“What are some strategies for the new school year,” a reader wondered, “when my child’s prior year’s experience with his teacher was bad?”

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While some children look forward to a new school year, that’s not true for all. One reader told Education Lab that her son is worried and anxious about starting first grade because he ended his kindergarten year convinced his teacher hated him.

The teacher seemed overwhelmed and wasn’t able to cope well in the classroom, said Shannon, who declined to give her last name.

“What are some strategies for the new school year,” Shannon wondered, “when my child’s prior year’s experience with his teacher was bad?”

As the new school year starts, we’re answering the questions that are high on your minds this time of year. We’ve received about 20 questions so far — and hope to answer most of those in the next few weeks. Have your own question to add? Just fill out this form.

Counselors and social workers say they hear questions like Shannon’s a lot.


Education Lab is a Seattle Times project that spotlights promising approaches to persistent challenges in public education. It is produced in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network and is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Here are a few strategies the experts suggested:

Stay positive. If a parent is outwardly concerned about another negative experience, the child will pick up on it. And that makes him or her more likely to have one, said Brian Mathieson, president of the Washington School Counselors Association. Assure the child about the new year and new experience, and remember to emphasize that the goal of school is to get an education and that most staff want to make a connection.

“Teach your student that they can take control of their attitude,” said Mathieson, who is also a school counselor in Vancouver, Wash. “A student who has the right attitude can positively influence their teacher.”

Check in with the teacher early and often. Seattle school social worker Julie Sullenszino recommends going to first-of-the-year events to get a feel for the teacher and the classroom. Request a meeting with the teacher to better understand his or her approach to teaching and learning, as well as expectations. Be mindful of the teacher’s busy schedule but make sure he or she is aware that you want to be involved.

Come up with goals. Have a meeting with the new teacher and your child to discuss what happened last year and what everyone can do to make sure the new year goes better. By the third week of school, make sure expectations are outlined for the teacher as well as your child, and check in by the end of October. Don’t wait until November conferences, Sullenszino said.

Remember that schools have other supports. Make sure that your child has friends and other teachers or mentors in extracurricular activities to look up to. Mathieson suggests setting up a time to talk with a school counselor for additional tips and support.