At some point, unfair criticism happens to everybody.
Especially if you’re a newer teacher or new to a school and have yet to establish your reputation.
Maybe your principal saw something out of context.
Maybe they witnessed a few students acting up outside of your classroom door and assumed you didn’t have control of your class.
Maybe they walked into your room during a sloppy transition but didn’t stay long enough to see how you fixed it and how perfectly your students did it the next day.
Maybe a colleague whispered or intimated something about you or started a rumor about your teaching that wasn’t true.
It can be demoralizing.
To know that you’re doing a good job and no one knows it, or to have your principal or others believe erroneously that you’re not in control of your class, can be frustrating and stressful.
It can affect your confidence, your peace of mind, and your enthusiasm for your work.
For all its rewards, teaching can sometimes feel as if you’re constantly being judged, constantly needing to prove you’re an expert and in control of your craft.
Sure, you can lean on the knowledge that you’re doing right by your students—and it’s important you do so—but unfair criticism still makes putting a smile on your face more difficult.
But here’s the thing, and the point I’d like to make:
Those moments when the boss walks in at just the wrong time, or the long months when no one knows who you are, what you stand for, or the excellent work you’re doing, don’t matter.
They don’t matter one bit.
In fact, you can turn them into your advantage. Because unfair criticism keeps you on your toes. It forges your determination and mental toughness. It produces even greater excellence.
In time, it will also be corrected.
You see, if instead of worrying over something you have no control over, or worse, trying to explain yourself—which often backfires—you put your head down and stay the course, then your true reputation will reveal itself to everyone on campus.
It may be a vague awareness at first, but eventually it will spark, then flame, then burn so bright that it can’t be ignored.
It may take months. It may take a year. It may take three years if you’re at a large school or you’ve struggled your first few years on the job. But it will happen. Always, always, always.
It cannot be denied.
One day, when you least expect it, your principal will mention offhandedly how much they trust you, appreciate you, or wish other teachers were like you.
Colleagues will start treating you differently. They’ll ask for your opinion. They’ll seek your advice. They’ll stop pretending you don’t exist.
When I was a new teacher, my principal would leave notes of praise and encouragement in my mailbox.
Sometimes they included specific things she noticed while observing me. Sometimes she would relay a comment made by a student or parent. Sometimes she would just tell me how happy she was that I was part of her staff.
The notes were written on expensive cream-colored stationery in the artistic script of a bygone era.
And they meant the world to me.
Nowadays, however, and at far too many schools, such sentiments are long gone. You may scarcely even get a hello. Maybe it’s because your administrator doesn’t want to single out quality teaching. Everyone gets a trophy.
Maybe no one ever taught them the fundamentals of leadership. Maybe it’s the pressure of test scores, budgets, and spreadsheets.
But when that moment of validation comes, however unintended, just remember how it felt before, when you were unproven and misunderstood.
Remember the loneliness of being left out of what can sometimes be a clique-ish culture. Use it as fuel to maintain your independence and willingness to be a friend to all.
Let it inspire you to be the mentor, the encourager, and the leader that newer, quieter, or underestimated colleagues aren’t getting from anyone else.
Notice them, their quiet dignity, and the nuances of their good work. Say something. Write something.
Be that person you needed.
When there was no one there.
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