How To Handle Unfair Criticism And Turn It Into Your Advantage

Smart Classroom Management: How To Handle Unfair Criticism And Turn It Into Your AdvantageAt 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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51 Responses to How To Handle Unfair Criticism And Turn It Into Your Advantage

  1. Sue Shuppy September 2, 2017 at 8:04 am #

    Thank you so much for this! I’m sharing it with the staff.

    • Michael Linsin September 3, 2017 at 10:17 am #

      You’re welcome, Sue.

  2. Kathy Garrison September 2, 2017 at 8:17 am #

    It is hard being the new teacher. I made the mistake at the beginning of the year of almost daily having a difficult child removed from the classroom, sometimes by dragging, and now it is a joke to the other children to see how long he will last. I became the teacher I didn’t even want to be because I had followed what other teachers had done with him in the past. I have not worked out a solution to this yet. His singing loudly and throwing things at other students, playing with the fire extinguisher can’t be allowed but dragging him out of class isn’t working, in fact I can see where it will simply get even worse. Calls home and to the office have had zero effect. I have never felt more alone.

    • Ellie September 2, 2017 at 9:14 pm #

      Hi Kathy, I have a couple of kids that used to be like that. My suggestion, don’t react with any emotion to his behaviour. Calmly take the objects off him or move the kids that he is distracting and seat him in the naughty seat until he has calmed down. These kids often thrive on reactions to their behaviour eg emotions, thus turning into the regular classroom performer. Give him an objective to join class so perhaps a reward system or something for everytime he can work nicely with others. Don’t give up though as some kids just need more patience and time than others. Keep working with him and if he continues to be disruptive after going to all these measures then perhaps its time to call for a school suspension? Good luck

      • Rita September 8, 2017 at 12:42 am #

        Ellie, a school suspension is so unlikely to happen these days, isn’t it? It really saddens me that it has to take a lot for a student to be suspended. It’s easier these days for a teacher to be suspended immediately after receiving a false allegation from a student, for example.

        I have been there myself as a new teacher in a school and received no support from the main staff, except that I have to say I clearly sensed the Head was feeling sorry for me. She just had to do what she had to do following rules.

        The situation became worse as it was instigated by the Deputy Head who behaved exactly like Mike describes in his post. Eventually, the LEA decided this should be an internal school matter. An investigation followed and there was no evidence of misconduct from my side. I’d been suspended for a few days, not the child who was misbehaving and whose shoulder I slightly touched to tell him to stop doing what he was doing- exactly what led me to trouble. However, until these days, I have nightmares on those days. Literally!

    • Jamie Wolf September 2, 2017 at 9:28 pm #

      Hi Kathy, It IS hard being the new teacher. There’s so much to not know! And It’s disappointing and demoralizing when your calls for assistance have no effect. I wonder if your colleagues would be more supportive. Sometime a student would rather change behavior than sit in another classroom, especially that of a former teacher who knows his behaviors and doesn’t tolerate them.

      The behaviors you describe all sound like attempts to get attention. It seems that your student has been successful! I wonder what would be some ways that your student could get attention from peers and you in a way that contributes rather than detracts from learning. I wonder also if your other students might have some ideas. What talents does this student have that he/she could use to entertain or impress? Some students are willing to hold on to their desire for attention (and maybe contribute to class) until a later, agreed-upon time, if they can be sure they will have that time. Do you think your student might be agreeable?

      Good luck! Persevere!

  3. Natalie September 2, 2017 at 8:49 am #

    This was exactly what I needed to read right now. I’m a first year teacher at an elementary campus, where I teach pre-k, and have never felt more alone or unsupported at my job. I came from a school that was just early childhood, as an aide, and the administration was amazing. My new school, where I am off

    • Natalie September 2, 2017 at 8:53 am #

      Sorry- phone messed up. Anyway- the principal at my new school where I am a first year teacher, seems to not care at all about my young grade, and I feel like I’m on my own island, all alone. It’s been a hard first week for me, but reading this is encouraging and I thank you for writing it.

      • Michael Linsin September 3, 2017 at 10:19 am #

        You’re not alone here, Natalie. Hang in there. Focus on your students and it will get better. 🙂


  4. Grace Malave September 2, 2017 at 9:13 am #

    Thank you! I struggled after our coaching session and I needed to ask about criticism and I was confused and lost. This is exactly what I needed. Thank you for this article for it is exactly the information that I needed at the time. At the new school that I am I know write gratitude notes to my coworkers and it sets a tone for the culture of the school for appreciation. I hope new teachers are reading this and taking it to heart because it is the reality of the teaching world. Just thank you!

    • Michael Linsin September 3, 2017 at 10:21 am #

      You’re welcome, Grace.

  5. Gayle September 2, 2017 at 9:30 am #

    Thank you for the encouragement. This article is so true.

    • Michael Linsin September 3, 2017 at 10:21 am #

      It’s my pleasure, Gayle.

  6. Kerri September 2, 2017 at 9:41 am #

    I loved this!
    2 parts really stood out to me:
    1. “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.” THIS is absolutely true! After 10 years of teaching, I STILL feel this way ALL THE DAMN TIME!!!
    2. “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.” I have always felt the need to voice my genuine appreciation for colleagues. Especially knowing that they most likely are not hearing that from anyone else. I love to see their face light up, usually surprised, and their immediate smile.

    Thanks for this, Michael! As always, I very much appreciate all of the work you are doing! You have helped me in so many ways. Please keep up your fantastic work!!!

    • Michael Linsin September 3, 2017 at 10:23 am #

      I’ll do my best, Kerri. Thank you for being a regular reader.

  7. Hannah September 2, 2017 at 9:42 am #

    Thank you for this article. This is exactly what I experienced for four years when a colleague started a rumor and the principal believed it. There was nothing i could do. Finally, that principal left, I changed grade levels, and I am once again with colleagues and admin who value me. Those were the longest four years of my life. I suppose it did make me stronger in some ways, but it was very hard to come to work day after day.

    Thank you for bringing up this topic and for the reminder to notice and appreciate what other teachers are doing well.

    • Michael Linsin September 3, 2017 at 10:24 am #

      You’re welcome, Hannah.

  8. Jody September 2, 2017 at 9:50 am #

    Thank you. Your advice is morally upright, even biblical. Thank you for speaking truth.

    • Michael Linsin September 3, 2017 at 10:24 am #

      You’re welcome, Jody.

  9. Christine September 2, 2017 at 10:13 am #

    This might be my favorite of all your posts! Thank you!

    • Michael Linsin September 3, 2017 at 10:25 am #

      I’m so glad to hear it, Christine.

  10. Lindsay September 2, 2017 at 11:34 am #

    Heading into the teaching world myself, I have noticed the cliques and feeling of being ignored. I was hoping it wasn’t everywhere but it sounds as if this is unfortunately the norm. Having read this article however, I can expect for these types of things and people to exist and be better prepared at how to handle them. Thank you for this article!!!

    • Michael Linsin September 3, 2017 at 10:25 am #

      You’re welcome, Lindsay.

  11. Anita September 2, 2017 at 2:09 pm #

    Thank you so much. This is particularly encouraging.

    • Michael Linsin September 3, 2017 at 10:26 am #

      You’re welcome, Anita.

  12. Carol September 2, 2017 at 3:43 pm #

    It was not accidental that this hit my inbox this week. As a very experienced teacher in a new school, I just gotten taken apart by a young parent. My principal did not back me up as I would have liked. In this school, reputation seems to be everything, and I’m beginning to think I can’t measure up. Thank you for the great advice.

    • Michael Linsin September 3, 2017 at 10:27 am #

      You’re welcome, Carol.

  13. TWilliams September 2, 2017 at 5:29 pm #

    I am so happy this article validated my experience. After years of being maligned and talked about. I am validated. I did this naturally, and I kept pressing on despite the ugliness. And I am always rewarded by visitors, each new administrator (we have had a lot). I was made to think I was the problem. “You’re making us look bad.” But I did not ever forget my purpose…. to educate the students in a fun and engaging way. To inspire them to LOVE learning! I always seek out the rejected and isolated teachers, and help and strengthen them, and the turnover at our school is low! To have an administrator ignore you for years and later do a 360 was invigorating. Teaching is its own reward!!!

  14. Elizabeth Conley September 3, 2017 at 6:44 am #

    This article hit home like no other! I have gotten bad evaluations and even lost my job once,because of the misunderstanding I wasn’t a good teacher! I know I am a great teacher! My administrator would come in for just a minute and assume things that were not true, and would never give me a chance! I THINK I’m in a much better place now! Thank you for this article!

    • Michael Linsin September 3, 2017 at 10:30 am #

      It’s my pleasure, Elizabeth.

  15. Sara September 3, 2017 at 8:39 am #

    Thank you for this one. I have been reading your work for the last couple years, and your advice has helped me with my consistency and classroom relationships. But THIS article is the first one that has pushed me to leave a comment. Working as a teacher is demoralizing. It feels like the new trend in principals and leadership is to insult you into compliance. My school has developed such a negative, blame-throwing culture. Last year half our staff quit; three of them quit mid-year. This year we have 8 first year teachers out of 20 teachers on staff. I really appreciate the encouragement to leave them positive notes. It’s something I’ve thought about, but seeing it here on a blog I respect has made up my mind. Something has to change, and if leadership isn’t changing, then it needs to come from the staff.

    • Michael Linsin September 3, 2017 at 10:31 am #

      Good to hear from you, Sara. Thanks for sharing and leaving a comment.

  16. Fran September 3, 2017 at 2:25 pm #

    Thank you, Michael. You are so insightful. Your wisdom and advice are always spot on.
    Wishing everyone a great school year.

    • Michael Linsin September 3, 2017 at 2:39 pm #

      Thank you, Fran!

  17. Alison September 4, 2017 at 8:52 am #

    I was really glad to read this today. Tomorrow is my first day back with students. Teachers began last week and I already was starting to feel judged and negative after a summer of working on positive thoughts. I am not a new teacher. I have been teaching a self contained deaf classroom for nearly 20 years. The principal and assistant principal are both relatively new to our school. This will be their 4th year. My evaluations have not been positive. They don’t see all of the work I put into my classroom environment or the challenges of my students’ language delays. It has been very disheartening. Many special education teachers have left the school because of the negativity with administration. However, there are definitely favorites among them who seem to have no difficulty at all. I do tell myself to just keep doing what I’m doing and to try to follow what was suggested. It’s very difficult. I was glad to read your article and to know that I’m not alone.

  18. Olivia September 4, 2017 at 12:47 pm #

    Thank you so much for this. I was feeling down about my position, but this gave me a boost. Thank you.

    • Michael Linsin September 4, 2017 at 1:26 pm #

      You’re welcome, Olivia. No reason to feel down. 🙂


  19. Rita September 8, 2017 at 12:59 am #

    Michael, I am so grateful for your post! Thanks for making me see I’m not so alone in my situation.

  20. Rita September 8, 2017 at 6:29 am #

    Oh wow, now I’m feeling alone, Michael! You have not allowed my posts. Why? That’s hypocritical of you when you write something like that. I know this one won’t show, but why did you do that? Of course it does not matter to you if I unsubscribe. What I say does not matter to you, ok.

    • Michael Linsin September 8, 2017 at 8:34 am #

      Hi Rita,

      I apologize for the delay. You posted your comments in the middle of the night here in California. Of course, I appreciate and value you being a regular reader, very much so, and I’m so glad the article was helpful. You’re definitely not alone. 🙂


      • Rita September 10, 2017 at 11:12 am #

        Thank you, Michael. Apologies for prejudging the situation. I blame my natural anxiety, but also the fact that I have way for too long experienced teaching staff’s hypocritical behaviour saying wonderful things to the children in schools but acting completely the opposite by behaving just like children when it comes to treating their colleagues.

        • Michael Linsin September 10, 2017 at 12:17 pm #

          No problem, Rita. I’m happy you’re a regular reader.


  21. Nicole September 8, 2017 at 10:16 am #

    This right here – this post means the world to me. This was me, a seasoned teacher, coming to a new school three years ago. Everything went wrong the first semester – including my own (young adult) child who was hospitalized for two months with a life threatening condition. Oh my gosh, everything you described happened. I was reflecting on that yesterday – it still impacts me. Even so, I have continued to strive for excellence in myself and my students. I have used these moments to be on my toes and not complacent. I have become a better friend to all. Thank you so much for this encouragement – by the amount of comments you received, other teachers really needed to hear this.

    • Michael Linsin September 8, 2017 at 10:22 am #

      Hi Nicole,

      I’m so glad the post resonated with you. Thanks for sharing your story.


  22. Marília Mostacatto September 8, 2017 at 11:41 am #

    Wow! Thanks alot for this post! I’ve been passing through all this right now and It’s a relief to know that it may pass.

    • Michael Linsin September 8, 2017 at 4:30 pm #

      You’re welcome, Marilia!

  23. Daisy September 8, 2017 at 1:55 pm #

    Thank you very much; this came at just the right time. 🙂

    • Michael Linsin September 8, 2017 at 4:30 pm #

      Glad to hear it, Daisy. My pleasure.

  24. Jo September 18, 2017 at 3:19 pm #

    What do you do when a parent thinks you’re being too strict? I teach in a private school where parents rule. And though I try to be consistent, I often hear about it from the parent about how I am misjudging their kid, so much so that I dread sending a note home. Any thoughts on how to handle this? Or what I could be doing wrong? Thanks!

    • Michael Linsin September 19, 2017 at 8:20 am #

      Hi Jo,

      This is a topic on the list of future articles. Stay tuned.


  25. Anne Schroeder September 21, 2017 at 1:40 pm #

    Hi Mr Linsin,

    I have applied several of your tips in my new class, and I manage to handle the class much better than the previous years, thank you a lot 🙂
    It’s not perfect yet, but I try every day to do my best.
    I have a specific problem with a difficult student, who is farting regularly during class time, causing the other students to giggle or sit with the t-shirt over the nose and make noises of disgust. Should I treat it like you wrote in the article about classclowns? I can’t really apply a consequence since the student tells me he couldn’t hold it back, or it wasn’t on purpose…