expert advice MORE
Teen Not Getting Along with Substitute Teacher
Q: I have a 13-year-old son who has always been a pleasure both at home and in school. He is in the gifted and talented program and a straight A student. As a matter of fact, his teacher just told me that he has the highest grade point average in the school. He is also very involved with the drama club and plays soccer and baseball. My problem is that I received a phone call from a substitute teacher today . She said that he has been "torturing" her for the past few weeks. She is filling in for one of his favorite teachers while she is out on medical leave. He has been rude and insulting to her. He asks difficult questions on purpose just to embarrass her and puts his feet up on his desk. I was very surprised to hear this because I have never received anything but praise from all his other teachers.
Of course, when I spoke to him about it he had another story to tell. He said that she does not like him for some reason and she singles him out in class and picks on him (what came first the chicken or the egg?). I tried to tell him that there will be many people in his life that he will not like but will have to get along with. I told him that nobody comes into our life by accident and she was there to teach him to get along with someone of authority that he did not like. He did not have to like her but he did have to show her respect. He became very upset with this answer and said that it just wasn't fair because he was in a situation in which he felt he had no choices.
He feels that I am not on his side. I do understand his feelings, but I also understand how difficult it is to be a substitute teacher for middle school kids. I feel very confused about whether I handled this right. Do you have any ideas? I would appreciate anything you have to offer.
A: You are a most compassionate and wise parent. Your counsel was appropriate and understanding of both parties. Your son has obviously received considerable positive reinforcement in his life for who he is and what he accomplishes. Of course his "torturing" behavior shocks you and would probably also shock all the other adults in his life who consider him a "perfect boy". For whatever the reasons, this substitute teacher doesn't think he's "God's gift". She's allowed that feeling and he probably has been "busting" her to some extent because she hasn't shown him the special regard he apparently gets from everyone else, certainly this favorite teacher she's subbing for. She does not, however, have the right to turn this personality clash into an unfair fight.
Tell your boy that you do understand how aggravating his situation is and that you have communicated to the sub(which I suggest you do in writing, followed up by a "just checking in" call) Tell your boy that you do understand how aggravating his situation is and that you have communicated to the subIf, in fact, your son chooses to punish this woman for her teaching ineptitude (as opposed to her purposefully picking on him) then get out of the way and let him learn one of those non-accidental life lessons. He's 13 and full of himself, as is the age. You have made it clear you support him if he behaves with understanding and that you are free to disagree with him, as he is free to disagree with you, on how he handles certain situations.
I'd occasionally ask him how things are with this teacher but not make a big deal out of it. You handled this wonderfully, even if you didn't get an A on it from your son.
More on: Expert Advice
Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.