TIP #37: How to Respond When Your Teaching is Criticized

TIP #37 How to Respond When Your Teaching is Criticized

When your teaching is criticized, it can be especially painful if you put your heart and soul into your work, as so many teachers do. How you respond can determine the outcome of the conversation and will speak volumes about you and your character.

I’ve experienced plenty of criticism over the years. I have especially vivid memories of three such occasions. One time was from a parent, one from a principal, and one from a student. 

If you’ve been teaching (any subject) for any length of time, your teaching has probably been criticized. And if it hasn’t, it likely will be sooner or later.

One of those times was completely undeserved. While painful at the time, it ended up being an opportunity to extend forgiveness and grace to a hurting parent.

The other two, although poorly delivered, I took to heart and made changes that helped me become a better teacher.

Sometimes even legitimate criticism can be delivered in a tactless way. Maybe the person giving it doesn’t know better. Or they may have a deeper struggle going on that has nothing to do with you. But even when delivered gracefully and with cause, criticism still hurts.

Whatever the reason behind it, when your teaching is criticized, allow these 3 points to guide your response.

1. Listen.

Criticism can feel like rejection, but if received correctly, it can help you become a better teacher. Try to think of criticism as a gift. After all, we grow the most during challenging times, not when things are going smoothly.

So don’t just tune it out. Consider what was said objectively and look for any grains of truth there may be in it. If it was delivered badly, try to separate the criticism from how it was given.

It can help to use “active listening”. Repeat back what you heard with “What I hear you saying is ____”. Then ask, “Did I get that right? Is there more about that?” Try to really understand where the criticism is coming from and why.

2. Control your reaction.

Resist being defensive and above all, don’t cry! Remain professional. Be grateful that this person is willing to help you learn and grow. Remember it can be as uncomfortable for the person giving the criticism as it is for the one receiving it.

3. Remember your “Why”.

This can be a good time to remind yourself why you wanted to become a teacher. Think about your “wins”… a breakthrough moment with a student or the lesson that went even better than planned.

Pull out those encouraging notes and thank you cards that you’ve saved through the years and read through them again. Acknowledge that your positive experiences outweigh the negative ones. 

If you need to, talk with (or vent to) a supportive friend when your teaching is criticized. This should be someone you can share honestly with who will help you process and offer encouragement. Just be careful not to let this conversation become an attack on the one who gave the criticism.

Above all, be grateful to be in a career where there is always more to learn. Teaching is a marathon…. just keep going!

an inspiring quote:

“Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.” ~ Hillary Clinton

The above quote is good advice from Hillary Clinton. And she should know…. she’s endured more criticism than most of us ever will. But why is it so much easier to say “don’t take it personally” than it is to do it?

My theory is that our identity tends to be closely linked with our work, maybe even more so as teachers. 

We put our heart and soul into helping kids, making personal sacrifices along the way. So when your teaching is criticized, it’s easy to take that as a personal attack.

Rather than dwell on the negative, take what you can learn from it and keep moving forward. How you respond to criticism can be a learning experience for everyone around you.

a question worth considering:

How has criticism shaped you as a teacher?