Q: My daughter is currently in first grade. The other day when I picked her up, she looked worried and told me she did not want to go to second grade and wanted to change elementary schools. When I asked her what happened, she said she saw the second grade teacher yelling at the children and she was scared. I asked other parents about this teacher and they said that she is mean and yells. What do you recommend me to do about this situation?
A: Dear Ms. Hanley:
I can understand your concern. I think the first thing I would do is to reassure your daughter that you do not want anyone to yell at her, and that the second grade is a long way off. Tell her now that you don't think she needs to worry.
The second thing is to make an appointment with the school's Principal. Explain frankly what you have observed with your daughter and what the other parents say. Make it very clear that you have never met the second grade teacher yourself and that you have no personal beef with her--only that you are concerned about your daughter continuing to have a positive attitude towards school. The Principal may have a word with the teacher who yells, or may intervene in other ways.
It is not clear to me from your letter whether or not there are other second grade teachers in the school, in addition to the teacher who yells. If there are several second grade teachers, the Principal will probably get the hint and see to it that your child is assigned to one of the other teachers next September. You certainly have every right to request this specifically, perhaps in writing. If the teacher who yells is the only second grade teacher in the school, you may have to wait and see what happens. This particular teacher may retire or move 1000 miles away. You do of course have the option of changing your daughter's school, although this may be going overboard in this situation. In addition, you might want to collect more information before you take drastic action: the teacher may have other good qualities or the teacher's personality may be somewhat misrepresented by the parents' opinions that you have heard so far.
Unfortunately, there are problem teachers everywhere--in poor schools, fancy schools, primary grades and advanced university settings. The older the child, the more personal resources the youngster has to deal with the psychological impact of problem teachers. With a young child, the parent is the child's only resource.
I wish you luck!
Elizabeth Berger MD
Child Psychiatrist and author of "Raising Kids with Character"