Question: Our child has always been an excellent student, but since entering high school his grades have dropped significantly and he seems to be struggling academically. When we ask him what’s going on, he just shrugs his shoulders and says, "My teachers don’t like me." How can we get to the bottom of this?


Every parent dreads the prospect of discovering that his child is falling behind or utterly failing in one or more subjects in school. In a situation like this, it’s important to work diligently to find out what is (or isn’t) going wrong and then seek to make improvements as soon as possible. Because learning is such a complex process, simple answers and quick fixes are rarely available. Furthermore, any number of conditions may interfere with school performance, and in some kids more than one factor may be involved. This is particularly true during the adolescent years, which can be turbulent and emotionally unsettling for a variety of reasons.

Start by troubleshooting

Since you state that your son has been a good student in the past, we’d suggest that you begin your troubleshooting by finding out if there are any physical or medical reasons for the academic difficulties that have suddenly overtaken him. It could be something as simple as a problem with vision or hearing. The hormonal changes that accompany puberty are notorious for precipitating all kinds of emotional and personal turmoil in the lives of adolescents. It’s possible that your teen is experiencing some symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or some other type of learning disorder. His medical history might provide important clues to the origin of his present struggles. Make an appointment with your doctor and ask him to help you sort out the various possibilities. Talk to a counsellor. Find out if your child is dealing with some kind of unusual stress or strain. These are the best places to start your investigation.

Look beyond medical and psychological issues

If there are no medical or psychological issues requiring a physician’s or counsellor’s attention, ask yourself whether your son’s problem might have a non-academic basis. Maybe it’s a question of personality, ideology or a conflict with the school and its curriculum. Perhaps he’s struggling because he disagrees with some of the material he’s hearing in class. Find out what "My teachers don’t like me" really means. What exactly was said? Is there a discernible pattern? Is it possible that your teen is primarily at fault because of disrespectful or inattentive behaviour? Could this actually be an issue involving a clash of viewpoints? It may help to talk to someone else in the same class to get confirmation that a problem really exists.

Talk to the teachers

The next step, of course, is to schedule an interview with the teacher or teachers involved in order to get their perspective on the situation. Ask an open-ended question, such as, "My son seems to be having a hard time in your class. What can we do to smooth things out?" Perhaps you haven’t heard the whole story. Maybe some even-handed give-and-take on controversial issues has been encouraged in class, and your teen didn’t present his views very well. If this is the case, it would be better to find ways of building bridges than to light fires and stir up even more trouble.

If, on the other hand, it becomes clear that certain beliefs and viewpoints aren’t welcome or are subject to ridicule in the class, you may have to take steps to defend your son’s right to a hassle-free education. A meeting between other like-minded parents and the teacher(s) in question, a conference with the principal or, if necessary, a transfer to another class may be appropriate. Throughout this process remember to keep your conduct as calm and rational as possible. Your bottom line should be the simple notion that school ought to be a neutral ground for mastering basic material, not a platform for pushing a specific social or political agenda.

Excerpted from The Complete Book of Baby and Child Care published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 1997, 2007, Focus on the Family.

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