When Students Complain…

As a teacher, regular classroom or substitute, it is inevitable that at some point, you will have to put up with listen to students complaining about other teachers. There are two things you should do when this happens, and sometimes finding the balance of the two can be tricky. When a student complains about another teacher, you should:

  1. Ignore it,
  2. Pay attention.

See? Tricky balance.

So why both? Sometimes the only way students know how to express their frustrations with a teacher they don’t like is by complaining. You don’t want to encourage this behaviour, but at the same time, you do need to keep an ear open for what might be a legitimate complaint/concern. Things get trickier when you’re the regular classroom teacher dealing with complains about a sub you’ve never met, or when you’re the sub and you don’t know the teachers who are being complained about, or if the students making the complaints have ulterior motives. You also don’t know if students are just trying to get a reaction, or if they don’t like a strict teacher, or if the teacher was in reality inappropriate…

Tricky balance.

If you’re the regular classroom teacher, you know the students and you know which can and can’t be taken seriously. You also have feedback from any teacher replacing you (or at least you should…) and you can compare the teacher’s version of events versus whatever the students are telling you.
If you’re a substitute teacher, we’re back to the tricky balance. It is very likely you don’t know the teachers well, and you likely know the students even less. You don’t want to feed negative attention seekers, but you also don’t want to ignore a genuine complaint. The best thing that I have found to work is to say to the complainant(s), “I’m really sorry to hear that, but unfortunately there isn’t a lot I can do. I think it would be best if you wait till your teacher is back tomorrow and talk about it with them. If you feel that this is something that needs to be dealt with immediately, you can head down to the office to discuss it with the principal/vice principal.” And then, to make sure students aren’t just looking for a free pass, I’ll call the office to let them know someone is coming down to meet with the principal/VP.

HOWEVER, if any students make any allegations about abuse or inappropriate actions that go beyond just being a crappy teacher, report that immediately to the principal or vice principal. It is not up to you to “use professional judgment” in this scenario. Let admin handle this. Remove yourself from any culpability. Don’t get yourself in trouble, and don’t let an abuser off the hook.



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