Teachers frequently feel they’re being shot at from all sides despite best intentions and efforts. The principal wants to know why your whole class isn’t in the top percentile; other teachers call you a soft touch for not unequivocally showing the kids who’s boss; and every third parent is on your case about their children being entitled to special consideration.
You feel like telling them they don’t always get everything right either, but handing out pieces of your mind wouldn’t do much for your professional image. So is there any way to deal with these self-appointed critics and perhaps convince them to lay off—without undermining your chances of earning tenure?
There are enough conflicting theories of education to undermine any teacher’s confidence, especially if you’re new to the field. Rather than getting hung up on the best modes of discipline or the proper way to teach math skills, start by determining what values you want to instill in your students. Integrity? Self-confidence? Empathy? Then make a point not only of reinforcing these values through your curricula, but of being an example of someone who lives as you believe.
Also, remember that while values are universal, they may manifest different ways in different people. One child may be naturally generous with her time, another with his property, and a third with patience. You want to be respected for doing your best according to your own unique personality, so grant your students the same privilege.
Parents, accosted by strangers who think the children shouldn’t be eating ice cream, need only walk away after a firm, “Thank you, and good day.” Teachers rarely have that privilege: even during off hours, just about everyone who criticizes your teaching is someone who can find a channel to retaliate if you treat their complaints as insignificant.
Whether in the break room or at a parent conference, make a point of acknowledging all concerns as valid: even if you can’t agree with the specific point someone is arguing, you can always find some common ground over wanting the best for a child, a classroom, or education in general.
Need it be said? Never answer rudeness with rudeness: even if you get the last word, the other party will leave armed with behavioral evidence that you are, in fact, an unreasonable teacher. It can help you keep your cool if you remember that the insults aren’t really about you; they’re about the other party’s hurts or hang-ups. You don’t have to take it personally.
And remember, however thoroughly you believe in the above, you will occasionally slip and do the wrong thing. It’s all part of being human, so don’t beat yourself up and become your own worst critic. Learn from your mistakes; offer apologies (to adults or students); then pick yourself up and keep going. Ultimately, what makes a good teacher isn’t doing every little thing just right or keeping up with the latest research. It’s being consistently understanding, patient, and committed—those timeless qualities that outlast all educational fads.What you don’t want to do is get defensive or start an argument. Once voices and accusations are raised, all chances of changing someone’s mind or agreeing to disagree fly out the window.
Even if you get the last word, the other party will leave convinced that you are unreasonable not only with your children but also with everyone else.