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Teacher Is Damaging Child's Self-Esteem

LD and ADD/ADHD Expert Advice from Jerome J. Schultz, Ph.D.

Q: Our 7-year-old has always liked school. She was tested last year and just missed being placed in an LD program. She has an IEP and receives 90 minutes per week of extra help. This year is so hard for her. She's feeling so frustrated with the extra load of work, and the teacher is making her feel worse -- she says the teacher gets short with her when she needs extra help or doesn't understand the question. Our daughter is very sensitive, has low self-esteem, and is rather shy. Do we switch her to another teacher or keep her in this class that is tearing her up inside?

A: Even if the teacher is as sweet as an angel, it's your daughter's perception that counts. You should meet with the teacher and the principal together and tell them that your daughter finds it hard to ask questions in class because she thinks that the teacher gets angry when she does. It might be helpful if the principal or the guidance counselor observes the interaction between the teacher and your daughter. If the process of observation makes the teacher more aware of her style, the problem might be solved. If the observation suggests that the teacher is responding appropriately, you'll want to make sure that this is happening when she's not being observed.

Then tell your daughter that you have talked to the teacher and that you think the teacher is going to help her feel more comfortable in class. Sometimes just "planting" this belief in a child can help her feel like the teacher understands and is trying harder to meet her needs. If your daughter senses no improvement, then I would encourage the teacher to meet with your daughter privately and talk about her feelings. If the teacher asks your daughter what she can do to make her feel more comfortable in class, this may help. If it turns out that this is an insensitive teacher, then a switch may be indicated.

It also sounds as if your daughter is struggling in school. Do you feel that her teacher is teaching in a way that your daughter learns best? If not, then you should ask the special education teacher to consult with the teacher to give her some ideas about how to structure learning so that your daughter feels more successful. Since you say your daughter is sensitive and has a low self-concept, I'd get the guidance counselor or school psychologist involved in this plan right away. Your daughter needs to feel more positive about school, or these problems will get worse.

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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.

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