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When a Teacher Criticizes Your Child, Do This

By Fiona Trembath

An Unexpected Call

I was about to enter the school gates when my phone rang. The phone number on the screen showed it was my children’s high school, so I answered it quickly.

“This is Mrs. Johnstone,” said the stern voice on the other end of the line. “I’m Alex’s math teacher.”

“Hi, Mrs. Johnstone!” I said, chirpy. “How can I help you?”

“Alex needs to learn a thing or two about manners and stop giving me cheek in class,” she snapped.

Were we talking about the same Alex? I looked around me. The sun was shining, my red wheelie suitcase was packed full of props, and I was about to teach character strengths to my own students–the exact opposite of what Mrs. Johnstone was practicing right now. I felt my indignity rise in defense of my son, but instead of biting back, I suggested we discuss the issue at a more appropriate time, and after I’d spoken to Alex.

What to Do When a Teacher Gives You a Negative Report

1. Assess your child’s strengths.

That night, with the teacher’s words still ringing in my ears, I decided to approach the incident with open curiosity and re-visited Alex’s VIA Strengths Survey results, which he and his twin brother had both completed just a few months earlier, as a tool to help them prepare for their final year of high school. Our top strengths are the ones that occur naturally, energize and invigorate us, and increase and sustain our levels of well-being–all things I wanted for my children as they navigated their way through adolescence and adulthood.

I pulled out Alex’s survey results, and there it was: a top, resounding character strength of fairness and justice. This is a fine quality in my 16-year-old son, and something he carries with him in all facets of his life. I took this information with me to my conversation with him.

2. Talk to your child.

After listening to Alex’s version of the story and seeing it through his lens of fairness and justice, what had transpired made a lot of sense to me. Talking to his strengths and telling him I understood why he would felt unjustly targeted gave both of us perspective on the situation. He was also able to see it from Mrs. Johnstone’s viewpoint, allowing him an opportunity to resolve the issue with her— without victimization, blame or lack of responsibility.

As a mother, it was a conversation I was proud of. In the past, I may have simply barged in with accusations laced with disappointment. But coming at a difficult conversation from a strengths perspective certainly hit the mark.


  1. Fox Eades, J. (2008). Celebrating Strengths. UK: CAPP Press.

  2. Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues. New York: Oxford University Press.

  3. Seligman, M.E.P. (2002). Authentic Happiness. New York: Simon and Schuster Inc.