Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Teacher's Belittling Comments Need to Stop

DEAR HARRIETTE: My daughter is having a challenge with her teacher, and I'm not sure how to handle it. The other day she came home and told me her teacher spoke to her in a way that made her feel like the teacher thinks she is an idiot. My daughter is in the third grade.

I know this teacher can be sharp and harsh with her students. I believe she thinks this is the way to get them to behave. My daughter has never used language like that before to talk about herself or anybody else. "Idiot" is a strong word, like a curse word in our house.

I want to get to the bottom of this to find out what is going on in the classroom and what the teacher thinks my daughter is not doing. I also want to tell the teacher I don't appreciate her talking down to my daughter. I am so angry, though, that I don't know how to begin. Help! -- Mad Mom, Washington, D.C.

DEAR MAD MOM: Take a few deep breaths and compose yourself. You need a few more details.

Talk to your daughter again and find out what was going on when her teacher made her feel she was an idiot. Gently ask her to explain the circumstances. It is likely that something your child did or didn't do precipitated it, which doesn't necessarily excuse the behavior. You are gathering information. Listen carefully so you can recite what your daughter shares with you later.

Schedule an appointment with the teacher, and tell her about your daughter's concerns. Describe the scenario as seen through your daughter's eyes, and ask what her version of the story is.

Tell the teacher that your daughter is sensitive and that you do not want her leaving school feeling like she is an idiot, whatever that means in her mind. School is where she goes to learn and grow. Her teacher needs to be more nurturing and less judgmental. Ask if she can do that. Follow up with the guidance counselor at the school if you need backup.

DEAR HARRIETTE: Next year we are going to have to put our son in public school. He has been in private school since he was young, but we can't afford it anymore. We feel horrible, but it is what is. Our son is 10. How do we tell him without crushing his feelings? -- Distraught and Broke, Chicago

DEAR DISTRAUGHT AND BROKE: Frame the shift to a new school as a lifestyle change. Assure your son that you will put him in the best possible school you can, and stress that by going public, you will have more flexibility to explore other extracurricular activities. Show him there is life after private school. Work hard to keep his friendships alive, too. That will help ease the transition.