grade) uses email a lot to communicate with parents. My daughter's father (my ex-boyfriend) and I are both on these email lists. I find this totally fine and appropriate. What I have a problem with is that the two or three times I volunteered for something, the teacher would create a new email to write back with details and a thank you to both the ex- and me. As in ''Thank you to your household for taking care of ...'' or ''here are the dates and times you need to be at school...''

When I volunteer, I only email the teacher without cc'ing the ex. And when I respond to the teacher, I remove my ex from the reply. She has not got the hint. She does know I am remarried and has met my husband, my daughter's stepfather.

I wish I could brush this off, but my relationship with my ex was violent and I still feel uneasy with the thought that he knows what I'm doing and where and when. We are cordial now (communication by email only though as per court order) and I rationally don't have any fears, but it is still that automatic tense reaction I get.

I also am bitter that my ex gets thanks for the volunteer work I do -- not to mention the fact that I can't forward these logistical info emails to my husband because he would really get annoyed since my volunteering requires my husband stepping up to take care of two very young boys at home, and of course my ex does not do any volunteering (or contributing to pvt school tuition because I earn too much, but that's the subject of another mail) Any suggestions? Do i just suck it up? or what do I say to teacher? by email? in person? Note, this problem will not go away in May -- She has the same teacher next year too. trying not to be petty

You have every right to explain this to your daughter's teacher, and I don't think she will be offended at all. Id simply start out saying something nice, like you loving coming and spending time in the room, etc. and then explain your history with you ex and that you don't feel comfortable with him knowing details about where you are. Talking in person is probably best, since I'm sure she gets a million emails a day A former educator

I am not understanding the issue here. It seems easy enough to explain that you are not together with you childs father and that you would appreciate it if she did not send emails to him about your work in the classroom or cc him on communications unless it is specific to discussing your child. You could also tell the teacher that there are tensions in the ongoing relationship and it is very important to you that he not have too much information about what you are doing.

Teachers are not mind readers. They have 20+ students and all of their parents and too much on their plates. Please cut her some slack for not getting the ''hint'' or confusing the familial situation. I am sure it is not intentional. best to state your needs up front

The fact that your ex has a history of violence trumps other considerations. I would think you should briefly explain this to the teacher in person.

Teachers have millions of details to keep straight, and my impression is that they try to draw the line at which-parent- signed-up-for-which-task. They don't know the backstory on every set of parents and probably feel that they need to appear impartial. But given the circumstances, the teacher should respect your request to keep the communication compartmentalized when it comes to your comings and goings. anonymous

You should definitely say something. I would let her know that you and the father do not have a close relationship, and that it is important to you that you are treated as two separate people. Explain that there are sensitive issues around this (no need to go into details) and that while it may seem like a small detail, it's imperative that she please make sure to correspond to you only in terms of what you do with your child and with/at the school. If she continues to do this, I'd talk to the school. There's absolutely no reason that you should be made to feel uncomfortable due to her misunderstanding of your situation. Hope this helps

In my opinion it is not petty. It is totally OK to spell it out to the teacher. She (he?) just is not getting it. It is OK to say, ''The father and I are split, he was violent, he does not volunteer or support my volunteering or contribute financially, my new husband does, school affairs are part of my private life and cc-ing him leaks my private details to him, please take him off the emails.'' Politely, no apology. Totally fine. Maybe this is a young person and she will learn from this, because there are all kinds of families out there and all kinds of situations. - anon

I am a teacher in a private school and I would advise sending an email that said something like ''due to our custody arrangements I would prefer that you only email me and my ex-husband in one email about items that concern both of us and not include my ex-husband on items that concern only me.'' The teacher will likely apologize and follow through. Private schools are generally very conscious of communicating with divorced families appropriately. You don't need to explain your arrangements any further than that. The times I could see you getting an email to both of you are if there are classroom issues, good or bad pertaining to your child or you need to schedule parent conferences. However you could also have separate conferences. Really just do it and don't fret. As a teacher I'd feel slightly embarrassed at my mistake but very glad to be told your preference. a teacher

I would just be extremely forthright about your desires that she not cc your ex, without explaining too much or justifying. Something like: ''I'd really prefer it if you did not cc my ex-husband on emails that I send to you individually, unless it is something he needs to know.'' Period. If she presses for clarification or says anything about needing to communicate with both parents about all things related to your daughter, I would just tell her that you are divorced and that everyone does better when interactions/ exchanges are kept to a bare minimum. anon

hello, I understand you frustration, and I think that you don't need to be worried about communicating your wishes politely to this teacher. It's very hard for teachers to sort out all the complicated family situations and she's probably had other co-parent ex pairs who both want to be on every email. it would be nice if she'd noticed your subtle hints, but she hasn't . So just let her know what you want. I'd start with an appreciation for all she does-- ''I very much appreciate all the time you put into setting you parent volunteers and communicating with parents. I wanted to let you now that since Bill and I live separately, I'd rather that you reply only to me when setting up class volunteering time. Thank you so much!''

All the private baggage and worries that you have are very relevant to you, but not to this teacher. This is an emotional thing for you, but not for her. I bet she will respect your request without any trouble. If not, then you DO have an issues. but as of now, I think you just need to communicate with her! Just let her know

I'm not a teacher, but I don't think this has to be a big problem. I would guess that most teachers would want to know this information. I would just remind the teacher that you and your ex live apart and make separate decisions. Tell her that you communicate only by email per court order (that should be pretty illustrative of the situation) and that it's probably not a good idea because ot past violence that he knows this much detail about you, so could she please not cc him on emails to you specifically. I imagine that it is hard for teachers to keep track of the many varieties of co-parenting relationships that go on in a given classroom. For every parent who is bothered by the ex being cc'd, there is probably another parent who is bothered by the ex not being included. Nonetheless, my impression is that mostly teachers want to know as many specifics as are relevant regarding the family situation, and are willing to do their best to accommodate with respect to parent communication. (Especially given that you will have this teacher for a 2nd year.) Just lay it out for her

How about a simple email that says, ''Thanks so much for wanting to include my daughter's father in our communication, however, you don't need to copy him in emails between you and I. He is on the main list and is able to keep up with class news that way, but he doesn't need to be included when we're arranging times for me to be in the room or if you're thanking me for it. Thanks for understanding!!'' That's it! Congrats on moving on from him:) short and sweet

Just tell the teacher. You are just one of many co-parenting families. Tell her you live separately and you'd prefer that her replies go only to you, and she will probably say ''thanks for letting me know.'' also have an ex

Tell the teacher what's going on. She has no idea that your ex was violent and that you don't want him to know the details of your schedule. Telling her is not being petty, it's giving her the information that she needs to do her job properly. You're irritated with her when she has no idea at all that she is doing anything wrong.

I would not say anything about the group thank you. that does make you look petty. And this situation will correct itself when she stops adding your ex to the emails.

I'm pretty surprised that you've allowed this situation to go on for so long instead of just letting her know about the safety concerns. Communication is good

As an elementary school teacher of 11 years, please trust me when I say we've ''heard and seen it all.'' I don't mean to be blunt, but it's true. Every year there are many students who are either going through divorce (or separation), recently went through divorce or come from homes where the guardians at home are not their birth parents. I'm surprised your child's teacher is CCing your ex, but all you need to email is ''Please stop CCing my ex.'' You don't need to even give an explanation. You can put it as a ''PS'' at the end of an email or preface it with ''This is a little awkward for me, but...'' if you want to cushion it. If your child's teacher has any sense at all, she won't take it personally or press the matter. It's really not a big deal. heard it all

Hey (not so) petty, I dont think its all that petty, really. yes, not a huge problem in the grand scheme of things, but I can relate to that tense feeling when the ex is involved. i also don't think you should worry about talking to the teacher at all. Whats the big deal? just go to him/her and explain. ''If you have something to say that involves both my childs parents, please email us both. if you didn't see/hear/talk to my child's father, please assume he wasn't involved and don't email him.'' there is nothing wrong with explaining that you feel uneasy, you don't need to trash talk to do that. Also, if you haven't talked to the teacher at all, dont assume they've put it together what the situation is. They have a lot of students and a lot of living situations to remember, so they may actually think one person is the other. Just speak up, i think you're overthinking it! peace in the Holiday Season!! another fearful coparent

hi there, That is really tough, I'm sorry! Maybe your husband is right. Maybe you have a bit of jealousy too? Either way, she's being rude and hurtful. i think you should stop letting her hurt you and tell her whats up. Simply say ''I know we have different feelings on how to raise kids, and you don't agree with mine, but it hurts my feelings that you don't respect my choices for my family. can you please keep those comments to yourself?'' its hard to have people voice their opinions of your life, especially if you are not 100% thrilled with it yourself. But there is a great quote, that's been made into a bumper sticker. Think about getting one! It says ''In 100 years it won't matter what kind of car you drove or how big your house was, but it will matter how you raised your kids.'' I suggest you empower yourself on your choice to raise your kids, not disempower her on her choices, lift your chin and raise your kids with pride. They're your kids and no one else's, so who cares what they think? Also not making bank, but love my time with my kids!!

So long as you don't try to embroil the teacher in your family's issues/problems, there is nothing wrong with letting her know that you would prefer that she communicate separately with you regarding volunteer hours. You can explain as much or as little as you like. If she doesn't understand what the issue is, you could explain a little more if you're comfortable sharing. Sounds to me that you would not be requesting that ex be dropped from class email list (that would not be appropriate) but rather that email conversations between you and the teacher stay between the two of you. Sounds quite reasonable to me. Erin

Being direct is best. Simply email teacher and ask that she not reply to your ex-husband when it only pertains to you, he is in a different household. Its not petty, its direct, explicit communication. There need be no judgement or emotion... its simply the way things are. teacher

I think this calls for a short, honest, in-person conversation with the teacher, to communicate the following:

- Your child is in two households. The households communicate, but are separate.

- You really appreciate her trying to keep everyone in the loop, but you feel uncomfortable with your ex having information about when and where you'll be. (If it feels appropriate, you could mention that you've had safety concerns about him in the past. This might help her to understand why this is important to you.)

- In the future, you'd like for her to respond only to you when you email her.

Chances are, the teacher is well-meaning and is trying to be inclusive in her responses (and not just fall into the default ''mom is the sole contact'' which is still so common in schools). Filling her in on the situation will probably get the response you are looking for. If you continue to have problems after one or two conversations with her, you can take it to her boss (principal) to express your concern. This is a safety issue for you and it's worth advocating for yourself. Therapist/ mama

It sounds like you should just say something to the teacher it whatever way makes you comfortable. For example, ''I don't want to go into details but it makes me very uncomfortable when you copy my ex on emails. I don't mean to cause offense, but please stop doing that.'' anon

I get your point. I am both a co-parent and a teacher. My problem is slightly different: it drives me nuts that my ex seems to try to pass us off as still married (writes to teachers with the ''we'' pronoun, as though both of us are writing, doesn't correct teachers when they think we live together, doesn't share stuff from school with me when it only arrives at his place, etc.). So I step up and remind the teachers that we are divorced, that we have separate homes, addresses, etc. It is important for us to keep in mind that teachers are very busy, and that they have a big communication load, so you don't want to create extra work. But it sounds as if the teacher has gone to extra trouble in a misguided attempt to always address both parents. In your case, I would be very straight with the teacher and say, ''when I write to you individually about my child, or when I have done something as an individual in your classroom, I would like to ask you to refrain from including my ex-husband in your response. He needs to be given notifications about things he needs to take care of, but he doesn't need to know my personal business.'' Sometimes people have notions about divorce that stem from ideological, cultural, and religious positions that can cause them to disrespect the privacy of divorced parents, and they should be called on it, especially when there is a past of abuse. another co-parent

I don't think there's anything wrong about telling your child's teacher some of what you said here on BPN. Leave it non-specific if you want and just say that you have very limited contact with your child's father and that the notes should really be coming to just you for school help etc. There's no way for her to know it bothers you unless you tell her nicely that you would appreciate the email strings going to you only. The non-specific stuff can still go to you both if you are ok with it. Good Luck! sympathetic single mom

This seems like an administrative ''housekeeping'' kind of issue - you should not be concerned about explaining the situation to the teacher so that emails are directed to the appropriate person. It sounds like you need to clarify who is part of your household and who these emails should go to, and that is really it. Not petty, just housekeeping.

I don't think you're being petty at all. It's an understandably tricky situation. As a former teacher- and the wife of a teacher- I know that I would often do the best I could in terms of communicating openly and respectfully with children's families. But I definitely made mistakes. I found it so helpful when parents would tell me directly about any specific circumstances or needs for their kids and family so that I could adjust my approach accordingly. My guess is that the teacher will be very receptive to you sending a quick note that says ''Thanks for the ongoing communication. In the future, please leave my ex off of any correspondence between the two of us (you could add an ''unless''...if there's a situation where you think it would be appropriate to include both of you).'' My feeling is the more communication and honesty you can have with teachers, the better- they're so busy and trying to do their best, so if they hear specific needs from families, they're likely to really appreciate it. Good luck! former teacher

Hi, As teachers, we are expected to communicate all info with both parents, particularly in a two household family. It keeps all communication even, and each parent knows exactly what is happening. I'm not sure the teacher has much choice. A meeting with the teacher and an administrator may help clarify the situation - the school may have legal requirements for always contacting both parents. Sorry this is difficult for you - set up a meeting, it's the best next step. 5th Grade Teacher

First off the teacher is most likely unsure and nervous she will upset one of you if she made assumptions. Or she is not experienced in diverse family structures.

I am a long time teacher and have encountered many families with complex structures. It can be very confusing for teachers unless you are very direct. This year alone it took me until October early November to know about ''no release to'' and that a mother was gone 6 mos out of the year. It is best to tell the teacher all the reasons you want things clear and then email her and the administrator to keep it above board. Be clear, firm and matter of fact. teacher

Be direct and assertive. Removing someone from a cc could just be seen as a mistake in replying. Reply back and at the end, write, ''Please do not cc my ex-husband on any email correspondence you have with just me.'' No need to explain why. Repeat until she remembers not to do it. frequent emailer


Kindergarten teacher brings his boyfriend to class

Oct 2012


Hello BPN-

My child's kindergarten teacher recently brought his boyfriend to class to introduce him to the students. When I heard about it, the first thing that came to mind was ''What is the educational value of the teacher introducing his boyfriend to 4, 5, and 6 year old students?'' Is there a message/value in this on homosexuality?

None of my teachers- gay or straight did this when I grew up, and none of my older child's teachers- gay or straight ever did this either. No other teacher I or my children have ever had have brought in their spouse/significant other/partner, etc. Am I overreacting to think this is unprofessional or inappropriate?

The teacher has been GREAT for the first few weeks of school, but my expectation is that teachers keep their personal lives out of the classroom. Is this too much to expect?

Am I missing something?

You ask, ''What is the educational value of the teacher introducing his boyfriend to 4, 5, and 6 year old students?'' I am the parent of a five year old, and I would be thrilled if my son's kindergarten teacher did this. Kindergartners tend to look up to their teachers. The fact that your child's teacher has a same sex partner will help normalize same sex relationships for your child, against the life long sea of homophobia in which we all swim. Not everyone has LGBTQ family and friends who can help give this message to their children. The ''educational value'' is one of teaching your child about love, freedom, and equality. There is nothing more important than that. I wish I was so lucky

Yes, the teacher probably introduced his BF to the class to teach them about different families. Personally, I think this is a valuable message for kindergarteners to get. I would let it go. As the year goes on, you'll see if the teacher is a total over-sharer, ie: using a lot of class time to air personal business - that I would say something about. But I think getting upset about a one-time thing that, quite frankly, straight people take for granted is just going to make you come off as homophobic and is a bad way to start the school year.

I guess it would depend on why the boyfriend was there. I'm a teacher and I've certainly had co-workers whose spouses where known to the students because they came to help with projects or events at the school. No one ever objected that introducing the person as ''Mrs. W's husband'' was inappropriate. (Why would you?) I'm gay and my spouse has come to school on many occasions to help with events or the work of setting up the classroom. I always introduced her as my ''friend'' (although I'm sure the parents knew who she was - but it was unspoken). But that was definitely a double standard because I was gay. I never liked that double standard, particularly. But that's how it was.

If the teacher just brought his boyfriend in specifically to introduce him to the students, then that would be odd. But if he was there for a specific purpose and the teacher was introducing the visitor in the room, do you still object? Would you have the same objection if it had been his wife? A gay teacher

My kids aren't too far from kindergarten. One of the elements of kindergarten was getting to know one another, including learning about one another's families. It would seem quite fitting that the teacher would include his boyfriend/partner/husband. (I'm not clear if ''boyfriend'' is the word that the teacher used or you are choosing to use. ) Some of it is also teacher preference: one of my sons had a teacher who brought her husband to school. My other son's kindergarten teacher was silent on any part of her personal life.

You raised the question about kids learning about homosexuality. Which sounds a little like the fear that people express ''I don't want to have to tell my kindergartener about gay sex.'' Having GLBT teachers -- or GLBT parents of kids in your class -- doesn't require you to delve into adult-level conversation about sex. That is often the adult fear that is unmoored from reality. Kindergarteners want to know what someone's family looks like: who goes with who? So this sounds like an opportunity to share with her that there are many ways to be in a family. (Side note: I suggest buying a copy of ''It's So Amazing'' so that you feel prepared to talk to your kids about age-appropriate sexuality; she is going to learn a lot on the playground earlier than you might think and most of it is incorrect.)

There is a good chance that one or more of your daughter's classmates will discover (if they haven't already) that they are wired to have crushes and love someone of their own gender. What's great about your daughter's kindergarten teacher introducing his family to the class is that for those kids, they get to see -- early on -- a family that looks like one they might be a part of of when they're adults. This is good. On our BUSD elementary school yard my kids hear -- I have heard -- as young as 1st graders teasing about kids being ''gay.'' ''Your mothers are gay.'' etc. It matters -- and it's normal -- to have out teachers and families share their families. Rachel Anderson

When I was in first grade back in '70-'71, (going to a catholic school) my 'white' teacher brought in her fiance to class. He came dressed in full American Indian attire. He even had a head dress on. I was facinated because he was the first full American Indian I had ever met in my life and probably still to this day. I can't remember what he talked about but I do remember that she looked at him with love in her eyes and they hugged when he left. This never happened again in my school career and the memory is a positive one.

When I think back on the experience I think maybe the teacher was introducing us to 'Inter-racial' relationships. Maybe your child's teacher was doing the same thing... only this time it's about same-sex relationships. I don't think this is bad way to expose children these types of topics. I also remember this teach fondly because she was the one who taught me how to read. So, hopefully your child's teacher will have a such a positive impact as my teacher had on me. exposed early on

My best friend is a Kindergarden teacher in Oakland. She often brings either me or her mother or another friend to class when we're available. It's helpful for her and the kids love the change for the day. I think you should focus less on the ''boyfriend'' aspect and more on the friend aspect. In my experience it's a pleasure for the teacher and kids to have an extra hand sometimes and an advantage. I would be grateful for the extra help in the classroom and not critical just because it's a boyfriend. It is normal to bring in help when available for kindergarden teachers. Allison

It depends...was the boyfriend just dropping off his forgotten lunch, or something like that, or was it an actual presentation of the boyfriend, as ''the boyfriend''? Or was it part of an activity or lesson? Did the boyfriend have a career or skill relevant to something the kids were learning? Firefighter, doctor, artist, or whatever? If it was a learning experience or casual happenstance and the kids said, ''Who's that?''--no big deal. If it was JUST a social visit, I'd think that was a bit strange, regardless of gender. heidi

I think that it would be inappropriate for any kindergarten teacher, of any sexual orientation, to bring their partner to class for the sole purpose of introduction. I MIGHT think differently if the partner had some area of expertise that would be interesting to the students, and the teacher brought the partner so he/she could tell the class about the area of interest -- but even then would expect that they be introduced by their name, not as the teacher's boyfriend/girlfriend. I am not sure if I would want to talk to the teacher about it, or whether I would go to the principal. But this is definitely not appropriate. Karen

My perspective is that teachers these days share a lot more of their personal lives with their students than they did when I was growing up. Two of my kid's (straight) teachers did this to an extent I thought was bizarre (I actually wondered whether they had friends they could talk to about their personal lives or if their students were their only audience). I didn't like it; it seemed unprofessional as well as time-wasting, but I knew I would get nowhere by complaining about it. I'd save your energy for the undoubtedly worse things you'll experience as your child progresses through school.

And I guess I think it's actually better -- meaning that there is some value in it - that the male teacher was introducing his gay partner. Maybe there are kids in the class with two dads, and it is helpful for them to see another family configured the way theirs is. Not like in my case a a female teacher talking about her boyfriends, which no one needs or wants to hear about it! My two cents.

I don't necessarily think this is unusual. I think you should really question whether you would feel the same way if the teacher's partner were female. I'm not saying that a teacher's family should be around often but if the kids are sharing about who is in their family, I don't think it is inappropriate for the teacher to do the same. teachers are people too

It really sounds like you're bothered by this because it's a gay relationship. Whether or not other teachers have done this before, I don't imagine you'd be upset, or care in the least, or write in for advice, if the teacher brought in his girlfriend. So if you're having a reaction to your child seeing the teacher's gay relationship, then maybe you should confront what is going on with that in yourself. -- If It's Ok To Be Gay, Then It's Ok for Kindergarteners

Last year my daughter's first-grade teacher was getting married and she brought her fiance in to school a bunch of times. My daughter knew the whole story of how they met, how their dogs got along, etc. and loved to tell me how the wedding plans were coming. Then, her teacher invited the whole class to the church for the wedding. My daughter's kindergarten teacher the year before likewise talked about her husband and the kids were thrilled to meet him at their house when she had the class over for breakfast-- it was even more thrilling when he had to leave with sirens blaring when he, as a member of the volunteer fire dept, received an emergency call in the middle of the visit. I think my daughter has been enriched from learning about the home life of her teachers and it seems both common and nice to me. -teachers are people too

It isn't uncommon for teachers to introduce long-term partners or spouses to their students, either in person or in stories. One way that teachers connect to students is by talking about their own families, which often includes A LOT of talking about pets (really, A LOT), and some talking about spouses or partners and children.

Every teacher uses his or her best judgment here (most wait until they are engaged or are in an otherwise committed relationship so they don't have to deal with any awkwardness if the relationship ends), and some teachers don't share any of this. In my experience, these introductions are usually very quick (your husband has to drop something off for you so you have him say a quick hello to the kids), or in the context of sharing news about your weekend when the kids are talking about their own weekends.

Introducing a same-sex partner, though, is inherently also a political act because of the stigma related to it. Is that what you find uncomfortable?

But just to answer the question that you asked: it depends on the context and how it was done, but yes, plenty of normal and professional teachers have introduced significant others (briefly) to their students. Anonymous Teacher

I wouldn't read too much into this, I don't think. I teach high school, and I'm straight, so it's a little different from your situation, but every year at least one of my classes really wants to meet my husband. When a teacher has a good relationship with their students, the students will inevitably want to find out more about his or her life, family, etc. It's a good thing for teachers and students to see each other as real live human beings! That said, whenever my husband and kids have stopped by, it's generally at lunchtime or at the end of the day so as not to cut into class time (and because he is at work). If he had something relevant to share/ present to the class about careers or something, that would be considered perfectly acceptable by most in the profession, though. That's high school, though; I would imagine that kindergarten class time is more flexible and could fit in time for a friendly visitor(checked in at the front office, of course). This doesn't seem like something to worry about. Students are nosy when they love their teacher

I really don't think its anyone's business who someone sees in their private live. But bringing that person to a kindergarten class is absolutely and completely unheard off and so inappropriate there aren't even words for. Unless he's a firefighter or heart surgeon who has been finger printed and cleared off by the school's office and approved to be introduced to the kids by the parents -- but it doesn't sound like that. Its not you, its absolutely infuriating, inappropriate, and a huge breech of the trust that a parent needs to have in the person taking care of their children. And its mind boggling why the teacher thought this would be ok -- especially in the Bay Area where any kind of crime is so much higher than anywhere else. anon

One other thought after reading other responses. I can remember recess conversations from my own childhood about how ''Ms. X'' is gay. I don't remember getting much context on it and I didn't know what to think except that it must be shameful b/c it was secret & not discussed except on the playground. As a teacher, I'd rather put the information out there myself directly rather than have rumors swirling. If I remember back, I would think it would have been helpful if my parents had given me a little bit of context on what it meant. something simple like mommy & daddy love each other and teacher Y & partner love each other... and that's ok. but that part is up to you. anon

Well, I would be surprised if even a straight teacher brought in their boyfriend or girlfriend to the class. As a child, I only remember one partner coming in, and that was on a field trip, and he was our teacher's fiance, and that was in our sixth grade class. So, to me it is a little strange to bring in a boyfriend or girlfriend, before engagement. However, another poster responded that this gay partner could help a child whose own family consists of gay parents feel more included and normalized. This is the only positive, and it's a big one, that I would consider. I think that perhaps the reason you were pushed out of shape is because it looks like the teacher did it to prove a point, and he very well may have. We don't know the context of why the boyfriend was there.

Sometimes I find myself annoyed with all of the new LGBT characters on TV, because it does feel like the issue is being rammed down our throats by the media. I know and love a gay couple, and maybe it's because I live in the Bay Area that to me it's a no brainer, and not something that has to be talked about constantly. It seems like on tv shows, at least a quarter of the characters are gay nowadays, but in real life that percentage is not there, so it is overkill, IMO. I would be annoyed if I saw any group over represented in the media, not just gays, and in fact I am always annoyed that blacks and mexicans are so under represented on shows. I just share my little peeves here so that you can see that there may be something else bothering you about this situation, so be honest with yourself. Maybe you are annoyed that teacher pulled a political move. Well, remember the little kid that that might have helped. fellow annoyed mama

I felt I had to respond. I am very upset by the way this issue is being portrayed. My daughter's K teacher brought her boyfriend/fiance and then husband to class. He was a kind person who occasionally helped out in class and on field trips. We had no problem nor would we have if her partner was female or if her teacher were a gay man. I love that my child is exposed and included in the lives of all kinds of families. It is even part of the curriculum at our elementary. This is what makes whole, inclusive compassionate citizens and communities! It seems that if this teacher had a hetrosexual relationship rather than same sex, there would be no problem here for anyone. . Love All Kinds of Families!


Mediocre Kindergarten teacher

Oct 2012


My daughter is in a K class with a mediocre teacher. The context is challenging, a 70% low income school, with many English language learners, class size of 28, for many families this is the first school experience. The K program has been in flux.

But, we have mostly had a positive experience at this school, my now 3d graders have gotten some of the best teachers in the school. (We also had a great preschool experience, co-op.)

The teacher is older and has a lot of experience. But from my interactions with the teacher, and from volunteering in class one day a week, it seems that only the most basic curriculum is being presented, the information and skills that just cover the district benchmarks. His style is very minimalist. There is no sharing. There have been no art projects, most of the teaching is via worksheets. There is a lot of worksheet homework about 13 pages/wk. He doesn't seem to be aware of the kid to kid social interactions. And the kids yell out answers during circle (too loud for her).

There are 2 things my she loves. The teacher has them sing a couple of songs each day. Also, the kids divide up by English language experience about 20 minutes per day. My daughter gets to be with the other teacher for this. This is my girls' favorite part of K; she loves learning the new challenging vocab words. Unfortunately in January the groups will switch classrooms and my daughter will have language with her regular teacher.

Other positives: teacher isn't a yeller and the class isn't overly wild. The teacher has also been receptive to my concerns about my daughter's small motor skills and is facilitating her getting some assistance.

Any advice? Should I try to switch teachers? There are 2 choices. One is the teacher my girl has for vocabulary. She would still interact w/her old teacher and class on the yard and for language next year. The other class is combined K-1, with a teacher who has been at the school for awhile.

Is it worth a potentially difficult transition? My daughter seems o.k. with school and has made a few friends. She does act out a lot more in the afternoons than before and my guess is that it's in response to her day.

Please don't suggest that we switch schools. For a variety of reasons that is not possible. We do some other activities in addition to school and try to play a lot on the weekends. Thank you. anon

I have to clarify something for all of the BPN readers who write in about teachers they don't like. You cannot just ''switch'' teachers. If there is something MAJOR going on with the teacher.. you can have a meeting with said teacher, admin, etc.. and advocate for you child and possibly find someone else suitable. But really, if you just have a ''mediocre'' teacher and don't like her, you can't just switch.Parents don't really have that kind of input, leave the running of the school to the school personnel. the good thing is, she'll have plenty of opportunities to have many other teachers. She'll be in school for a loooong time! teacher (not a mediocre one)

I think you should relax about this one and let it pass. Not every teacher, every year is going to be great. What do you remember about kindergarten? Read, read, read at home. Have dinner together and listen to your child. Ann


Algebra teacher with heavy accent

Sept 2012


Hello BPNers,

A touchy subject.

My daughter has been placed in a math class with a teacher who is new to her middle school. The trouble is that he is from another country and has a very (very) heavy accent that my daughter cannot understand. He speaks to the board and it is nearly impossible to comprehend what he is saying (I thought she may have been exaggerating until I went to back to school night and observed this myself). Many other parents were left wondering how on earth this guy got the job--and none of us know what to do.

My kid is math-anxious and has reading difficulties to boot. I have asked for a transfer to another math class (as there are some, and during the same time period), but the Vice Principal says that is not possible and says she just needs to ''work harder.'' My daughter is now spending all her time trying to learn the math (and is failing, with 1's on her quizzes), and is no longer spending much-needed time on her reading.

What recourse do I have? I have a meeting with the Principal tomorrow, but failing that, is there anything I can do? I do not have enough money to put her in a private math class or private school. Tutoring is very expensive. My child is so discouraged and sad about this, as we made so much progress last year. We really need help--advice, please? Please do not say that she should just ''get used to it'', as it is a severe problem and is not just going away with time. Not Xenophobic but wants her child to learn math

Have you tried the free online resource Khan Academy? It covers arithmetic through calculus. The tutorials are clear and brilliant and, best part, can we watched over and over again. Bless the guy behind this organization. Wish he had been around (along with the Internet) when I was going to school. Kari

It sounds like the school thinks this is not a problem. Given that, and this will be hard for the kids because no kid likes to speak up and ask the teacher to repeat, the parents should encourage the kids to let the teacher know when they don't understand. ''Excuse me, could you repeat that?'' The teacher needs to know the kids don't understand. When I taught English as a second language, I tried to write a lot of what I was saying on the board to help the students. Maybe the kids could ask him to write what he just said on the board. If all the parents have their children do this in a very polite way, it will let the teacher know how much is not getting through. Also, the principal should sit in on a class and participate in a class discussion to get a feel for what the situation is. Good luck. The teacher might be glad to know when the kids don't understand

I don't have specific words of advice for you - but want to sympathize as I too have those ears that just can't parse some accents. I understand your DD's struggles and continue with them to this day. I hope you can get her moved. no tones ear

When our son began middle school he came home every day complaining about his math teacher - saying she was crazy and that the classroom was dangerous (stacked boxes, a ladder that fell over on a student), I thought it was adjusting to so many teachers after the one teacher experience in K-6 grade. Then I went to back to school nite. She was nuts. And the room was filled with boxes stacked 10 foot high (hence the need for the ladder) - and in a school on a fault line! There were a group of us in that room that nite who knew each other from grammar school - we all met in the hall and we all went to school the next morning and waited patiently until we were able to meet with the principal - there were 7 of us. Our children were all moved out of that class to another within the week. So definetly meet with the principal and if you can, gather as many other parents as you can and demand a change. Math has so many issues and if you cannot understand the instructor its as if not having one. Good Luck been there

There are many resources available online that are useful in explaining math concepts. For example, if you google ''quadratic formula'', you'll find a lot of short instructional videos featuring a person explaining the concept and sample problems to walk through. The great thing about videos is, if you don't ''get'' it the first time viewing, you can watch it over and over again, or try another video, until you get it.

Often, the math textbook publisher will have an website that you can go to, to get supplementary materials for the chapters in the textbook. Last year, my middle school-age son and I viewed a lot of these videos together at home, since he wasn't ''getting'' the concepts when they were introduced in class. Wish the internet existed when I was a middle school math student

We had a similar experience with our daughter and a high school math teacher a few years back. Like in your case other parents were up in arms about the situation and wanted the teacher removed. Many students were complaining. The administration had a talk with the teacher emphasizing the importance of speaking slowly to the class not the blackboard. I advised our daughter to get re-seated to the front row away from the window and any noise. Kids are resilient, they adapt to situations, and that is what happened. Somehow the kids listened harder, the teacher tried harder and the grades went up and before too long all was well-or good enough to finish the year. Maybe the same teacher transferred to your school??? anon

I never been in your situation as a parent (my child is still a toddler), but I wanted to write and say that I feel for you and think this situation is completely unfair to your child (and the other kids in the class). I myself am an immigrant and have a slight accent, so I feel for the teacher and of course don't think that immigrants should not be able to get teaching jobs. But if the teacher is unable to make himself understood by the students and teach effectively than he should not be teaching. Especially not in middle school, where the children still need a good teacher to explain the material and help them love the subject. I had some Teaching Assistants in college with heavy accents and honestly I just never went to the lectures and just taught myself - but this of course is not an option in middle school. I think you should definitely complain and pursue this until you are heard.

If the other students understand the teacher than a solution could just be to move your daughter to another class. Though likely if your daughter and even you have a hard time understanding the teacher, likely the other students do as well. Did you talk to the other parents? Maybe if you joined together and talked to the principle it won't be seen as just your daughter's problem, but the teacher's problem that needs to be addressed asap. I think if the principle ignores you, you should consider going to the school board, or maybe talk to someone in the school district. If I was in your shoes I would of course hate for the teacher to get fired, but my child's education comes first and if the teacher cannot teach effectively or even be understood by his students he should be replaced with someone else who can.

I wish you the best of luck in getting this resolved. anon

I'm sorry to hear this is happening. I've coached people from 81 countries and native American English speakers, both of whom are learning to work effectively together in educational institutions, companies, government agencies and non-profit organizations.

The instructor is probably anxious himself, this being his first semester at your daughter's school. On a cultural note, If the teacher is from Asia or Eastern Europe, more formal respect from students is highly regarded.

First, manage your own worries around your concerns for your daughter, as you don't want to heighten her anxiety with yours.

You can coach your daughter on how to interact with the teacher. Remember a time when she displayed courage. Remind her how courageous she was in that situation. Ask her in a gentle tone of voice to remember that time and how it felt to be so brace. Then tell her the teacher may be feeling nervous too because it's his first semester in front of her and all her classmates! Then suggest she go up to the teacher after class and say, ''Mr. XYZ, thanks for coming to my school to teach us. I want to learn math well with your help. Kids like teachers we can connect with. After you write something on the board, would you please turn and face us when you are speaking? I'd like to see your smiling face as I'm learning math! Thanks!''

Remember, principals are under the gun to be better leaders and help their teachers get the school scores up (this is another topic which I won't go into here!). Teachers often feel unhappy about teaching to test. New teachers often feel anxious when faced with a room full of bright-eyed, active youth! Combine that with being an immigrant teacher, and the anxiety level for the teacher can skyrocket.

If your daughter's efforts don't yield positive change, get together with other parents who share the same concerns and approach the principal together. Go in the spirit of helping everyone--student, teacher and principal--be successful. Rather than criticizing the instructor or the principal, tell the principal you all want to work with the administration and teachers so everyone has a great experience at the school. Try acknowledging that the district hired the instructor for his math knowledge, and ask if you can offer a suggestion. Then ask the principal to recommend to the teacher that he face the students when speaking. She may not have good coaching skills, but you can gently coach her to be effective in her interactions with the instructor and you.

I hope this is helpful. All the best! Barbara

My 25yo son just dropped a math class at Berkeley City College for the exact same reason. His teacher has a heavy accent, and spoke to the blackboard, not to the class. Maybe it's the same teacher! My son is highly motivated -- has recently developed a love of math and has gone back to school and surprised himself with his ability to get As in math. But he was having trouble understanding the material in this class because of the teacher's accent and his habit of keeping his back to the class, despite my son sitting on the front row, and asking lots of questions. He said the teacher is ''a really nice guy but he can't teach.'' So after working really hard for a month, he finally gave up and withdrew from the class and will re-take it next semester with a different teacher.

My advice is to speak with the teacher and then the principal, and if things don't improve within a week or two, try to get transferred to a different class. If that doesn't work, I'd take my kid out of the class and do the math on the Kahn Academy website. One bad math teacher can ruin all math for a teenager and you don't want that to happen! a mom

My heart goes out to your daughter, especially because something very similar happened to me when I was in the 9th grade. I am now a public school teacher and am not sure how much recourse you will have...but I did want to suggest that perhaps time could be set aside every night for you (or another adult in your family if there is one) to go over the math with her. I realize that this may be a big time burden for your family, but it may be the best way to make sure that she's learning the content. She should also be using all of her available resources at the school (math tutoring if it's offered after or before school, etc.) . Good luck!! wishing you the very best


Disappointed in daughter's teacher this year

Sept 2012


My daughter is in a lovely public school. We have really enjoyed our time at this school--our daughter has made great friends (and so have we), there are terrific enrichment opportunities, the parents are deeply committed and involved in the school, and she has had wonderful teachers thus far.

This is the first year I am not wild about my daughter's teacher, and my daughter isn't very fond of her either. She seems to have a quick temper, yells quite a bit (my daughter has come home in tears over this) and doesn't seem to be all that interested in teaching. She shows a lot of movies, doesn't give very meaningful or challenging assignments, seems most concerned with keeping order among the 30 kids. I sympathize with her challenge--30 kids is a big class and I imagine it must be tough. There are many parent volunteers and a part time aide, so I think she's got some support. Today my daughter said, ''It's too bad we are stuck with Ms. X all year.'' This is a kid who loves school, does well and behaves well--to hear that was pretty disappointing. She's never spoken this way about a teacher and generally tries to see the best in everyone.

I know we both will not like every teacher she has and there's probably some value in making the best of this situation. But, I've got to say, it really stinks. We've considered moving her to private school for other reasons (smaller class size, more hands-on, progressive curriculum, no testing) but we like many things about the school and for financial reasons, it would be ideal to keep her in public until middle school. And I know there are less than ideal teachers in every situation. But I am concerned that this teacher's methods will somehow diminish my child's enthusiasm for school and make this a disappointing year for my daughter. If anyone has advice on getting through a year with a not-so-great teacher, please let me know. hoping for a good year

I wouldn't go as far as going to a private school yet. ALL schools (private included) will have less-than-great teachers; most will have teachers that are bad for your child. You have two choices if you stay where you are. 1) if you feel your child is still doing OK, and you think that the teachers in the next grade are good (ask around), you can teach your child to empathize with the teacher (she haas a really hard job, she's probably just tired), and you can teach her that some years will be good, and some less good. (BTW, this will become completely unavoidable in middle school). 2) If you feel that this is significantly impacting your child's learning, and her feeling for school overall (i.e she starts to ''hate'' school in general), you can request that your child be moved to a different classroom. Be absolutely sure you want to play this card though, as you usually only get to do it once in any given school.

Keep in mind that, even in private schools, there will usually be at least one teacher who just does not mesh at all with your child. In fact, one of the reasons that I decided against several of the private schools that I was considering, was that there was only one teacher per grade. If that teacher didn't work for my child, we were stuck and might have to move schools. At least at most public schools there's a choice. Karen

Dear Disappointed I empathize with you and I'm so sorry you've got a bad teacher this year. You didn't say what grade your daughter is in, though it's clearly elementary school. I'll share with you that in 4th grade my son had a disappointing teacher, and school really started to be a drag for him. It broke my heart, because for him it's critical that he connect with his teacher (as he had every year, and especially in 3rd grade) and having him dread going to school was an emotional drain on both of us. She was not a bad person, or even a bad teacher, but definitely not the right match for him. So I tried to volunteer in the classroom whenever I could, to get a better handle on what was going on there. I talked to the teacher about the issues he was having (that's when the mismatch became even more clear, unfortunately) and I tried to be empathetic but positive with my son. You're right, as you say in your email, that everyone has years like this (and even in private school - my daughter in a different school that was private had a horrible 3rd grade teacher, but now that she's in high school, she doesn't even remember her!) My son was old enough to hear this message. We'd go over all the good teachers he'd had over the years, and the fact that sometimes you don't get the greatest teacher, but you still have to do your best. If you feel like she's missing out on curriculum, maybe you can supplement? It's super hard for a parent, though, to see this happen to your child. If you have a supportive principal (we didn't) you could mention your concerns (in a fair and balanced way of course) and that might have some impact down the line. If it's really a question of a bad match maybe you can switch classrooms - though that is unusual. Sorry I don't have more of a magic bullet, but it's an unfortunate part of the process. We were very happy when the school year ended. Been there.


Student's recording of foul-mouthed substitute teacher

April 2012


Need advice My daughter is at Lamorinda Intermediate School. A substitute teacher was using foul language and threatening the students. One of the students recoded what the teacher was saying. What was said was repeated in every class throughout the day. (I've heard the recording, the language and threats are not appropriate.)

The student forwarded the recording to a dozen other students. News of the recording made its way back to the principal. Next day the principal summoned all of the students who had the recording to his office. He stated it was against school rules to use a phone in class and under California Educational Code 51512 they committed a misdemeanor making a recording. (Not true, it's only a crime if a non-student makes the recording. A student is subject to appropriate disciplinary action.)

The twelve students were all summoned one by one to the principal's office and told (threatened) if they would show (on their phone) who they forwarded the message to, AND would delete the recoding from the phone while he watched the police would not be called. The principal has banned from the school. But my concern is the message/lesson this taught my daughter about her rights and being told to do something she thinks was wrong or illegal by someone in authority.

Questions. The principal obviously knows the law, he cited it. What he didn't do was cite it accurately misleading the students into believing they had committed a crime. (They had not.) I feel this was poor judgment and now that these students know an authority figured lied to them are less likely to trust authority figures in the future. I believe an apology to the students is in order. (If the student had lied the OIS Student code of conduct would require this of a student.)

I have contacted the district superintendent. His assistance told me he has not heard the recoding and referred me back to the principal. (But wait a minute, that's the person whose actions are in question.) Who to do? Who owns the data on a phone? The person who has the phone or owns the phone? Is it illegal to delete evidence? Warning to BPN Parents -- This teacher is still teaching in Alameda and Contra Costa County. Thanks

I would go to each of the school board members individually, and provide them all the information you have re the teacher, the recording, etc., minus any information on who might have made the recording or passed it to others, and ask that the fundamental issue--a teacher acting inappropriately at the school--be addressed. And noting that if the board doesn't act, your next stop will be with the media. Does Orinda have a Patch site? Our town is well covered by Patch, and has absolutely helped hold the school district's feet to the fire on some issues. But based on the principal's reaction, it sounds like this needs to be raised above that level, and in my experience, taking it to all of the board members will send a message that it's not something that can be ignored. Readily A Parent

Hello Have you tried to speak to the principal directly? Seems like this would be the first step to establishing first hand information. An alternate lesson for your daughter - two wrongs do not make a right. another prespective


High school teacher bullying my kid

Dec 2010


My teenager, a terrific very hard working high school student, with great grades and citizenship remarks has been verbally bullied by a teacher that has a reputation of bullying other students. This past week my teenager was in tears from some very nasty comments that were made in front of the entire class. My husband went to the principal at the beginning of the year and the principal e-mailed us stating that he told the teacher in no uncertain terms that she couldn't do xy and z to our kid again. My husband and I want to go to the principal again to report her ongoing harassment. Our teenager is fearful that there will be further repercussions from doing so. I'm writing to see how others have handled similar situations? Thank you very much in advance. Wanting to do the right thing.

I would suggest that the student get permission from the administration to record every minute of every class session, just like college students do. Then, the teacher will either change the approach, or you will have evidence. Either way, things are better. Really, you have no case without hard evidence. Sanon

I love my flip video, small as your hand. I would have your daughter video her abusive teacher and show it to the principal or police. arden

From what little you have said all I can say is that it infuriates me that a teacher would behave this way toward a student. Teachers who are demonstrating such poor behavior should not be allowed to teach. Period. It amazes me that they make their way into a school in the first place, and it's even more amazing that they are not fired for such behavior.

My daughter had a couple of bad teacher's during her public elementary and high school experience. When she was in elementary school we demanded a change because the situation she was in was really effecting her well-being. Luckily the district accommodated our request and she thrived at her new school.

In high school we elected to encourage her to try to work with two teachers that weren't at all a good fit for her, to say the least, but they weren't bullies and were nice enough to try to work with her individually. It was very hard to see her floundering in these two classes but I think it gave her the opportunity to learn some coping skills that are important ones to have. At any school there are always teachers that aren't going to cut it but bullying is a whole different ball of wax and there's no sense in tolerating that at all.

Is moving your child to another class at all possible? Would your child be willing to move if it is an option?

Speak to the principal again and find out if this is an option since your child certainly has a right, at a minimum, to be respected. Best of Luck


Messy, disorganized kindergarten classroom

Oct 2010


Hi. My oldest kid is now in kindergarten so this (public) elementary school thing is new to me and I'm not sure my expectations are on target. How messy is your child's room? Does your teacher stay after school at all to clean or prep for the next day? Are the kids expected to clean up their work stations each day? Does the carpet get vacuumed? Does paper on the ground get picked up? Is paint cleaned out after use or left to get dry? Is there food around the room, trash on the floor and a general level of chaos? If it is cleaned, who does it? Parent volunteers or staff/teachers? I'm no neat freak (in fact, I have a high tolerance for a mess), but it seems that a classroom should be more organized and clean than what I see. This could be the norm, so I'm just checking in with other public school kindergarten parents out there. Thanks for any input. Just wondering...

My first child's kindergarten classroom (Berkeley public school) was orderly. Teacher was organized & this reflected in her classroom. Second child's kinder classroom was the total opposite. The room overflowed with paper, miscellaneous books, random unorganized supplies, undelivered memos.... ugh. And the classroom very much reflected the teacher's state of mind: teaching way too many concepts at once, fuzzy focus, inconsistent discipline. -Glad that kindergarten is done!

I have seen a huge variation in room cleanliness - not just in K but in other grades, too. So much depends on the teacher and the custodian and the prevalence of ants. It also depends on kind and thoughtful volunteers who can approach a teacher with diplomacy and respect, and see if the teacher will allow them to help out by cleaning up after activities, or cleaning up one section of the room at a time. Different teachers have different reactions, so use persistent tact. Good luck. Anon

Yes, it sounds like your child's teacher either has a very high tolerance for messes, or just doesn't know how to manage the mess very well. In our (Berkeley public) K classroom...yes, the teacher stays after to prep. The kids clean up work stations, with the help of the K Aide and teacher. The carpet is vacuumed (we have a janitor) & the floors are swept daily. Paint is cleaned out from cups. It's not spotless, but it's neat, even at the end of the school day. (This is my youngest of 3 kids and all the K rooms have been managed the same way.) Sounds like a chat with the teacher, or maybe the principal, is in order... mom of 3 in Berkeley


Teacher does not know grade level content

April 2010


My son had the same teacher for third grade and fourth grade. The teacher moved from teaching third grade to fourth grade. She had told students not to ask specific questions about mathematics, science and grammar (sentence structure, Greek and Latin root words, etc.) because she does not know the answers. At Back to School Night the teacher explained to parents that she would not be teaching much in fourth grade as students have so much going on with their bodies that it was too much to grow their minds and their bodies at the same time.

Several parents have gone to the principal and she is working with the teacher. The teacher filed a grievance with the union. Little has improved. However eight parents paid for tutoring for their children (Sylvan, private tutors, Kumon), one family moved last week and two families will move before the year is over but continue the year at the school. Three parents are filing Universal Complaints with the district because their families cannot afford tutoring. Of the 12 parents who have met, all students have seen their benchmark test scores plummet from 35% - 65% on tests as the material has not been taught. Homework concepts are taught in class about 25% - 35% of the time, otherwise parents are teaching the concepts at home.

The teacher uses ''the smart kids'' work (teacher's words) to correct student papers in class and my son had five items marked wrong the week before spring break that were correct when the teacher used student work for correcting.

Here is my problem. She is one of the few minority teachers in the school. I believe she loves the students and loves ''teaching'' but simply does not know fourth grade content. From what I can see in the textbooks she had not covered half of the material in the book. What should I do? Concerned Parent who Wants to do Right by My Son and the Teacher

I'm disheartened to see that you're using race in the equation at all. An incompetent teacher is just that, an incompetent teacher. I would encourage you to continue to stick to your guns and talk to the teacher and principal about appropriate teaching skills and expectations until they are met. It is only by being consistent in this endeavor that this teacher will improve.

By commenting on this woman's race, it comes off that you think it might be ok to have different expectations based on what you look like. How sad. One shouldn't receive special dispensations for doing a bad job because you're a minority. Let's encourage everyone to do a fantastic job, for themselves and for our kids.

Good luck. meritocracy, anyone?

You are really in a bind, and I feel for you. I am a teacher and a mother. You are being extremely patient and kind in your remarks about the teacher. I would be furious. Teachers do get yanked around in so many ways, and teaching a different grade level is really challenging, but your son's teacher's attitude is unacceptable. Her job is to teach the content to her students, and she should be learning the content as she goes along. It sounds as if she is ticked off that she got reassigned to a new grade level and is refusing to do her best. School is almost over, so my best advice at this point is to stick it out, and advocate with the principal for a good teacher next year. I wish I could offer more.

Despite what many parents assume, we teachers do not teach whatever we want whenever we want. Curriculum is strictly mandated by the district and is regulated by a pacing guide that tells teachers the week in which they must teach certain concepts. If your child's teacher is going to be ''reported'' for doing something wrong, and if the principal and the district have the power to discipline the teacher for wrongdoing, it must have something to do with disregarding the mandated curriculum and pacing guide. Get your hands on the pacing guide - it's not hard to do - and check to see if your child's teacher is following it. The only way that a teacher would not know grade level content is if he or she ignores district-mandated curriculums and guides, which is a serious violation indeed. Teaching is a very difficult profession that requires a great deal of energy, but we're really not making it up as we go along. It's pretty heavily ''scripted'', and if your child's teacher doesn't know the curriculum, it's because she is not following the ''script''. anon

ARG! I am tearing my hair out in sympathy for you! I am an elementary teacher, with a masters, and 5 years of experience, but I was laid off due to budget cuts (because I was low on the seniority list because we moved here from out of state and I was newest to the district last year).

I have read SO many stories recently of crap teachers just sitting on their butts in our local schools because they have tenure and the unions protect them. It's next to impossible to get ready of these bad teachers, and CA doesn't offer enough incentives (or funding) to train them better.

This teacher is probably a very good person. Perhaps she was asked to teach a grade she wasn't used to. From grade to grade, there is a lot that is different and it can take a while to get a grasp of it all... BUT it's HER JOB to learn it for peet's sake! No excuse! 'physical development' of the child is the stupidest reason ever! There is ZERO room in a child's education these days for a year slacking off!

I really WANT a job, and every year we've lived here, I've gotten laid off because I'm not tenured... it just doesnt' seem fair that the best and brightest young teachers are the ones getting the shaft for old/tired/incompetent teachers. frustrated teacher!

I'm sorry that you're having this issue with your child's teacher. It must be incredibly frustrating for you and your child. A couple questions: do you feel that her being a minority has to do with her not being fired or removed or do you think that is the reason for her lack of content knowledge. That felt really hurtful for you to mention that since it had nothing to do with the content of the problem. Second question: what is the principal saying? Teachers are protected by the union for DUE process but there is definitely a process that includes evaluation. Have parents made formal complaints against this teacher? Parents are VERY powerful. Third, have these concerns been brought to the teacher. When you have observed the class, what do you notice about her teaching? Lastly, do you feel that your son is not learning anything this year? and has he complained about the class? that sucks


Teacher says 2nd grader is disrespectful

March 2009


Our 2nd grader works hard, brings home good report cards. But the latest 1 shocked us: the teachers said he was disrespectful towards them! They gave us no warning despite seeing us every day. We scheduled a meeting with them & the principal. The repeated, verbatim response to our & the principal's questions about the lack of communication with us was, ''I don't know.'' We were flabbergasted. These VETERAN teachers' examples of the disrespect? 1) He eagerly raises his hand while saying ''I have the answer'' or ''I have something to say,'' or 2) he follows the MO for conflict resolution (e.g. a discussion between wronged parties), but dares to say he is still dissatisfied with the results (he's been & CONTINUES TO BE bullied). We'll ask our overeager child to stop participating in class unless he is called upon, and to come to us to intervene & resolve the weekly instances of punching & slapping.

To improve communications, we'll be doing daily check-ins with these teachers. Any other suggestions? Is it of interest that our son still thinks ''stupid'' & ''shut up'' are bad words? That he rarely retaliates verbally, much less physically? That he is losing weight, interest & self esteem in schoool? That the teachers said we're lucky he didn't receive a worse report card despite not alerting us to his allegedly escalaating bad behavior? Dismayed & Disheartened

my advice...change schools. our child had similar issues in her school: unaddressed bullying; no/low opportunity to participate in class. she began to HATE school. we tried working with the teachers and principal but soon realized that things were not going to change at the school...and, therefore, the school was not the right fit for our child.

we switched schools. from day one at the new school...she LOVED school...never wants to miss a day for holidays or vacations.

why should your son hold back his enthusiasm about learning in the classroom in 2nd grade. there are schools out there that know how to channel this eager-spirit into a love of learning.

good luck love our school

You have the right to contact the principal and ask to observe your son's class--I think at any time. I would get in the classroom to both observe your son and the teacher's classroom management. You should probably go more than once and I don't think you need to give advance notice. You need to see if the teacher has a positive, constructive style of classroom management and is attentive to the students' self-concepts. Were all his teachers present, e.g., PE, library, music? The principal knows that these teachers should have sent you a progress report about his behavior so that there could have been an intervention before the report card. I am alarmed that your son is ''losing weight, interest and self-esteem.'' I would first make an appointment with his pediatrician to discuss the apparent stress he is suffering from. I would put in writing a request to the school resource teacher that you want a Student Study Team meeting to discuss how you as parents and the school personnel can help your son with his social skills,regain his academic interest and focus, and enhance his self-esteem. The clock starts ticking the minute you put this in writing and they must have the meeting within 45 days (I think). His teachers, the school psychologist, the principal, the resource teacher should be in attendance to analyze the situation and come up with strategies. I would also keep a journal on reports of bullying and make sure the principal is aware of each one. anonymous

Been there. Done that. Unfortunately. We had a similar situation pop up w/our child that spiraled into a living nightmare. My advice is to spend time in the classroom observing the teacher and your son. Be on the playground at recess. If this means taking time off of work, do it. Be there as much as you can to really see what is going on. Do not take the teacher's word for it. Trust your kid and trust your instincts. The bullying issue needs to be addressed immediately as well. Watch his interaction w/the kids and the way the teachers handle it. Do not be bullied by the administration- take an active role in resolving the issues and know that if all else fails, school ends soon and a new teacher may solve this all. I would also say to spend time in the classrooms of the teachers he may have next year and see if you can work w/the administration to get your son into the class that best suits his temperament. They will tell you that is not possible-- make it possible. Good luck. - Not a Fan of Public School Politics

AS a teacher, I can tell you that raising your hand while shouting out ''I have the answer'' is NOT disrespectful, it's totally age-appropriate excitement. It doesn't work well in classrooms, but aside from getting upset, the teachers should be working with your child, explaining that raising your hand MEANS that you have the answer so you don't need to say it too, explaining that everyone needs a turn, etc. It's not disrespectful or mean-spirited, just normal.

Aside from that, many parents are not realistic about how their children act in school. Is it possible that there is more you aren't saying? Either way, it couldn't hurt to have one of you sit with your child for an afternoon and observe... not next to him, but in the back, not helping. You might get a better idea of what's going on and if the problem is with your child or the teacher. veteran teacher

I was the overeager beaver too, and without meaning to, robbed other kids of the chance to answer questions, because I (liked the sound of my own voice and) always knew the answers. So on #1, I'm with the teachers: he needs to chill out a little. On #2, your son is doing the right thing and should continue doing so, teachers' feelings be damned.

He's following conflict resolution MO, but he needs it to work for him too - it's awful to be afraid of going to school because you always get bullied/beat on. The teachers are complaining because they want their job to be easier, and for him to fit neatly into a little box. But I say good for him for saying ''This doesn't work'' or ''This doesn't help my situation'', etc. These teachers' lack of skill is their own problem, not any disrespect from your son. Stand up for him on this one.


Son's affection for teacher is getting a little intense

Sept 2009


I have a question about my son's teacher. My son adores him, has a big crush on him, and in some ways I think I should just be overjoyed that my son has such a nice adult male exemplar. (My son is 10, and the teacher a young man.) But I am a little uncomfortable with some things happening between them. When the teacher left his job at my son's school last year, he twice told me that he felt a special bond with my kids, because, ''_____ just gave himself to me.'' That seemed like a kind of weird way of descriving a student/teacher relationship. Well, the teacher quit his job, but is back in town and giving music lessons to many former students while he goes to graduate school. Last week, after a lesson, the teacher called me, first leaving a message saying to call him, then calling later to tell me that my son had been feeling low during the lesson and had cried (not unprecedented at all for my sensitive son) and that he had tried to encourage him and had sat and held him for a while. Then he called again a few minutes later to ask me not to mention to my son that he had called. A few days later my son was delighted to receive a card from the teacher that told my son how wonderful he is. Now, I know that both the teacher and my son are unusually expressive, emotionally sensitive people, and I hate to be suspicious. This teacher is beloved in our community. But I also feel like this is getting a little too intense. Is this just me? Has our culture taught us to be suspicious of male relationships? I'd like to hear people's opinions on this. slightly worried mom

Follow your gut instincts. As the parent, it is absolutely appropriate for you to set limits on other people's relationships/interactions with your child -- and you don't have to explain or apologize for it, either. I would worry if any adult, male or female, had that kind of ''bond'' with my child. At best, it shows a certain emotional immaturity on the teacher's part (adults shouldn't need a child to ''give himself'' to them). And it's very inappropriate for the teacher to ask you to conceal his phone call from your child -- he's asking you to basically lie to your own kid, which makes me wonder what he's asking your son not to tell you... anon

Hi, I've been a teacher for 15+ years and what you describe is borderline. I know, it's terrible that we have become so suspicious of males who work with kids. It's incredibly unfair. It harms all of us and our kids, who lose the benefit of great male role models. Yet as a parent and a teacher, I say trust your instincts. Each individual act by this teacher does not necessarily raise a major red flag, but put all together, they seem off. This, and no other, is reason enough to put you and your child on alert. The comment about your son giving himself to the teacher, the unusually close bond, the tears, being held, the phone call and the card put together *imply* the beginnings of an unhealthy closeness in my mind. Key word is ''imply''. But there are inklings. Listen to them. Listen to your gut

Having been sexually abused by a music teacher when I was about 12, I became automatically very worried reading your post. This is a situation I would remove my child from IMMEDIATELY. I'd also attempt to spread the (strange, troubling) word to other parents of children the teacher sees. I also work in the teaching profession and can attest that the behaviors this man has exhibited are both unprofessional and unsettling. Please think more about this and have a serious talk with your son to find out what damage may have already been done. Concerned for your son

My husband had a similar experience with a man that his mother had dated briefly. The adult just 'fell for' my husband. 'such a great child'. It strikes me as so odd, but he truly is a surogate father to my husband. I mean it was the complete wierd scenario. Single mom, stressed out, caring new man who loves the child. I am far too jaded to not think of all the ways that it could have gone wrong.

When I was talking to my 'father in-law' the other day I mentioned to him how that scenario would seem so strange in todays world. He did not get what I was saying. He was totally perplexed. (This is a very well educated man).

I say keep informed, express to the adult that you have some concerns regarding your son having a friendship with an adult. Keep the lines of communication open and stay closely involved.

IT sounds like your son may have gravitated towards the teacher as he needs to express himself. Maybe a teen counselor that has great references. anon

I am sorry to say that the nature of the teacher's communications with you--the exact words and actions that you described in the two examples--troubles me very much. They rubbed me the wrong way too--I would say that they were even inappropriate from a teacher's p.o.v.--and as a parent of a very vulnerable young child, I think you should take the more cautious path and not leave your son unsupervised with this man. Further, I really urge you to diplomatically approach other parents that know this teacher and compare notes regarding this. The best scenario is that no one has felt the same way. On the other hand, there could be other children that need to be protected. anon

You're probably going to get a lot of responses to this, but I read your post and alarms went off. I hope nothing untoward is happening; however, this sounds like you need to do a gut check. You're feeling uncomfortable about this. That's enough. If a teacher, especially a younger person (male or female) said my child had ''given himself to me'' I think I'd run. When I was growing up, I had a ''special teacher.'' He was engaging and the kids loved him. But he was especially fond of the boys, and often took overnight trips with them (which at the time seemed like such an amazing treat). Years later, he was charged with child abuse. The case was never resolved, but what I realized is that there are many levels of abuse. An adult, especially a teacher, can have a lot of power over a child.

I encourage you to follow your instincts and take a break. You don't need to vilify this man. You do, however, need to protect your child. Do not let your son's sensitivity be a reason to stay engaged. My son is sensitive, too. I believe that makes him especially empathetic and will hopefully help him blossom into a wonderful, warm, sensitive man. Good luck. This must be a very difficult decision for you. Anon

I can totally relate to your post. We also know a very friendly man at our local ''Y'' (not in Berkeley or Bay Area, for that matter) who seems to be extra friendly with young boys. He's like a big boy himself, splashing the kids in the pool, picking them up and throwing them, playing with them; needless to say, he is IDOLIZED by all the boys, he is their HERO. I noticed that he pays a lot of attention to the kids who are just dropped off by their parents (if they had a parent who played with them, he would be redundant).

I had my concerns, too. He is married and has a serious job with a lot of responsibility, but no children. I decided not to say anything to my son but just to be alert. I don't think I would ever leave him alone with this man; mainly because I would seriously question why a grown-up would want to spend time alone with a kid not his own.

My son has now doesn't go to the Y as much and I'm glad I didn't say voice any suspicions to him. In the end, he benefited from the fun times at the pool.

My only advice would be to be very alert and aware and maybe sit in on a couple of lessons. Now that I think of it, my son's guitar teacher has always apprised of our son's progress and has always invited us to sit in on the lessons. He established a clear boundary between him and my son. anon

I see BIG RED FLAGS! I think this is strange on many levels. First, don't be fooled by ''loved by the community''. A pedophile in Kensington was supported by all sorts of deluded parents who went to his trial offering support. He plea bargained six years but should have been put away forever. Second, it is one thing to have an emotional kid (one of my sons is sensitive) but once you are an adult, it is a sign of immaturity not sensitivity. Because I teach Sunday school, I had to go through an amazing program called ''Safeguarding God's Children''. It is a series of videos with pedophiles and victims talking about the abuse. The pedophiles in these videos are so scary. Why? Because they look like the most clean cut people. They are not creepy, but are articulate and attractive. Some statistics the program has - 60% of abusers are known to the child and children lie about abuse less than 5% of the time. Physical and behavioral boundary violations are big warning signs. What are these? Wrestling, tickling, touching ''games'', hugs with too much contact, staring, LAP SITTING with kids over 3, too many gifts, too many compliments, repeated mention of how ''special'' the child is. Abusers gain access to kids by looking normal and putting themselves in the path of children. You don't become a wall street banker to gain access to kids, you become a teacher, a priest, a youth leader. The program suggests that you: ask your child questions, let this guy know time with your kids is over, call police/child protective services and ask them for advice. I would also inform your friends of your feelings, never slandering, just mentioning. Your piece of the puzzle may make others come forward. My guess is there is a big reason this fellow is not in a classroom anymore. Lastly, kids often don't tell. They say other things, like ''my tummy hurts'', or cover up with clothes, or say they don't like a person but can't say why. That is why parents must ACT. All the best in handling a situation that requires full mama bear mode. Rachelle

I am a teacher with 30 years experience. I am in Who's Who of American Teachers which means a high schooler remembered me as a meaningful influence in their life... in the RIGHT way. I say RUN don't walk away from this nutcase of a teacher. The projection onto his students is WAYYYYY out of line and should be reported to the principal. Get your child out of that class immediately by scheduling a three way conference between you, the principal, and the teacher. If the principal won't back you up, CPS will! I shudder to hear these horror stories. Susan

You can never be too careful. I would suggest staying with your son during his music lesson (if not switching teachers), and generally bringing up conversation about inappropriate touching so as to give him an opportunity to tell you if something is wrong. anon

I am curious about the responses you'll receive. I, too, regret automatically being suspicious of male relationships (especially if the relationship is, in fact, healthy and supportive - I'm sure you'd hate to think of depriving your son of that). But, my reflexive response to your post is that you clearly feel uncomfortable and anxious about this - and I would too! - so go with your gut. The teacher's affections seem focused on your son in an awfully intimate way. I'm not implying that anything untoward or scary has occurred, just that his intensity feels inappropriate to me, at the very least. (Does he interact with all of his students this way?) Even if the guy is on the up and up, it seems to me that he should have clearer boundaries with the kids. And, unfortunately, being 'beloved in our community' doesn't always mean much; sometimes it's a great cover. Listen to your mother's intuition. Slightly Worried, Too

My take would be that generally sexual predators (I think that is what you are worried about) tend to be less open than the teacher you have described about their feelings and actions The general modus operandi is to develop a special relationship that is secret between the adult and child. Instead, you have a teacher who is communicating quite openly with you about a difficult transition period your son is going through, while trying to avoid causing a sense of shame for your son.

At the same time--Because I don't personally know the guy, I can't say, ''yes, I get a weird vibe off him, too,'' or ''no, you're being too paranoid.'' I think (a) any good parent in your place would have some concerns and (b) we do live in an age of excessive paranoia about sexual predators. I don't want to dismiss your concerns--you need to trust your intuition. But it also doesn't seem right to distrust a male teacher just because he is emotional and empathic. Can you do some reality-checking with parents of other kids?

Sensitive people tend to have intense relationships. This man ''gets'' your son. Interfering with this relationship, if it is innocent, could break an important bond your son has formed. IMHO your best bet would be to stay involved and be alert to any weird behavior on your son's part that might indicate that the relationship is inappropriate. The more comfortable your son is with being open with you, the better your chance of protecting him from sexual predators--no matter who they are or how close they are. Good luck

Something sounds weird. You're concerned enough to have posted onto BPN, so I'd listen to that, and completely disregard the fact that this person is highly regarded. The relationship has gone beyond simply one of teacher/student, which in itself is fine. But it seems to have gone to a place that doesn't feel right to you. I found it odd (concerning?) that the teacher asked not to tell your son he called. Secrets? Those can never be good. The relationship may not be a molester one, but there seems to be emotional ''bizarreness'' (for lack of a better word) on the teacher's end.

I'd talk to the teacher. The way in which he responds may address your concerns. Simply watch or listen to his response and how he's response, and to his behavior after the confrontation, and you may glimpse his intentions with your son. I'd also talk to your son. That should also give you clues if anything is going on. Anon

It sounds to me that at best this teacher has really bad boundaries. My daughter is 10, and I can't imagine a scenario in which a teacher, of either gender, would ''hold'' her, even if she was crying. Maybe a quick hug, or patting her back. It sounds very strange to me. The comment he made at the end of the school year also seems too emotional, it's almost romantic. If it was me, I'd probably end the music lessons. There are a lot of good music teachers out there, and the risk you are taking is that this guy has a thing for kids and he is getting close to your son for that reason, ''grooming'' him. A friend of mine ended her son's piano lessons (son was about 11) when the son reported that the teacher was tickling him during the lesson. This was a very well respected and well liked teacher. anonymous

I do think we have become hyper-aware of abuse in this day and age. You mentioned that your son and his teacher are both very sensitive and expressive individuals, so that may be all it is. We are just not used to men expressing such sensitivity so openly. Have you had any talks with your son about inappropriate behavior/touching by adults and what to do if that ever happens? Also maybe having a casual conversation with another parent of a boy that is also under this teacher's instruction? But please be careful. I'm sure you're handling this delicately because even the hint of something improper may be enough to ruin this teacher's repuation. anon

Without more info, I'd say, it depends. How old is your son? Do you have any reason to suspect anything besides a close kinship? Can you find a way to probe for things like, what made him cry? My first thought when you stated that the teacher asked you not to mention that to the kid is that the teacher was pretty sensitive to the kid (who may not want you to know that he was perhaps hypersensitive). Can you talk to the teacher? How does the teacher react when you talk to him? Can you take a self-defense type class with your son? Send him to a KIDPOWER class or something, so that he knows if anything ever happens to him from ANY source that there are things he can do? I think mostly you need to be asking more questions, and you also need to arm your kid so that you know he'd be comfortable telling you whatever he needs to say and/or that he'd go to a safe, respected adult. If you're still queasy about it, and your son is young enough so you can get away with it easily, then just stop the lessons, maybe directing your son to some other activity or teacher. Predators do tend to ''bond'' with kids as a way of opening up for abuse. depending on you & your kid, you can also tell him that something makes you uncomfortable about the guy, or that his schedule is too full, or you wonder if he might like some other teacher or something. You can also discuss this privately w/ a good therapist too, who might give you (or your son) some good tools to figure out what's going on.

I have three sons and I have wondered about this too over the years. One thing that came to mind when I read your post was my observation that there is a whole group of very affectionate, new-agey kind of young guys in their 20's and early 30's, and teaching is a logical profession for them. They are unabashedly sweet and empathetic -- very different from the way guys were when I was that age. I always think that they must have been raised by hippies. Or maybe therapists. Anyway, I think it's a good thing, but it is different!

I don't know if your teacher fits that description, but one of my sons had a young tutor in high school like this. My son got a lot out of the tutor relationship, and the tutor solved some academic problems for my son that I hadn't been able to solve. I could see that the tutor was just a very enthusiastic young man who sincerely wanted to reach out to struggling students. On the other hand, when the tutor phoned me about a snowboarding trip he was organizing for some of the teens he was tutoring, I did not feel comfortable with that. Not that I suspected anything, I just wasn't comfortable taking the relationship beyond the bounds of tutoring. So, I consulted with my son, who didn't particularly want to go on the trip, and I made polite excuses to the tutor, and it was fine.

It does not sound to me as if anything untoward has happened between your son and his teacher. The fact that your teacher disclosed what happened, says to me that he is sensitive to parental worries about male teachers and their sons, and wants to be open with you about what happens when you are not there. If he were really a predator, he wouldn't be giving you any information that might make you the least bit suspicious. It wouldn't be in his best interest to do that. So based on what you said, I don't think you should worry about that. But I do also think you should feel OK about drawing the line wherever you need to in order to feel comfortable. Mom of boys

I support you following your gut reaction that something is not quite right in this relationship. Whether or not it's harmful or just odd, you may never know. I wouldn't wait to find out. There are many other great teachers out there. Elisa

I haven't had this experience, but I do want to say one thing. PLease listen to your gut. As a mother you have intuition that no one else can have, and i urge you to not ignore it. You don't have to accuse anyone of anything or alert the authorities! Perhaps look into Big Brother Programs if you need a good male role model, but Listen To Your Gut! Good Luck! Alison

Sad sad sad. That's how so many of these posts make me feel. What makes me sad is our culture of overprotection has become so perverse and anti-male that we positively do harm to our own children by not letting them have anything other than a ''professional interaction'' (read cold, dispassionate, uninteresting, uninformative) with a male role model instead of a human bond.

How many times have I wanted to say something nice to a parent about their child and have stopped myself for fear the parent would think I'm a wierdo? Occassionally I can say something neutral like, ''Wow, Joey really interacts respectfully with the other children on the play structure, doesn't he?'' or ''That Suzy can really drink fake tea well.'' But God forbid I should say, ''Your daughter is soooo pretty.'' Alarm bells go off, the mother submerges with child to a safe depth away from the ''predator''.

I see women saying, oh your little girl/boy is just adorable and giving them a hug and think, never in a million years would i do that even though I would like to be able to because I have raised two wonderful daughters of my own and love to hear people say nice things about them.

When I was a boy a number of men in our neighborhood were an important part of our social landscape and none of them were anything other than nice people. We had ''Uncle'' Bud who walked down the street every day and literally gave candy to the children. He was loved and not feared by children and parents alike. My next door neighbor who had a daughter would take me fishing and duck hunting because maybe he wanted a son. We had a great time although I found fishing pretty boring and duck hunting boring AND freezing cold. He didn't molest me of course, and I got to know an adult male other than my father. I learned many things my father would never teach me like cleaning a fish, boating, duck calls, painting decoy ducks, camoflaging the boat and ourselves, how to build a duck blind. None of this is useful to me now because I abhor hunting and fishing, but still, it was an important part of my growing up.

Sadly, these kinds of healthy relationships are a thing of the past in our culture obssessed with security as if anything can ever be 100 percent safe. Ah, the good old days when each family had 5 or 8 children and mom couldn't spend every waking moment charting the minutiae of little Johnny's life. Sean

Something sounds weird. You're concerned enough to have posted onto BPN, so I'd listen to that, and completely disregard the fact that this person is highly regarded. The relationship has gone beyond simply one of teacher/student, which in itself is fine. But it seems to have gone to a place that doesn't feel right to you. I found it odd (concerning?) that the teacher asked not to tell your son he called. Secrets? Those can never be good. The relationship may not be a molester one, but there seems to be emotional ''bizarreness'' (for lack of a better word) on the teacher's end.

I'd talk to the teacher. The way in which he responds may address your concerns. Simply watch or listen to his response and how he's response, and to his behavior after the confrontation, and you may glimpse his intentions with your son. I'd also talk to your son. That should also give you clues if anything is going on. Anon


Mean kindergarten teacher

Sept 2004


Hi Everyone - My child has just started BUSD kindergarten and I'm concerned - one of the two co-teachers has a bad reputation for hurting the kids in the past - and I'm trying not to give into rumor and innuendo, but my son's coming home with some disturbing stories and I'm not sure how to proceed. A few examples:

A student was crying loudly due to a small cut on his hand - the teacher got aggro from the noise he was generating, so she sat him facing out of the classroom (back to class) and had him project into the hallway. He was still loudly crying, so she gave up and helped him with a band-aid.

The next day a few of the kids were asking this same teacher where the other teacher was and when would she be back. She responded that the other teacher was in Paris eating pizza. The sarcasm was lost on the kids - they were confused to see the other teacher the next day.

The other parents that I have spoken to are also aware of this teacher's short fuse, frustration w/the kids, and overreaction to other minor events. Her anger level is making me anxious. We love the school, and don't want to leave, so we need to figure out how to deal with this potentially and probably volatile situation. Any advice that you can give regarding how the BUSD runs, how to get help for these kids, etc. would be greatly appreciated.

I don't know how the system works and have heard that the principal has supported this teacher when she's gotten into trouble in the past. I don't want to add to the problem, but am concerned about my and the other kids, and think that someone should be aware of what's going on. Thanks for any help I can get. Signed, trying to get my feet

If transferring your child to another class is not an option, I would document the incidents as you've done, writing a letter to the principal and cc the school board and Michelle Lawrence, superintendent. That sort of behavior can not be ignored and the principal will be held accountable by these entities to make sure he/she follows up about it. They may be forced to see if she has had any prior complaints. Hope this helps. By the way, if you get no response to your letter, show up at a school board meeting stating that. The loud mouths are the ones that get fed... Vocal BUSD Parent

The first thing is to help make the situation better, if possible. Do what it takes to get to know the teacher and spend time helping in the classroom. Get to know your principal too, without complaining about anything. Be sure that you know what the situations your child describes to you really entail...most children are honest, but may not have a completely objective view. My son told me his K teacher ''yelled'' at the class, and I found out through long discussion with him and observation of the class that ''yelling'' meant speaking in a voice raised to be heard over the bustle of the class. ''Speaking loudly'' was a concept too subtle for him, at 4 1/2.

Teachers and administrators like those in your school are just people, like you and me and everyone. With enough support you may be able to improve the situation for everyone involved.

If you determine that the teacher is toxic and needs to be removed from her job, you will have a long fight ahead of you, and a moral imperative to do it. It has been done in the past, but only in the most serious cases, and with the concerted effort of all the parents involved. Heather

Call Neil Smith, Curriculum Director of BUSD at once. He is the boss of all the principals in the District. Tell him your child is in this class with this teacher who has a known history. good luck ANON

Dear Anon, Sounds to me like you have your mind made up already. My mother taught elementary school for over 30 years before becoming principal of that very same school and I have heard the other side of your story over the years. There are some ''bad'' teachers out there. However, I have also noticed how quickly and easily those ''bad'' teachers get labelled as such when that earned or unearned reputation precedes them due to unvetted parent and child concerns.

It is interesting to me that you are relying largely on this teacher's ''reputation for badness'' and your child's and other youngsters' reports of circumstances that may or may not be what actually happened. It is absolutely critical to take seriously the things our youngsters tell us, but, remember there is another side to it. Has any child or parent brought these concerns to this teacher at parent:teacher conferences? How about with the principal?

I think it is very easy for these things to snowball out of control and become very emotional. I would urge you to take your concerns to the principal whose job it is to sort this out. If your school is as good as you say, he or she will handle this quickly and professionally. It is perfectly in your right to present what you've described to the teacher, the principal or both and to expect an explanation from their persepectives of the events you describe. If it isn't managed to your satisfaction, and you still have concerns, consider bringing it up with the parent committees for your school if other families have experienced the same issues with this teacher and are willing to work with you on its resolution.

As in the adult world, it is often best to bring these issues and concerns up proactively and as soon as they happen, using, as you have, specific examples. If you wait and bring it up later and forget these potential issues of concern, the teacher and principal will be justified in saying to you, ''can you give us a specific instance?''.

I would also urge you -- and I am not a teacher, but, spent most of my childhood growing up with one in the house -- to remember how in tune your child is to your estimation of his or her teacher. If he or she perceives you as having a negative attitude about his or her teacher, your child will begin to realize triangulation is possible. It is so important for you to have a united front and a good working relationship with your child's educators over the years. This may not be the right fit for you, your child or the teacher. I would urge you not to knee-jerk adopt the label ''bad'' for this teacher and dismiss judgement until the full facts are known. Similarly, I would hope that you would keep an open mind, advocate for your son, and, give everyone the benefit of the doubt until given reason to believe otherwise. If, what your son reports is true and there are not other aspects to this one side of the story, I do hope the principal takes action promptly. Wishing you and your child the best. anon

As someone whose precious child is in that class, my advice is to physicaly be in the class helping. I am amazed by how much there is to do. Crowd control is a very real part of any school. Destroying a person's career and self esteem by sniping behind their back is cruel. Two children have been moved out of the class by their parents, into private schools, because of all of this talk. That has affected all of the other children in the class. All of the parents have heard these rumors. The expanded versions are terrifying and generate a tremendous amount of anxiety. The only real protection is to be there and know first hand that it is fine. Many of us also have babies that we must arrange care for so that we can volunteer. I suggest that we parents organize (PTA?)so that we can all know that one of us is there helping. Not only the teacher in question, but everyday. We could have a schedule.

The kind of scrutiny that we are subjecting this woman to is unreasonable. The feeling I get from all this talk is that one of the kindergarden teachers is a saint, totally on top of her job, one is a ditsey space case, and one is a time bomb waiting to explode and chop up all the kids and so, there is an OK co- teacher in place to step in when that happens. It is just not fair. No one could stand up to this kind of scrutiny.

The school is great and special. Parents need to help. For example, I went looking for paper towels as there were none in the classroom. There were none in the janitors closet, bathrooms, or the other teachers rooms. Solution? Inform the office and bring paper towels from home to tide them over? Or should I talk loudly about it in confidence with the other parents one at a time? In the lunch room, The teachers are constantly circulating; opening milk cartons, bananas, etc. and don't get a break. Parents could be incredibly helpful there and on the playground at recess.

We need to get together and be a community. We all love our kids.

From your description the teacher sounds mean-spirited and cynical. Not great for little kindergarteners - they need a warm fuzzy sort of person, don't they. I have some experience with this in BUSD. First of all let me say that my kids had mostly wonderful teachers all through the BUSD. There were a few so-so teachers but honestly we never had a teacher who seemed really detrimental to their welfare, though there was one close call and there were a couple of other problem situations. In every case either the principal or the district was able to work something out that satisfied the parents. So I do think you can have some confidence that things will work out. But parents have had to do a little work too, by organizing, documenting, and being persistent.

Some things I learned: 1) Don't believe everything you hear from other parents. Make an effort to find out for yourself. 2) If you feel there is a serious problem, you must go to the principal. That is the teacher's boss, and you need to create documentation that the boss can use at employee evaluation time if anything is ever going to be solved. 3) If the principal seems unable or unwilling to solve the problem, go to the district. 4) Complaints are more likely to be taken seriously if they are coming from a group of parents, not just one parent, so you need to network with others.

I learned that when there are complaints about a teacher, his/her boss (the principal) has to take some very well-defined steps before any action can be taken, such as having documentation of the problem, and getting an observer into the classroom. They can't just reassign or fire a teacher, no matter how many parents are complaining, without some documentation to back it up. It's only fair. If someone complained to your boss about your job performance, you'd want some warning, some documentation, and a chance to improve, before you got fired.

On the other hand, in my experience, principals can be extremely reluctant to discuss problems that parents have with teachers, and for whatever reason, they may not be very forthcoming about possible solutions. I don't know if this is because the teachers' contracts are secretive, and the principal is not allowed to discuss it, or if the principals are just trying to take the path of least resistance. I'm not a big complainer but on the rare occassion when I did have a problem (a 1st grade teacher who was nice to my kid but had a bad table for the bad kids), the principal did her best to discourage me from perceiving it as a problem, and instead praised the teacher for her many years of teaching and her excellent service to the school. That time I was new to school, and I didn't know any other parents, so I just dropped it.

Later, a couple of times my kids were in classrooms where there was a new teacher who clearly just wasn't cut out for teaching. When parent complaints started piling up, the principal assigned more experienced teachers to observe and help the teacher. Meanwhile, parents would step up their classroom participation. After some weeks or months of this without improvement, the new teachers were replaced. The principals really did want to be responsive to parents.

Another time, I was in a group of parents who were trying to prevent a well-known mean elementary teacher from transferring to the middle school where our kids were just starting. Trust me, this teacher was mean. We all had a first-hand story about her legendary sarcasm & rudeness. She ran her 4th grade classroom like a prison - no fieldtrips ever, no pictures on the walls. Once on the playground I saw her get so mad at a kid she kicked his backpack as hard as she could all the way across the playground, screaming at him all the while. The poor kid just stood there terrified. So now the elementary school was downsizing, and this teacher was not too surprisingly one of the teachers there wasn't room for. She had the seniority to request a position at any school in the district that had an opening, and she picked our kids' middle school. A bunch of us with incoming middle schoolers got together. First we went to the middle school principal. She told us that she was sympathetic but there was nothing she could do because the teacher's contract guaranteed her the position. Furthermore, the mean teacher had glowing evaluations from her previous principal (who nevertheless seemed really happy to have her transfer to a different school). We learned to our surprise that in 20 years this teacher had been in the BUSD, not a single person had ever made an official complaint about her. As far as the district was concerned, she was an exemplary teacher! We all realized that because we were all active at the school and knew her, and because of the teacher preference system, we had all been able to keep our kids out of her classroom. The poor kids who suffered through a year of her, had parents who were not involved enough in the school to know what she was like, or to ever complain about her.

We made an appointment with the superintendent and aired our concerns. The superintendent basically gave us the bureaucratic brush-off, telling us the same thing the principal had told us, that his hands were tied as there was no record of any problems with this teacher. But ... I don't know how it happened, but somehow or other, the teacher ended up in an administrative position and never came to the middle school as a teacher.

So, what I took away from this experience is that it is really important for parents to go to the trouble of getting something into the record if there is a problem with a teacher. Maybe it won't help you this year, but it might help some more parents next year. Also, help out at the school as much as you can, get to know the teachers and get to know the other parents. It really does pay off in so many ways, not just when there is trouble. Finally, when your kid has a good teacher, write a letter to his or her boss - the principal - at the end of the year. Bad teachers are the exception -- let's not forget about documenting the records of the good teachers! Good luck a BUSD Mom

Hi - After reading the responses to your question, I'd like to add my opinion. I'm a kindergarten teacher in a bay area school district, not the BUSD. The advice given to you ran the spectrum from ''go directly to the school board'' to ''wait and see''. My suggestion is that you take a middle road - because you're likely to accomplish more if this teacher truly isn't cut out for teaching. Start with taking your concerns directly to the teacher, then the principal, then up the ladder until you feel you've changed what needs to be changed.

During the last two years I was at a school site where teachers have been involved situations similar to the one you described. I won't go into the specifics here, as someone may recognize herself, but they've given me insight into what I would do if I were in your situation.

A couple of responders told you that this teacher couldn't be reassigned to another grade level. In both districts I've worked for, the contract states that reassignment can be involuntary. One time honored way that principals make life miserable for tenured teachers they want to remove from their position without going through the difficult process of proving they should be removed is to reassign that teacher. So the principal at your school site could place the kindergarten teacher in 5th grade at the start of next year. Sometimes the principal may believe the grade level switch will benefit the teacher and students. Often he or she may really be hoping that teacher will quit, since most kindergarten teachers wouldn't want to teach 5th grade and visa versa. If the principal really wants to switch this teacher's grade level, he/she probably can. Other readers advised you to go ''straight to the top''. Unless you've witnessed the inappropriate behavior yourself, I'd advise against doing that. Even if you have witnessed it yourself, districts have complaint procedures and flow charts for how to handle these type of complaints and by following them, you're likely to get better results, now and when you have concerns in later years. It's kind of like demanding to speak with the CEO of Macy's about a clerk when the store manager could handle your complaint. Who is going to want to work things out when they think you may attack them later? Just as parents label ''good'' and ''bad'' teachers, parents get can be labeled. While they may seem to have the administrators ears, those ears may have a tube that goes in one side and out the other. In a business enviornment, they're like the high maintenance client. Next years' teacher may feel that you'll take even the slightest concern to the top and be less inclined to work with you. Also remember that the pricipal who appeared to defend the teacher in question may not have been defending her behind closed doors. The principal legally cannot discuss personnel matters with you. It could very well be that your child's teacher is under review, but that is confidential. If you receive a poor review at work, your boss cannot discuss it with your clients. Now if the principal truly does not seem to do anything, then the next step I'd suggest would be to go up a notch on the complaint ladder, but remember that they aren't going to tell you what actions are being taken. Keep going up until you feel you've been heard.

I mentioned the part about witnessing the behavior yourself, because trust me little kids can mix up language and blow it out of porportion. Just last week, I was working with a small group of kids, and I said, ''I'm going to shuffle these cards''. One of my students at another table, called to his friend, ''OOOOH! Mrs. ____ said a bad word!!!'' I had to laugh because we all know what he thought I said. English isn't his first language and those words do sound alike. The good news is he has good phonemic awareness and recognized the sound of ''sh''. I stopped what I was doing and explained to my whole class what ''shuffle'' means. Now imagine that he went home told his mom what he thought I said and she went straight to the school board. But that little boy and innocent misunderstanding is why I choose to teach and not work with adults. They don't have agendas. Finally, I've noticed that frequently when there is one good teacher, one OK teacher, and one bad teacher, that these are often based superficial observations of the classroom. Parents gossip and it gets made into a huge thing. The differences between teachers can be as silly as which class has the cutest art projects up, but the teacher with the cuteness factor wins the ''good'' teacher title. Or one teacher may be a little more disorganized about materials than another, but be great in other areas. The organized teacher gets the parent recognition. There is so much you don't see unless you're in the classroom - so go in help the teacher, and make an opinion based on your observations. And yes keep going until you reach the top if things truly aren't what they should be, because it's your job as a parent. Been teaching a long time

I may have had some first-hand experience several years ago with the teacher you're referring to. If you'd like to contact me, please do so through the moderator. Anon for my kids' sake


P.E. teacher-unfair!

Sept 2004


Hello- I am really steamed at my eleven-year-old daughter's P.E. teacher. My daughter had a terrible foot/ankle injury (I won't get into it) and is in a cast with cruches. She will not be able to do any running or P.E. excercises for at least a semester and a half. Now that she is in sixth grade she has to run the mile once a week. This is a huge part of her grade. As she is unable to do or make up the work her P.E. teachers say that regardless of her condition they will have to give her a B- because she is unable to do the exercises and the mile. I am very upset about this, as is she. As of now, if they were grading her, she would qualify for an A. Does anyone else think this is unreasonable and unfair or know what to do?

My daugther had a very similar experience in 4th grade. She missed about a month of school when we took a trip out of the country for a family event. All her other teachers gave her work in advance and she worked hard while away to do it, but her PE teacher graded her down and no make up was possible. I talked to the teacher but she wouldn't budge. It was upsetting at first, but in the end we put it down to one of those unfair experiences in life. We told our daughter that it wasn't fair, but it was, after all, only down to a B, not an F, and it's only a P.E. grade. anne

Totally absurd, unjust, and narrow-minded! Make an appointment with the pricipal. Don't accept it.

I would definately go to the principal, if you've already tried to reason with the PE teacher. Giving a bad grade due to a medical condition is unreasonable. seems unfair to me

Totally, totally unfair!!! My guess is that the best thing to do is to speak to the principal (assuming you and your daughter have already tried talking to the teacher directly, outside the chaos of gym class). I would think that your daughter and her teacher should be able to work out an alternate but equitable measure of success for the class, just as a more permanently disabled student would -- surely a disabled child in the class would not be limited to a B-! I would hope, too, that she (not you) is leading the fight for her fair grade. anon

I would write a letter to the Principal and send a copy to the teacher. I would explain that your daughter has a temporary disability, and that the teacher's threat to reduce her grade because she can't run a mile constitutes discrimination. I would request that the teacher prepare a written plan for alternate activities within 10 days, for the approval of her parents and her doctor. em

First of all, I don't mean to sound unsympathetic, but a B in P.E. in 6th grade is not a big deal - try to keep some perspective. In one year or even one semester, noone will give a hoot. However, the PE teacher's solution does seem a bit half hearted. It seems like a real waste of your daughters time - what does she do sit passively and watch? I wonder if he or she just can't think what else to do with her. Discuss with him/her to possibility of organizing some other activity that can substitute until she's cleared to run again, like spending the period working in the library. This probably isn't something that the PE teacher has control over but it would be nice to suggest it to him/her. Or you can ask for some ideas and offer to talk with the principle so this can be arranged. That way its doesn't seem like you're just going over her head. Is there anything your daughter is interested in trying? Let this be a opportunity for her not just an aggravation anon


Incompatible 2d grade teacher

March 2004


Our son is in the second grade in a local private school and has struggled to please his teacher since September, but she has a geniune dislike of him and he feels it every single day. He is a friendly, outgoing kid (and did well his first 2 years at this school), but began this year on a difficult note when he strongly objected to another student who would not (could not?) leave him alone. This student spent much of her day following him around the room, wiping snot on his clothes, showing him her underwear, and pinching him. His reaction was to scream ''stop'' in class. His teacher met with us at the beginning of the year and told us how ''sweet'' the girl really was, that she and our son had a ''love-hate'' relationship, and essentially, that he would just have to try to get along with people like that. He has trouble concentrating in class anyway, but now this daily distraction has negatively affected his work and his mood to the point where he rarely finishes his work. He dreads going to school, clings to me in the morning (he hasn't done this since he was 3) and when I tell his teacher, she says he should try to get to school a little earlier each day, to have time to adjust. She does not discipline the girl consistently. In short, I believe that she genuinely dislikes my son, and cannot rise above this reaction and do her job as a teacher/professional. Nor do I have much faith that complaining to the director would help. I already did that about a couple of other issues this year involving this teacher, and had a ''lovely'' meeting with the director, but now the atmosphere in my son's class is even worse for my son. (The only time he has been glad to go to school was during the teacher's vacation, when a sub taught the class). This is a year-round school, and we have five more months there (we are moving to the Berkeley public schools in the fall). Should I try to get him switched to the other 2d grade class? I am so weary and frustrated with this problem but this is a no-win situation. sad mom

Since he'll be switching schools anyway, why don't you see if there's space in the new school now and if so let him make the tranistion to the new school early and get him out of the situation. Anon

I had trouble with a school situation (as a parent) years ago. Have you tried volunteering in the classroom in order to get a direct sense of the situation? If your impressions remain the same then consider working with the Director to change classes. former teacher

I can really sympathize with your frustration about your son and have had similar experiences where teachers have not ''seen'' what's going on socially in the classroom and, in particular, how one child's behavior can seriously impact others. Teachers have their blind spots like anyone else and she really may not understand how destructive this little girl is. But are you sure she really dislikes your son? It may be that she is downplaying the effects this little girl has in order to ''keep the peace.'' Maybe the thing to do is to talk to the girl's parents about what's going on and try to work with them. Also, I believe if you let the school know you are actually considering withdrawing your son, they will take your concerns more seriously. Good luck. I know how stressful these situations can be. been there

Wow, this sounds like a situation that is causing serious distress in your child's life. I think the issues are that he is being harrassed (even if it is ''sweet'' as the teacher says, it sounds like it feels harsh to him) and not having his need for security met by his teacher. In my very biased opinion (as a child care provider and former teacher), a teachers foremost responsibility is to ensure each child's emotional and physical safety. If your kid feels like his teacher doesnt care about him, why would he WANT to go to school? The teacher's role is advocate and protector for the students, and this is not the role the teacher is fulfilling if your son would rather trust a sub than the teacher he knows. Especially when the student is 7!! If it isn't working, i think you should move your son to another school (or classroom if there is another 2nd grade class) where he has a teacher who has the capacity to protect and advocate for EVERY child in his/her classroom. If your son doesn't trust the teacher, and you really believe the teacher doesnt like your child, working it out with the teacher sounds painful for you and your son. There are so many great teachers who treat children with respect and compassion. If you've run into a teacher who can't do that, I think you should think about finding a new teacher who has the capacity to. Good, good luck. Berkeley nanny

I do not have much to offer in terms of HOW to address the situation, but I will offer this. My youngest sister, now about 32, had a very nasty 2nd grade teacher who just did not like her for some reason. To this day, she remembers how horrible that year was. For years, because of things the teacher said to her, she thought she was not as smart as the rest of us, and I think it affected her academic performance for years. For a 7-year old, a year is a LONG time. The damage from a teacher who seems uncaring, or worse, actively hostile, can be profound and long- lasting. Get him into a different class ASAP. Good luck. Anon


Overly strict teacher

Dec 2003


How have people helped their child cope with a ''Mean'' teacher. (We've tried changing the class.) I'm nervous about working directly with the teacher because at this point the teacher likes my child, who is generally very well- behaved and wants to be ''good.'' She frequently scolds kids in line for dropping things or bumping into each other. She's scolded my child for not being loud enough. My child has been saying I'm stupid when my child makes mistakes at home. My child has also been scolding me when I make mistakes -- not that this never happened before but the intensity is greater. The curriculum is good and the parents who like her say that the kids aren't bothered by the ''strictness.'' (I've also been wondering where the line between strict and mean is???) I'm not looking to change the teacher, I'm looking for ideas on how to help my child get perspective on this and not feel like they are doing everything wrong. worried

If the teacher is truely being mean (ie:abusive?) you might talk to the principal about it, or if the teacher is approachable try talking to her in a non accusing manner. Sounds like she may not be approachable. You didn't say how old your child is but if he/she is old enough to understand that some teachers are nicer and kinder and some are not he/she may be able to get through the year more easily. Is she a good teacher, even though she's mean? Then your child may have to put the meanness aside and get what he/she can out of the class and also understand that when the teacher yells or calls children stupid, it's the teachers unhappiness and not anything about the child. I'm sure most of us mom's and dad's have had similar teachers in life. I certainly did. It can be hell, but eventually the year ends and I don't know that too many of us were permanently damaged. The great teachers I've had by far outweigh the few ''teachers from hell''. Good luck dealing with this. I feel for you. anon

I had 2 kids in a very expensive private school who both had a problem with an immature teacher at different years. Knowing what I know now, I would remove my child as soon as I can from this bad experience that would affect them for the rest of their lives and move to a school that you can work with. A few months after we moved out of the school, I found out that this teacher was being unreasonable even in the classroom. She would pick on 5 or so students in a day and force or limit them to do the same exercise/work everyday until they meet her requirement. They were not allowed to do anything else during the school day but this one particular school work. The children were not allowed to play or have recess and sometimes even extend to lunch time until they complete the work to her expectations. This went on for several weeks. None of my children like this teacher. She is very mean. Under this teacher my children were always at the directors office as a rebellion to what is going on. They learned to defy authority and they also begin to feel that they are bad. Once children feel they are bad, it is very dangerous. We had to go to theraphy and different counselors. One finally advised us that my children need teachers who love them. I am very happy that we moved to another school where both teachers and aides are very nice to children. The administration works with us and really care for our children. I hope you find the right school and environment for your child. anonymous

Well, it's a little difficult to answer you completely because you don't mention how old your child is. (In early elementary school, part of a teacher's job is to teach appropriate social interaction and behavior, so the kids are expected to have trouble with things such as standing in line, while with older children difficulty standing in line usually only means they are horsing around, for example.)

In my opinion, though, the difference between mean and strict is that a strict teacher sets forth rules and adheres to them very closely. The rules are fair and there is nothing wrong with a strict teacher. A mean teacher makes it personal -- criticizes the child rather than the behavior -- which is inappropriate.

Have you observed the teacher ''scolding'' the children first hand? Is the behavior your child is modeling based upon the teacher's behavior in the classroom? Or possibly that of another student? I would suggest a conference with the teacher. No good teacher would be bothered by your concerns, if they are raised without casting blame based upon hearsay (If that's what it is). I think the teacher might welcome the dialogue about their approach to discipline in the classroom. A good teacher would certainly NEVER take this out on your child, or suddenly dislike your child, because you met with them. a teacher and a parent

My daughter has had several grumpy teachers over the years, and I've tried to explain them to her that way: they're grumpy, or having a bad day, or having trouble managing a difficult class, or maybe don't like kids and shouldn't have been teachers at all! It's important that the child knows she's not bad or doing anything wrong. I figure my daughter will come across all kinds of people in her life, not all of them will be pleasant. I've found it impossible to get anywhere by talking to the teacher or complaining to the principal, basically they don't see a problem. anon