8 Ways to Deal with “Bad” Teachers

I cringe at the word “bad,” but let’s face it. Even the best public schools protect ineffective teachers – due in part to union contracts. Studies show that a poor teacher can set children back by months, while a skilled teacher changes lives. The latest research from Harvard shows great teaching even leads to higher lifetime earnings.

Parents often ask me what to do when their child gets a bad or mismatched teacher. “Is midyear too late to do something? I wish I could get my kid moved.”

If you feel your child ended up on the unlucky side of teacher placement this year, how you handle the situation makes a big difference in the outcome. Although we’re at the halfway point now, it’s never too late to take action because you’re also paving the way for next year. Here are my recommendations:

What to Do: 

  1. Keep your outside attitude positive and professional.Your child still goes to class and learns from this teacher for six hours every day. Empathize and reassure him that “we” will get through this; that you are there to help him. This experience can make your child more resilient – if it’s handled well. And a respected, positive parent is less likely to end up with a kid in the wrong class again.
  2. Keep notes. This can be a tedious and frustrating job for parents. But if you want to fix the problem, it’s crucial. If you begin to hear of questionable behavior or inappropriate practices being used in the classroom, get a notebook and keep a log. Jot down what your child reports, keeping in mind there are always three sides to every story. Note the affect this has on your child. Be specific – the more detail the better.
  3. Meet with the teacher when you see a pattern – three or more comments or actions that negatively influence your child. Use my “Power of P3” – be polite, positive and persistent when you discuss your issues. Stick to the facts and focus on how these actions upset or disturb your child. Write down what the teacher says and agrees to do. Set up a process for following up – email, phone or face to face  - to review progress. If you’re not happy with the outcome, let the teacher know that you will need to go to the next level.
  4. If things don’t improve, meet with the principal. Send a short email that you want to meet to discuss your child’s situation. If you don’t get a response within 48 hours, politely email again stating that you have documented data and have met with the teacher previously. Follow up with a secretary. Many principals invite the teacher to join the meeting.  If you have documented concerns and have met with the teacher, this should not be a problem.
  5. Hire a tutor or find a way to spend more time with your child on school work to compensate. The goal is to make sure he doesn’t get too far behind and to rebuild the love of learning. If you hire a tutor, be sure the tutor and your child have a positive experience together vs. a drill and kill that your child will eventually reject.

    What NOT to do:
  6. Avoid gossiping or talking poorly about the teacher – especially when your child may be listening. This will only fuel stress and anxiety in both of you and it’s unprofessional. Channel your energy into keeping a log, observing, listening carefully to what your child tells you and doing something to improve the situation.
  7. Don’t go over the teachers head and meet with the principal first. This usually backfires because most principals will only meet with you if you have met with the teacher first. And many will want to include the teacher in the meeting with you. Also, going over the teacher’s head without his or her knowledge could affect your child’s relationship with the teacher.
  8. Don’t burn bridges.  Be professional in your words and actions. Don’t judge the teacher; just state the facts and how certain behavior or words distress your child. Everything you do work to make sure your child gets a well matched, effective teacher next year. A pattern of poor teachers is far worse than one bad year.

A few years back, I succeeded in getting my daughter moved to another classroom midyear because I documented the teachers’ actions and the affect that they had on my child – for 12 weeks. The good news is that improved teacher evaluations are now being mandated by many teachers unions. In theory, this should translate to more observations, more feedback, more development and better teaching. A win-win for all.


  1. This is very good (and important) advice. One change I would make is don’t wait till you see a pattern. Build a relationship with the teacher by talking to him/her about the first thing you are a little concerned about–”just to make sure you and I are on the same page.”
    Yes, take notes. write down facts, stories, annecdotes, what was said, not generalizations.
    and keep working with the teacher so that when you talk to the principal, it is all very clear what’s been going on.
    Important topic. good advice.

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