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Reasons a Student May Be Struggling in School That Aren’t ‘My Teacher Doesn’t Like Me’

Screenshot 2024 04 15 135704 Reasons a Student May Be Struggling in School That Aren't 'My Teacher Doesn't Like Me'

In my previous role as a tutor, I worked with a lot of students who were struggling in school. One of the most common explanations for a student’s academic challenges I heard from both students and parents was that their teacher ‘didn’t like’ them or ‘had it out for’ them. 

Now, in some cases, this may have been true. Students of marginalized identities, in particular, may not have received proper attention from educators. However, in many other cases, a careful examination of the root of the problem would reveal there was much more lying under the surface than a teacher who was ‘out to get’ a student. 
For instance, students may not have the language or emotional skills to describe why school has been hard for them. In other cases, students may feel uncomfortable sharing what’s actually been going on. This could be especially true for teenagers, who may find vulnerability with their parents to be a challenging feat.  One can imagine for many students that it is easier to say something like “my teacher doesn’t like me” than it is to say something like “I can’t figure things out as fast as everyone else” or “I don’t feel comfortable with myself right now, and that makes it hard to be at school.”

Here are some common reasons a teen might be struggling in school that have nothing to do with their teacher: 

  • They don’t have the confidence to ask for help

  • They feel like they can’t make mistakes, so they hide when they do, rather than learning from mistakes or speaking up about needing support

  • They have an undiagnosed learning challenge

  • They don’t feel comfortable in their bodies, and this makes it hard to be at school/be seen by other students

  • They have had trouble connecting with peers and don’t feel like they have anyone to go to for advice or help

  • They are experiencing bullying


Unfortunately, understanding academic challenges as the fault of a teacher can be disempowering. Unless a student or parent has the ability to switch a student out of that teacher’s class, this sort of understanding is a dead end for solutions. 

Disempowering understanding: “My teacher doesn’t like me.” 

Result: May not be an accurate diagnosis of the problem, making it harder to find solutions. May lead family to a dead end if classroom placements are set in stone.

A more empowering stance involves a careful examination of the problem and an honest conversation with a student about what they might need to succeed in class. From this point, students and parents are able to access the resources they need to increase confidence and to see greater academic results. 

Empowering understanding: “I’m struggling because I _______.”

Result: May provide a more nuanced, accurate understanding of the problem, making it easier to find solutions that actually address the issue. 


Attributing academic struggles solely to a perceived bias or dislike is often a generalization of a complex issue. While it’s entirely possible that some students may face challenges due to systemic biases or inadequate support, so many other factors can play a part to their difficulties in school.

By changing the focus from a disempowering perspective focused on blaming the teacher to an empowering one that seeks to understand, validate, and address the root causes of academic challenges, both parents and students can take confident steps toward finding worthwhile solutions. Encouraging open and honest conversations about students’ needs and providing access to the right resources and support systems can lead to improvements in their academics and overall well-being.


  • Meghan Malloy, The Arrow House Program Therapist
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