I’m a high school junior. All was well in calculus until my teacher began picking on me for no reason whatsoever, in a cold, condescending manner. I don’t know why he started doing this to me or how I should go about this tricky situation. He doesn’t do this to any other students, so I don’t think he should be doing this to me. Help!
When conflicts arise with teachers, high school students often avoid confronting the problem directly. Some teens seem to hope the problem will disappear. Others ask their parents to intervene and meet with the teacher. I call those scenarios: “opportunities lost.” So be proud of yourself for taking charge.
Let’s start with the big picture: High school is a laboratory in which we experiment with ways to best manage relationships. The result should be measurable growth in self-confidence, resilience, honesty, kindness, integrity, compassion and trustworthiness. Unfortunately, teens don’t receive enough support to achieve the personal development they’re capable of integrating. A lot of their energy goes toward defending themselves or friends against gossip, bullying, pettiness and chaos. It becomes so overwhelming, many teens can’t wait to graduate. When they do, they’re often surprised to discover that college campuses and workplaces contain the same kinds of interpersonal problems they faced in high school.
It’s likely that your teacher has no idea how awful his behavior feels to you. Here’s a trick for combating condescension: Remember that you are equal and behave accordingly. We cannot control other people’s attitudes and behavior, but we are masters of our own. Begin here: write down the date, time and exact words your teacher says to you that you dislike. After you have a couple of these instances documented, email a meeting request to your teacher. If you meet in his classroom, invite him to sit in a student desk. Position another student desk so you sit facing him. Keep your comments brief and non-accusatory. Use “I” statements. Like this: “I felt uncomfortable in class on Tuesday and I want to explain why. During the lecture on derivatives, I heard you say (for example) I didn’t have a clue and should pay attention. It was my experience that I was paying attention and doing the best I could. I did not appreciate being addressed that way in class and want to discuss what we can do so that I feel comfortable in your class again.”
If your teacher does not apologize and change his attitude toward you in class, take your concern to his department chair and then to the principal. Learning to resolve conflict is empowering. The path I’ve suggested also provides a check for teachers who may not realize that they have crossed a boundary and caused a student discomfort.
One last thing: Don’t take your teacher’s behavior personally. Yes, you felt singled out. On a different day or week, would you have dismissed his behavior? If so, you need self-care. That could be a better night’s sleep, healthier meals, more time with friends, or a daily walk in nature. The more devoted we are to caring for ourselves, the easier it is to tackle daily difficulties and annoyances.