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“My teacher hates me.” What it means and how to deal

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“There’s nothing really that great about being cool. Cool is, by definition, self-protection.”  - Brené Brown

I heard it again this week: “My teacher hates me.”

This, from a student who I look forward to seeing each week, who asks questions about my life and my family, who has a great spiritual faith, is a talented athlete, works hard in school, and believes in putting her phone down and looking people in the eye when she has a conversation. What am I missing? What’s there to hate?

My student went on to say, “She’s had it out for me since the beginning of the year and I think it’s because I play sports and I’m passionate about things she just doesn’t like. I can’t relate to her.”

My stomach dropped, folks. This is baggage that a super kind and sensitive kiddo carries with her into the classroom every day. And her baggage sprang from the baggage that her (very possibly well-intended) teacher probably carries, too.

My experience as a learner, school teacher, parent, and Learning Coach has shown me that we all must be (and really are) on the same side. Miscommunications, hurt feelings, resentment, and alienation are the byproducts of an educational system built to maintain social and societal foundations that are no longer true or relevant. What we see today is an assembly-line model created in a time when only a small, elite fraction of the population had access to information and education. Today, we have easy access to information and the classroom teacher is no longer the repository of facts and ideas, but a guide to evaluating, assimilating, and applying them. That’s hard work, and it’s work that requires good relationships between teachers and learners.

It takes time and great care and concern for a teacher to make connections with each student in a classroom, a capacity that many of our current classroom teachers, especially into the high school levels, say they are desperately lacking. When the teacher battles with students over cell phones, lateness, unexcused absences, missed homework, and grades, each battle takes him a little bit further away from his intended purpose, i.e. teaching. And after hours of these battles, it’s hard for teachers to show up to do what they want to do because they’re worn out from doing what they have to do.

So the teachers are tired of fighting battles in which they didn’t enlist, and all 34 of their students are busy weathering the confusion and pressures of teenhood. Of course there are misunderstandings and wounds. Classroom teachers only witness a fraction of who their students are, then make inferences to fill in the gaps. And students do the same. But what happens if student and teacher both don’t show each other the best self? Too many false conclusions. We miss the essential piece of seeing who the other is, what the other needs, and how to express care and respect in the student/teacher relationship.  

The incredible news? Magic still happens. Teachers and students build relationships, break down barriers, strive for success, and achieve great things. And I’m willing to bet that the classrooms in which it’s occurring most are where kids feel seen and heard, and where teachers can connect their effort in the classroom to their goals in life. In other words, learning takes place when teachers and students embrace the uncool with open arms.

So let’s go back and zoom in on my student and her teacher and get curious about what’s happening:

This very likable teen feels disliked in the classroom. What are the possibilities? Maybe this teacher has had trouble with student-athletes in the past, was made fun of as a kid, has a hockey-playing brother she doesn’t get along with, or was never good at sports. Or maybe she just didn’t didn’t come across the way she intended to, and this is all-mixed-up for no good reason. We don’t know.  What we do know is that the teacher’s (possibly) past experiences and current resources are preventing her from helping this student feel seen for who she is.

Zoom closer:  

In sending out negative or disinterested vibes, this teacher is protecting herself instead of expressing care and concern for her student’s vulnerability. And by saying “My teacher hates me,” this student is both shielding herself from the fresh sting of her teacher’s judgment and entering the classroom each day clad in a spiky shell. Both parties in this scenario are trying to play it cool. What a missed opportunity for building a relationship that can spark this student’s growth.

Boom. Do you see how quickly the classroom can become an unsettling place?

Every conversation I’ve ever had with a passionate educator—read our Yellow Parachute bios!—includes the phrase, “I love watching kids get it. That aha moment that changes from I’m not sure to...yes! This makes sense!” That’s why teachers teach right? To lend a hand to students in attaining understanding and mastery of the subject matter that they’ve been charged to deliver. As I tell my ACT students, “This is my excuse to get to spend some time with you and tell you how fantastic you are, just as you are.” So how can we as parents help both student and teacher get back on the path towards optimal learning?

Maybe my student with the prickly teacher writes a simple letter to take a first step of sharing her feelings with her teacher. She could say “I feel disliked/misunderstood/unseen and I would like to feel relaxed/understood/seen so that I can do my best in this class. Can you help me with that?” Terrifying, right? It’s hard to be that honest with the people closest to us, much less our teachers. But how brave, if she could do it, how wise. And if the teacher responds badly to that openness, that’s out of her own pain and limitations. If she responds well—that’s progress.  

And this hard conversation would be easier if this learner knew how to express what she needed from her teacher through the powerful language of a personal learning plan. Her Learning Coach (in this case, me) can even help her draft this letter. How incredible would it be for both “sides” to experience the benefit of a language that brings them together? Because YP Learning Coaches not only work to develop a personalized learning curriculum for our learners, they also teach them how to use it to advocate for themselves in the classroom and in life. Our students learn how to learn so they can keep learning for the rest of their lives, in any environment. Do you see the fireworks, folks? Do you hear the music? Choose your inspirational backdrop. I’ll probably go with 300 Violin Orchestra.  And “My teacher hates me,” said no kid ever again.

-Cara

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Monday, 23 September 2019