I don’t often write about the details of my job for many reasons. One of them is that with news stories about teachers being suspended or fired for their online activities, I like to try to keep my work as separate as possible from my non-work. I don’t want there to be a connection; I don’t want to be constrained. Not that I would necessarily say anything that might get me fired or suspended, but when you have local superintendents saying that either you support what’s going on – publicly – or you look for another job (and considering what it took for me to get this job, I’m not counting on that), I just tend to figure that silence is the better option when it comes to my work. Here lately, though, it feels like there have been some things coming up with regularity, and perhaps it is time to think (i.e., write) about them.
I don’t know anyone who enjoys dealing with criticism. I know that as a recovering perfectionist who really needs to feel like I’ve got it all under control, it is especially difficult for me to hear that not only have I screwed something up, I’ve SCREWED. IT. UP. I have this terrible fear of failure. I will do just about anything to not fail, and believe me, I know how unhealthy that is.
When it comes to teaching, that means that I do a lot of prep work to make sure that I have everything I need ready to roll. I might not always have the best lesson planned, but I will be ready when I walk through the door to face children. I take a great deal of pride in my teaching. I don’t know that I am the best teacher. I’ve always claimed to be a decent teacher – not a good or a great teacher – but a decent teacher. I don’t do everything right; I do what works for me. I’m tough, and I’m strict. I have procedures and rules and expectations, and I expect that my students are going to do what they are supposed to. I believe that the orderly environment creates an atmosphere where students are best able to learn.
In the last month, with regard to my teaching, I’ve had to come face to face with criticism of my practice, and it hasn’t been an easy thing to stomach.
There is always a choice with criticism – do you take it in or do you let it go? Do you examine it to see if there is something to be learned from it? And if there is, do you learn from it? Or do you ignore it and continue on the way you were? If there’s nothing there to learn, do you let it go?
I really had no idea where one of the charges hurled against me came from. Neither did my principal. And if it had stayed among the three of us – the “consultant,” my principal, and my self, I could have brushed it off and the next time she came into my classroom, given her what she wanted to hear. The problem was that she didn’t leave it there. She delivered her report – without my ability to respond to it – to my principal AND my superintendent. The things she said about my classroom AND me flat-out weren’t true.
She said I didn’t have a buy in to the strategy that she was monitoring. (a strategy I highly suspect she created out of thin air because when I google for it – I don’t find anything. When my principal asked her to model the strategy because the teachers were having difficulties finding examples of it, the lady said, “Well, it is a little difficult to find. I’ll have to think of a lesson I can model.” Ummmm…you’re the consultant. You’re being paid $6000 for two days of observation – you shouldn’t have to think of a lesson – you should be able to do it with your eyes closed) Both my principal and I laughed about that one because her strategy incorporates technology into instruction, and my classroom was always the one hoarding the laptops because I used them so much.
The day she was in “observing,” I had my students on her pet program and was working through lessons with them – monitoring their progress, coaching them through difficulties, and encouraging them when they were drifting away. She also said that I used no formative assessment and that my instruction wasn’t data-driven, which again made me laugh. One of my “things” is formative assessment. And I explicitly told her that the assignments in her pet program were selected based on results of student pre-test and standardized testing data. Technology is a wonderful tool, but technology isn’t always the best tool…and when I’m doing a formative assessment, I need to know who knows what – which her app didn’t let me do.
That particular instance of criticism, both my principal and I decided that it was something I could let go of because we both knew it was unfounded.
I’m not sure if you can tell or not, but I haven’t let it go. I’m still angry about it. I think what makes me angriest is that her unprovoked attack on me happened in front of my superintendent. He’s never been in my classroom to see me teach; he doesn’t know me from boo. But he now has this image of me…given to him by a woman he trusts. Completely and totally inaccurate and the result of which was an action plan for improvement.
I’d really like to know why but I suppose that isn’t something I will need to worry about again any time soon as I have transitioned to a new position…as an academic coach, no less. A teacher of teachers with regard to best practice. (Go on and let that one sink in)
The other, I’ve had to take a deeper look at myself and my practice and see where I have come up short (and my conclusion was that in that case, I did in fact come up short). As I have transitioned to a new position, I’ve been working with the person who has taken my teaching assignment. She has made several back-handed comments about the level of rigor in my classroom and the lack of differentiation. And she’s done it not just in our conversations but in her comments to students.
I’m not going to lie – it stings. Particularly when she’s said it in front of students.
When I step back and really take a look at what she had to say, I could recognize some truth in it. The problem is that what can be interpreted as a lack of rigor or a lack of differentiation doesn’t take a look at the context. She never bothered to ask me why I spent time on the things I did; if she had, I would have told her why – told her that my principal and I had discussed what I was doing and she felt it was extremely appropriate for our populations and I proceeded with her blessings. If she had bothered to ask me, I would have talked her through how the same lesson plan gets tweaked based on the students in the classroom. But she didn’t ask. I could have shown her formative assessments letting me know where students were, and I could have shown her work samples. But she wasn’t all that interested, I don’t believe.
I think Tuesday afternoon, right before I left, when we were having a discussion about how to proceed with the middle school and senior classes and she was literally in tears, she began to understand. I reminded her that she was dealing with kids with short fuses and even shorter attention spans; kids who’s first reaction is to tell you to fuck off. Things are a little different.
I get it, though. I know what it looks like from the outside; I know what it looks like from the inside. And I know that I could have done things differently, and it probably would have been better for us all. I could feel the truth in her words. I’ll keep it in mind for when I next find myself in a classroom.
These things are still gnawing at me – the one I need to let go of and the one I need to learn from. I wish I could put them to bed but I suspect it will be awhile before that happens. As I look at both of these experiences, I suspect that what really bugs me about them isn’t the fact of the criticism – it’s much more about how and when it was shared. There are ways to do things, and then there are ways to not do things.
How do you handle criticism – founded or unfounded? What makes the difference for you?