Updated 11 February 2013

Dealing with that difficult teacher

Every school has one or two. We're talking difficult teachers. Those ones who seem to hate children, yet have chosen to work with them all day.


Every school has one or two or three. No, we're not talking Overhead Projectors. We're talking difficult teachers.

Those ones who seem to hate children, yet have chosen to work with them all day. Those ones who seem to lurk in corridors purely to catch you out when you are doing something you shouldn't be doing. Who seem to have no life beyond the school and who appear to have been forty when they were born. Sound familiar?

Chances are you would have come across one of these beauties during your school career. Or you're struggling with one now.

So how do you deal with them?
Make a duck, like Donald. Whatever you do, try and stay out of the way. Some people are difficult and thrive on making other peoples' lives miserable, just to prove a point, namely that the world is a miserable place (as it is for them) and no one – especially not you - deserves to be happy. Change classes if you can, play tennis rather than hockey and don't volunteer to help in the bazaar stall, which is run by this teacher.

Keep a low profile. Sometimes you have no choice but to be confronted with this VDP (Very Difficult Person). You can't change classes, unless you drop Maths and Science, and you want to become a vet. And three guesses, no prizes who's class teacher of Grade 10 A? Just do nothing to stand out of the crowd. Make sure you don't get picked on on Day 1, as the rest of the year you will probably be called, "You, boy!".

Do your homework. Even if you don't understand all of it, make a valiant effort, which must be obvious from your writing book. Don't make yourself an obvious target by not having tried at all.

Don't provoke unnecessarily. This is not the class for practical jokes, giggling fits, coming late or obviously copied homework. Not unless you feel like spending the rest of your life in detention. Teachers have a lot of power and are in a position to make your life miserable. Don't create the opportunity for that.

Even dragons are human. If just seeing this teacher coming around the corner makes you look for an escape route, try and think of the fact that this person too gets headaches, washed dishes, showers, goes to the toilet and visits the supermarket. Somehow, imagining someone in the bath always makes them less terrifying.

Ask questions. If you really do not understand, ask the teacher to explain again. The irritation will always be less than when you have failed to do the homework the next day. And after all, the teacher is paid to explain things to you.

Don't look scared. Like lions will pick out the wounded antelope, so VDP will go for someone whose knees are quaking and whose voice is quavering. Be calm and firm. After all, if they go completely overboard, they will be fired, won't they?

Find the soft spot. Every teacher has one. Whether it's motorbikes, travelling, petunias, rock music or Siamese cats. Many an unpleasant scene has been avoided by an innocuous question about the trip to Madagascar.

Ask what the ground rules are. If a teacher has a specific bee in his or her bonnet about chewing gum, or students leaving the room, or whatever, you are entitled to know. If there are any special rules for this class, it is not fair that you get shouted at for something you didn't know you were not supposed to do.

Accept that the wrath is nothing personal. If you ask around, you will probably discover that every student in the class thinks they are the main target of the teacher's dislike. The point is, no one is. Maybe the teacher just dislikes everyone, or had a fight with her mother, or was kept awake all night by the neighbour's cats.

Safety in numbers. Don't approach this teacher alone, don't make any sudden movements and don't turn your back. But seriously, there is safety in numbers. Let's say you have to ask to leave early to go to the dentist – take a friend or two with you. Difficult people are often less inclined to be difficult when faced by more than one person.

Don't be bullied unnecessarily. If you start panicking at the thought of this teacher's class, even though you haven't done anything you shouldn't have, something is wrong. There is a big difference between someone who is hardworking, serious and very strict, and someone who is a bully, who thrives on intimidation and threats. Tell your parents, you class teacher, the counsellor – if enough parents complain, the school cannot ignore the problem.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated June 2010)


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