The College Conversation: Personality conflicts are part of life

The high school drama has started. No, I'm not referring to a theatre production or the social woes of teenage girls. It's back to school time and that means an exorbitant amount of complaints about teachers echoing in the hallways and in your home:

"She already hates me. She hated my brother. Now, she's taking it out on me."

"She teaches too fast, I'm over my head and have to get out of this class."

"I heard Mrs. Smith offers more extra credit. I want to switch to her class!"

For the past 15 years, I've heard it all.

While it's frustrating to hear these complaints from your child, the worst reaction you can have is a knee-jerk one, marching into the counselor's office and demanding a change in your child's schedule. Rushing to your child's rescue presents a conundrum for the counselor because there is little wiggle room at this point to change a student's schedule.

Yes, if you push hard enough, often the counselor will adhere to your request, and if you climb the chain of command, from the counselor to the assistant principal of guidance to the principal, you might get your way.

However, consider what this lesson teaches your child. When things get hard, you can wiggle your way out. And if the parent is doing the pushing, that doesn't present your child in the best light as someone who knows how to advocate for herself. And, when it comes time for the counselor to write the required Secondary School Report, what memories do you want that counselor to have of your child?

All schools make it difficult to change classes due to a personality conflict or preconceived notion about a teacher. You will need to prove your point, first by encouraging a private face-to-face conversation between your child and the teacher. Students often fear this endeavor, in particular retribution from the teacher. I know I always deeply respected students who sought me out before or after school or during lunch. I felt like they really cared about the course and wanted to figure out how to learn in my class. Avoid e-mail conversations at all costs. Tone can be misconstrued and even though it might be the easiest way to communicate with your child's teacher, picking up the phone is always the best option.

My teacher hates me

As a former teacher, it's hard to imagine that I would spend time hating a student. Most of my colleagues don't hate teenagers. Even the veterans, with one step out the door who've been teaching the same way for years, generally don't hate teens. But, it's the student's goal to establish a working relationship with all teachers in order to find great success in their class.

Teachers certainly have bad days, and often during the first few weeks of school they lay down the law, but hate your teen?

Doubtful.

Maybe they have a different personality than your child. Maybe they don't provide a dog and pony show every day. Maybe they prefer structure and have a bad sense of humor. This still doesn't mean they hate your child.

Be careful with forming an opinion of a teacher before you and your child get to know him or he has a chance to get to know you.

My friend/sister/best friend's mother had Mrs. Blue and said she's really hard

Because students have different learning styles, different personalities and different levels of tolerance for certain types of teachers, be careful about jumping to conclusions right when you see a teacher's name on your class schedule. It's the student's job to adjust to the teacher's style and that skill will serve your child well for the rest of his academic career and, more importantly, life. Encourage your child not to take the easy way out, but rather choose to be challenged. The hard teachers are often the best ones in the department. They know their stuff, demand more of their students, and prepare their students for the next year's curriculum.

Keep in mind that some teachers elect to lay on a heavy homework load the first couple of weeks of school in order to weed out the students they feel are unprepared. They often discourage students who don't study hard enough for the first test, aren't back into the swing of things and fail to do homework from staying in the class.

I want to change teachers because Mrs. Green is cool and offers extra credit

Yes, it's unfortunately true that at most schools, within most departments, the curriculum, lesson plans, novels and grading scales are not aligned. Some teachers are tougher graders than others.

"I don't give out many A's," they say the first day of class.

Some teachers offer rubrics and clear standards for performance while others do not. Some believe in the power of extra credit to motivate kids, and others feel it isn't fair to offer this grade boost when there are students who work hard all year and are deserving of their high grades.

Your children will always be faced with teachers whose personalities, teaching styles and even lifestyles won't align with theirs or yours. They just have to deal with it and figure out how to succeed despite how they initially feel about a teacher.

In my office, I consistently hear excuses for lower than average grades. No. 1 on that list is "My teacher sucked. He hated me. I couldn't talk to her."

I follow up with questions like: "Did you ever go in to speak with your teacher? Did you ask him for extra help?"

Don't tie the fate of your semester grade to a preconceived notion about a teacher.

Unfortunately, the way students react to what they perceive as a bad teacher ultimately could influence their college admission.

If he hates his teacher and therefore, doesn't do well, that next level in the subject is going to be painful. A red flag will be raised and college admissions officers will wonder, "What's the deal?"

Your child won't be able to explain the grade away by stating, "The teacher was horrible."

And, in your child's senior year, he will need two teachers in different subject areas to write his college recommendations. Colleges prefer that students utilize junior year teachers for these, but you never know if your child's freshman or sophomore year teachers will be moved into an upper grade level course and your child will land in "that class" again. Positive impressions are the key to getting those solid teacher recommendations.

Building strong relationships with teachers is critical to your child's success in school. I encourage students to share with the teacher what they do outside of class. That's one way to connect with him or her, even if your child thinks there's no way to relate to him or her. I'm not suggesting they need to be "BFFs" with their teachers, but they at least need to give it their best shot.

Don't give your child the option to drop the class. Give them the guidance and support they need to advocate for themselves and learn the bigger lesson of working with and for a variety of people and personalities. They're in there for the long haul and need to stick it out.

LISA McLAUGHLIN is the founder and executive director of EDvantage Consulting Inc., an independent college admission counseling firm in South Orange County. Her column runs Saturdays. Send college admissions questions to Lisa@EDvantageConsulting.com.

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