Dear Emuna

I’m really not happy with my son’s teacher this year. He just doesn’t have the warmth and nurturing personality that I feel best suits my child. The school is very reluctant to switch him to another class and I’m conflicted myself because he has some very close friends in his current class whose character I admire greatly. Should I go to bat and fight it out or make peace with the situation? What’s your advice?

Trying to Be a Good Mom

Dear Trying,

We’ve all been there, and this is a situation with no easy resolution. I can hear both sides of the argument. There are those who believe that friends are everything – not just kids that you can play with – although that’s extremely important – but also ones who speak and act in ways that are a good influence. Therefore, they think, staying with the friends trumps the behavior of the teacher. Teachers come and go while friends can last for years.

And there are those who may make the opposite argument. The influence of the teacher, especially during the younger years, is much greater than that of the friends and it is crucially important to make sure that your child feels understood and supported by said authority figure. Both sides can make a compelling argument and there may be no right and wrong.

I still remember years where we did nothing in the face of a bad teacher, much to our chagrin, and years where we tried to change classes and a teacher we knew warned us off, having more intimate knowledge of the character of the kids in the so-called desirable class. It’s really hard to know. And since it’s so hard to know, I would argue in favor of doing nothing and letting the Divine Providence play out.

Whatever classroom your child is in, like whatever situation they will be in throughout their lives, is an opportunity for learning and growth. If the teacher isn’t ideal, they can learn important coping skills. They can learn how to balance obedience and self-reflection. If the friends aren’t ideal, they can learn about independence and making good choices.

Of course, there are dramatic situations where the teacher may actually be abusive or there may be bullying and it’s appropriate, actually necessary, to get involved and advocate for your child. I’m talking about the run-of-the-mill challenges of an elementary school education. In those cases, I think the real solution to the “problem” is one we may not really like. We as parents need to take a bigger role. We can’t rely on the school – teachers, other students, administration – to give our children love and confidence and a sense of self-worth. We can’t rely on the schools to teach them how to cope with challenging situations – be they with authority figures or with their peers. We can’t rely on the teachers to give them nurture or their friends to give them their values. Those all must come from us.

We need to teach them how to respond to their teacher with courtesy and respect, whether their behavior earns it or not. We need to train them to ignore teasing and taunting and to push back against meanness – to themselves or to others. They need to learn who to make friends with and how to do it. And we need to both show them how and discuss their choices and the outcomes with them.

It certainly would be more relaxing if we could just rely on the schools. Those of us who send their children to private schools possibly felt that in order to get our money’s worth, more than just information should be learned. And, in an ideal world, in those small classrooms with those perfectly behaved well-mannered children and those sensitive teachers attuned to the unique needs of our individual children, that would be true. But in our messy, complicated world of overcrowded classrooms, overwhelmed teachers and limited resources, we are expecting too much. And we are too eager to relinquish control and responsibility.

So, my advice – unless the situation is drastic, accept the situation and teach your son to make the best of it. He will learn from your response to the situation and if you teach him good and appropriate coping skills, that is a lesson that can last him throughout his life – in school, at working, in relationships. On the other hand, if you move him, he may learn that he can’t cope, that he needs to be rescued, that there are some situations he needs to run away from. (I guess I do have a bias after all!)

None of this is a guarantee and certainly not an iron-clad prediction. You know your child better than anyone else and you need to trust your intuition. But you also need to trust your child – he can probably handle more than you think he can and it will be good for him to learn that. You also need to trust the Almighty and recognize that if he put him in this classroom with this teacher and these children, there is an opportunity for growth there. Unless absolutely necessary, try not to rob him of it.