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How to Get What You Want from the Teacher

What If the Teacher Really Is a Monster?
First of all, she is not a monster. She is simply a "bad fit" with your child. This is the acceptable jargon at most schools, where your avenues for conflict resolution are few: the teacher and the principal. However, there are several strategies that can help you improve an unhappy situation. One cardinal rule is that the sooner you voice your concern, the more likely it is that your child can be moved to a different classroom. The first two weeks of the school year are usually considered to be flexible; after that, the principal will be less willing to accommodate you. If your child seems extremely distressed from the get-go (and doesn't make a habit of complaining about her new teacher every year), it may be shrewd to ask for a change right away.

If the problems don't bubble to the surface until later in the semester, try your best to work things out with the teacher and your child before speaking to the principal. Says Marna Biederman, "When [parents] go to the head of the school without talking to you, you just feel like killing them." There isn't much the principal can do anyway, aside from moving your child to another class. She certainly can't change whatever it is that's not working between your child and the teacher; only the teacher (and your child) can do that. Before you meet with the teacher, talk with other parents whose children had her in previous years. They might be able to shed some light on her personality and give you suggestions about how best to deal with her. If your attempts fail, you can always insist that your child be moved after the winter break. Taking a child out of a class in the middle of the semester should be a last resort.

Unsung Heroes
Most teachers are in the classroom because they feel a calling to be there. How many other professions inspire such a high level of commitment for such modest pay? Remember this when you are at the parent-teacher conference and throughout the school year, and tell the teacher she's doing a great job whenever you honestly can. In June, write a letter expressing your thanks. "If it's sincere, a letter means a great deal more to a teacher than a two-pound box of chocolates," says Biederman. Send a copy to the principal as well, so it becomes part of the teacher's record. From these small acts, your great reputation will be made.

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From Say the Magic Words by Lynette Padwa. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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