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When the Teacher Isn't Working for Your Student

Sometimes, it's because you have a little genius and they just don't understand.
Sometimes, it's because you have a little genius and they just don't understand.
Emily L. Goodman

There are a lot of Tennessee Virtual Academy teachers who are absolutely wonderful individuals, most of whom will do whatever they can to help your child succeed. Unfortunately, there are also a few who have managed to glide along through the cracks. They might be first-year teachers. They might have been with TNVA for a couple of years now and somehow managed to escape notice. Whatever the case, every once in a while, you will end up with a teacher who just isn’t working for your child.

This is not necessarily to say that you have ended up with a bad teacher—though some of them certainly are. Sometimes, it’s an issue of a personality conflict—a teacher who has a hard time controlling her classroom and a child who tends to be unruly; a teacher who is very soft-spoken and a child who only respects a firm hand; a teacher with a loud voice and a child who is easily intimidated. Other times, it’s a case of a teacher simply not knowing what to do: a teacher’s first student; a problem that has never arisen before and wasn’t covered in training (remember, TNVA teachers can’t just walk down the hall and get a quick answer from a principal, administrator, or colleague!); an unfamiliar situation or disability. You might even end up with a teacher who has gotten caught up by life: a home situation that is taking more time and energy than anticipated, or a schedule that has gotten out of control.

A virtual learning style isn’t for every student, either. It’s much harder to teach concepts when you have only limited access to your students. The teacher can’t speak to your child in person. It’s harder for them to observe your child’s work. Most of the time, they aren’t getting facial cues from your child, or the quiet mutterings, or watching how your child puts their math problems together to discover where the mistake is made.

And sometimes, the teacher is just incompetent. Occasionally, you end up with a math teacher who really prefers English, or a grammar instructor to whom the English language is something of a challenge. TNVA, like any other school, endeavors not to allow this to happen often; but they aren’t able to monitor their teachers as easily as in a traditional brick and mortar classroom, and it can be difficult to determine a teacher’s strengths and weaknesses as easily. This is also one of the dangers of hiring general teachers for sixth through eighth grades instead of seeking out content-specific professionals whose courses of study focused on a particular content area.

Unfortunately, once you have one of these teachers, there’s only so much you can do. In elementary school, you may only deal with one teacher throughout most of the year, with a few class sessions taught by a second teacher. In middle school, your child will be exposed to several different teachers as each one focuses on a given content area, in theory granting them a better education, but in practice meaning that they have interactions with a number of different individuals who may or may not be aware of their individual needs.

You’re probably stuck with them—but your child need not be stuck in the experience.

Discuss it with the teacher. This should always be your first move. Try to understand where the teacher is coming from and what might be causing the problem, and try to agree on a plan of action that will work for both of you.

Listen in on a class connect session or two. If your child is constantly complaining about a teacher, it may be easy to write it off as a personality clash or a subject that your child doesn’t care for to begin with. Listen in on a session or two to make sure that this isn’t the case. Make sure of where the problem lies so that you can take whatever steps are necessary to get your child help from there.

Be prepared to relearn some old skills. You are able to sit right next to your child and go over the material that he doesn’t understand. You’re able to look over her work and see whether she’s making an error because she doesn’t understand how to do the problem, or she’s making a simple math error. You can read over his English report, her history assignment, his science project. When you sign on as a learning coach, you’re signing on to do some teaching along the way, and it may end up being teaching of subjects that you’re not necessarily comfortable with.

Look for a tutor. Do you have a family member who excels at math? That might be a good person for your child to sit down with when they don’t understand a new math concept. A writer, reporter, or former English teacher in the family? An excellent person to proofread. The saying is, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and teaching one is no different. Build a support system full of people who are willing to step in and help your child when it becomes necessary. Even with the best teachers, sometimes, the best option is a new perspective.

Reach out to your homeroom teacher (if they aren’t the problem). If your middle school student is dealing with a content-area teacher who just isn’t doing their job (for example, one who says, “Google it,” when asked a question, or who has blatantly explained it wrong, admitted that she didn’t understand it, and then thrown up her hands and gone on to work with someone else—yes, this has happened!), go to your homeroom teacher and explain the issue. If that doesn’t work (or your homeroom teacher is the problem), get in contact with the administration. No one wants an incompetent teacher working with your child. Be professional, but firm. Know what you want (someone else to work with your child; your child moved to another teacher’s classroom; just to report the issue and make sure that it’s known), and recognize that it may take time to get to the bottom of the issue. Get past the feeling that you’re “tattling.” Your student deserves the best possible education, and you’re the best possible advocate to get that for them.

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