The Life of Bon: How do you deal with criticism?

Sunday, November 04, 2012

How do you deal with criticism?

This is me trying to capture "love" in a picture.  I thought of making my whole body into a picture... turned out looking like a confused ballerina.  Then I tried hugging myself.  Let's just not go there.  Third I tried making one of those stupid hand hearts that are all the rage.  Apparently I have no talent in showing love in a picture.  But you get my drift, don't you?

This post is going to double (or should I say triple?!?) as comment of the week/ pause for introspection/ lecture.  Hubs says I'm good at giving lectures.  Maybe I am.  How else do you think I manage get hundreds of rowdy teenagers to listen to me?

Thursday night I posted this post about what you would do in certain teaching situations I had faced lately.  I told of one student who had not completed the required work, although he came close.  He comes from a tough home life, but even with 5% extra credit, he didn't reach the passing point.  So he failed the class.  Another student copied and pasted from wikipedia.  I allowed him to redo the paper for half the points.  He passed the class.  Friday afternoon this comment from Lilian came a rolling in:

I am very disappointed in you, Bonnie. I can't believe you failed #2. Especially when you knew full well about his family situation. He's trying to help put food on the table. What the heck is wrong with you? I was disappointed at first, but after reading further I lost a lot of respect for you. You passed #4???? Seriously? HE PLAGARISED! But you couldn't pass the kid that goes to school AND works 40 hours a week!!!! Is he a suck up or something? Sounds like you play favorites. So wrong. I hate your attitude towards your students. So negative. They're teenagers not complete idiots. You were one once too. Show a little compassion. Isn't that what your religion teaches?

Pretty brutal, huh?  I mean, attacking my teaching practices, my character, AND my religion all in one- that ain't easy to do!  Hats off, Lilian!

Before I say anything more about my reaction to this comment, I would ask you what would you do?  What would you do if you received a comment like this?  What is your natural reaction to criticism?

Some possible answers:
1.  Get defensive and try to justify your actions.
2.  Erase the comment so no one else can see it and think you suck.
3.  Write something hateful back- attacking Lilian's job, character, and religion.
4.  Close your computer and not think about it again.
5.  Try to not think about it, but have it pester you and affect your mood for at least the next 24 hours.
6.  Remember that you get dozens of very nice comments from very nice people every day and focus on the positive, not the negative.
7.  Take a poll with your student in class the next day asking your students, "Do you think I am negative towards you?"
8.  Think to yourself that Lilian has no idea what it's like to be you, and that she wouldn't be so quick to throw stones if she understood how complicated the lines can get sometimes, THANK YOU VERY MUCH!
9.  Use the negative comment as a way to get more people to read your blog.
10.  Give up blogging.
11.  Forgive Lilian and pray for peace.
12.  Chew Lilian out publicly.

I did a combination of 1, 5, and 9.  The devil in me wanted to do 2,3, 8, and 10.  The saint in me tried to do 4,6, and 11, but with no avail.

My very first reaction was defensiveness.  Isn't that always our first reaction?  My thoughts were running fast and furious. Wow.  I hate that she says I "failed" Adam. (Names have been changed)  As if I made the choice to fail him.  He failed himself.    I understand his home life is difficult but does that mean he really "passed" the class?  He did not learn the material enough to merit a passing grade- he did none of the research required for the research paper and he understood none of the Shakespeare.  For the rest of his life is he going to expect people to do him favors and make exceptions for him because he had a hard home life? And Travis!  He passed with a D-, It wasn't like I was doing him huge favors.  She hates my attitude towards my students?!?  I mean, I make fun of the hoodlums all the time, but heavens knows I love them and I bust my butt for them every day.  And my RELIGION?!?  Are you joking me?  You're going to sit and attack my religion every time I make a mistake?  Yes, my religion teaches compassion, but it also teaches justice and sometimes those lines are so blurry I can't figure it out for the life of me.  So I pray and pray I am doing what's right for these kids and then I just try my hardest to make the best decisions for them and pray that God will make up for the rest.

That was me going on the defensive.  Reaction Numero Uno.

My second reaction was #9- Use the comment to attract more traffic to my blog.  I posted it immediately on my twitter and facebook, beckoning all to come see the hate comments.  I watched as traffic spiked in the next couple of hours, and I felt an odd sort of vindication.

My third reaction was #5.  I tried to put it out of my mind, but still, it festered.  Festered there in the back of my head all day.  "You hate your students.  You don't live your religion.  You play favorites.  You suck."  Was I really conveying a negative attitude about my students?  Did I really treat them like they were stupid?  Should I have given Adam the extra 3% he needed to pass?  Should I have not allowed Travis to redo the paper?  I couldn't shake it and I was grumpy and irritable the rest of the night.

My fourth, and final reaction is #12.  To chew Lilian out online.  Lilian, and anyone else who uses the safety of the internet to write mean, hateful comments to people they don't know.  Lilian, I can honestly say that I try my very hardest to be a good teacher.  It is exhausting work and I have the needs of 270 students to think about.  I may misjudge.  But I love those students and I slave away day in and day out and I wake up at 5:55 five days out of the week and drive 45 minutes to school in the pitch black and 45 minutes back in rush hour traffic so I can teach them, and believe me I could get many higher paying jobs.  But I love my students and I love teaching.   I read every single one of their little papers and I put all of their grades in on time and don't you dare sit there and tell me that something is "wrong with me" because I made what you see as a wrong call. You have no right to attack my teaching, you certainly have no right to attack my religion, and you are hereby formally disinvited from ever reading or commenting on my blog again.  Amen and amen.

And now, readers, tell me.
How would YOU react?

P.S.  You should follow me on twitter.  And facebook.  It's always a freaking party.


  1. I hate that people use the internet as a safety net to say rude, hurtful things. Heck I even had a boyfriend break up with me over the internet once, ha!

    I think you did the student a favor by failing him. I remember having a tough time in a math class once and even though I didn't fail I retook it simply because I didn't feel confident with the material. Having another shot at the class could help him build a better foundation for upcoming classes he takes.


  2. Tough stuff!!! Honestly, I am a very defensive person so that would have been my first instinct. People are entitled to their opinions but they are not entitled to be so hateful and judgmental! Terrible. Bonnie I think you handled this with grace, but I am very glad you did not let this Lillian person go without knowing she was out of line. Hats off to you :)

  3. I would have gone all bat s crazy. But that's me. I will never understand the cruelty of the Internet. Ok great, Lillian didn't agree with you. Cool. But did she have to attack? I think it's your right to fire back and defend yourself. It's your blog. I've read tons of blogs thus political season and I've just smh and moved on.

  4. You go Bonnie! I think you handled this negative comment with such grace and poise I sincerely applaud you. When I re-read your last post just to refresh my memory, I think you did all the right things.

    I can only imagine that failing a student is heartbreaking, especially when you know their back story. But I think what we non-teachers fail to remember is that many high school teachers do the open door policy. "If the door is open during free time and you need help, get it." If that policy is in place and he or she doesn't utilize it... why should they pass?

    Bonnie, I'm in awe of you. You high school teachers work hard, fight for money for the school you work at, get paid really little, and don't receive as much credit as you should. Keep being you.

    I pray that the people who write/speak rude comments be filled with understanding and be reminded that as humans sometimes we make the wrong calls.

  5. You are a better and more mature person than me BonBon! I would have let the ugly in me win and acted a fool! Good for you! And we all know you love those hoodlums! :) you are awesome no worries!
    -Meesh :)

  6. I always find it incredible when someone attacks a teacher about their attitude towards their students. I will never forget hearing a parent at my job accusing her son's teacher of "hating children" because her son wasn't doing well in this particular class. I find it hard to believe anybody would take a job as a teacher (where they are under paid, work long hours, and are treated the way they are) if they didn't love children/their students and want to make a difference. I think you had a hard choice to make, and while I have no idea what I would do, I respect your decision was hard and would never use the internet to bash you in this way. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but this is YOUR blog and if they don't like your attitude, they can quit reading...Sorry for the drawn out comment, this post apparently got me fired up :) Anyways, I enjoy your (apparently somewhat controversial) posts and I think it's great you can take humor to diffuse an otherwise stressful job. Keep it up!

  7. I would just like to second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and AMEN again your #12 reaction. That is all.

  8. I think it is wrong to attack in a post, which is what she did. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I myself thought that it was pretty harsh to fail him considering his situation, but I am not in your shoes doing your job,so I imagine you made the best call in that given situation

    Unfortunately as bloggers we open ourselves up to comments both good and bad, I personally would ignore her

  9. Bonnie I love the way you are handling this situation. Rock your blog and your classroom on!

  10. Hmmm... a few thoughts. First, I'm kind of surprised you don't get MORE negative comments than the ones you've mentioned. Do you ever read the online comments following an editorial? They are horrible! So, to have only a few here and there is actually pretty good. People can get really nasty online. And I wouldn't put too much stock in it if she's a complete stranger, because she only knows you through your words on your blog. She's never seen you in person, talked to you in person, or seen you teach. So she may read into your words the wrong way, because she doesn't know you or your sense of humor. And lastly, I wouldn't get too defensive about the religion thing. She wasn't attacking your religion, just making a little stab.

  11. Anonymous9:57 PM

    I choose number 8 bc Lilian CLEARLY has NO idea what she is talking about. She "hates" your attitude towards your students? Seriously? Well, I hate her immature and hasty judgment upon someone she doesn't know!! A person cannot conclude from your few scenarios how you really are as a teacher. This person does not know ALL the details of the situation, like what assignments the student failed to do on his own choice, and made a rash judgment. Shame on HER. She is obviously NOT a teacher or she would have seen how difficult this profession is and how difficult these decisions are and not been so judgmental. If she is a teacher, then I just may have to judge HER teaching practices...!

  12. Anonymous9:57 PM

    Good for you for defending yourself! Teachers seriously have to make HUNDREDS of decisions everyday and guess what? They are NOT all going to be the perfect and best decision every single time. That's impossible because teachers are HUMANS not perfect robots who can help every single student 100% of the time. I am sick of how unrealistic expectations of teachers are.

  13. You are amazing. Enough said.

  14. I think the fact that you get the occasional hater just proves that you are what makes the vast majority of the of rest of us keep coming back to read what you write...and that is brave and real and willing to be vulnerable. My guess is Lillian doesn't like her own life very much. Don't let that sad fact change what we all love about you! You rock! :)

  15. I'm a little torn- your original post was all about the "grey/gray" in teaching; that situations in your day-to-day work are not at all black and white. That was excellently conveyed in the original post and what made it so compelling.

    BUT, you did ask for feedback. She didn't need to get quite so personal, but she gave you the feedback you asked for. She is incorrect to say that you lack compassion. Even a cursory look at your blog shows how much you care for your students.

    It is disappointing to receive comments like that. But you aren't perfect either. I felt a little "squiffy" about this post: "High School and Blogging: One and the Same?" (2 October) because you basically bitched about another blogger and used her photo without crediting the source. I know that was a while ago, but it really bothers me when people break copyright. I'm sure you wouldn't accept a student quoting someone else without acknowledging it (ie plagiarism) so I think bloggers should be careful about similar things on the net. Blogging is a relevantly new source of conetnt and I know that we all have a way to go together. I'm definitely not perfect- far from it!

    Anyway I really enjoy your blog Bonnie. I love that you deal with difficult issues. I'm just trying to point out that maybe the Lillian issue isn't black and white either.

  16. Bon,

    I LOVE READING YOUR BLOG. I cannot say this enough. And I have never in my life written a comment that disagrees with the writer so please do not take this any other way than just what I, in my personal and humble opinion, would have done....

    I would have failed them both.
    regardless of the first kids home life, if he wants to have a job and go to school he needs to learn to juggle it. That sounds awful...and I do know what it is to struggle financially but it is what it is. You have to do your best at all commitments in life, or you are wasting your time.

    the second kid should have been failed as well. He got lazy. He should have had consequences regardless of his past efforts in your class. What he did was wrong...and now that he got away with it with you, he will continue to do it. He walked away learning nothing. and if anything, the decision to pass him probably hurt him more than helped him.

    Like I said, this is my opinion. I do not teach in a school, I am not under that kind of insane pressure. I cannot say enough how admirable the work you do is. You seem to be a fantastic teacher and I will continue reading through your journey!

    Thank you for being so transparent, bonnie!


  17. You did ask for opinions, so it's interesting that there is an entire blog post dedicated to shaming someone who gave an opinion that you solicited. I do think it's important to give your opinions in a way that is constructive rather than being negative. However, if we all held our opinions in, there would be nothing to write about, would there?

  18. I would do number one immediately, then I would consider number 2 and 3. After all was resolved i'd still be on number 5 and i'm pretty sure i'd do a text poll (number 7). I have been known to do #12 but I wouldn't in this case...i think. I would never do 10. 11 is just too hard for fresh wounds. And eventually number 4 would be my resolution.

    Princess Stephie @ Icecream To Bellyrings

  19. Also, I love you and I love your blog. All good vibes to you my dear :)

  20. Let me just say that I hope you don't ever stop talking about your students. I know that you love your job, and I can see that you are an awesome teacher. But let's be honest, teenagers are just dumb and funny sometimes, and we all love to laugh at them. Don't stop!

    Lilian is dumb.

  21. Hm, well I would probably just brush it off. You can't please everybody, but I'm sure it doesn't feel nice to have someone come to YOUR blog and make you feel attacked.
    I know it can't be the first time you've had people say things that aren't filled with flowers and hearts (like the post you wrote about parking in the handicapped spots), but I defintiely think that there is a fine line between someone expressing their opinion in a respectful manner, and someone being just plain mean to you.

  22. I love the whole "you failed the student" line. No, you did not fail the student, he failed by himself. You even gave him extra credit and he stilled failed. That is not your fault.

    You handled Lilian a lot better than I would've...but I have a foul mouth at times and I speak before I think. It's one of my best features, haha! {that was sarcastic}

  23. She had no right to judge you like that. How can anyone be so authoritative about their opinion when they don't even know the full story of these situations?! I hate how the internet allows people to say hurtful things that they would never say out loud in real life.

  24. first I would probably cry as I am way to sensitive. I love that you use it and it brings more traffic to your blog. I don't understand why people write mean things - I just don't get it! I'm glad you're standing up for yourself too! you are a great teacher and a hard worker!

  25. You are a stronger woman than I am, because I put up a tough game face--but I would have cried. Taken down the blog post, and let that comment irritate me for 24+ hours. Probably to the point where other were like "Is she stable?" But really, I don't think that woman had a right to criticize so harshly! Geeze. I can't say what my knee jerk would be because I've never been in this situation before. I like the point you make about you "failing" him. He failed himself! Even with the extra points he still could not pass.

  26. It's so hard to know how to handle things when someone attacks you full on...and when they attack my religion then that takes on a whole new box of angry. I don't think you showed favors. When it comes down to the boy who works and go to school it's sad that he has to do that but life is not going to go easy on him because things are rough at home. I wish life was that way but it isn't. You're the teacher and it is your decision and if they feel they could have done better then they can go to school be a teacher and do it their way. Passing down judgment is so much easier. I leave the judging to God...lest ye be judged. Hang in there and keep smiling!! :)


  27. You go girl! I appreciate your honesty...that's why I love your blog so much. I love the fact that you don't try to make your life or job seem perfect. You are so real! Don't let the haters bother you. Hope you have a great week!!

  28. Great post! Thanks for stopping by...I am enjoying delving into your blog as my little bosses allow ; )

  29. First I totally relate to the dilemma of passing one kid who 'seems to not deserve it' and not passing another 'who seems to deserve it more' and I agree with your decision to not pass the student... You are so right, passing them just teaches them that people will give them what they didn't really earn because of their bad home-life.

    I have refused to pass multiple students due to this, even when my boss (or other teachers) has asked me to. It is a hard decision to make each time. But if we pass those kids it teaches them they will get favors in life.

    Also I am glad you wrote a post following up the negative comment. People need to not be so judgmental about teachers decisions. We do give so much to our kids, and to assume that we don't care about them is hurtful.

  30. Oh my goodness! I have a feeling I would have reacted the same way. You were really in a tough spot to begin with, and for someone who doesn't know you or the complete situation to voice such a dramatic opinion is really sad on her part. My mom was a teacher, you all sacrifice so much. Teachers are the best! Good luck and keep on keepin' on :)

  31. Here is the thing about teaching: You can't compare two different situations. You just can't. When I read her comment I hadn't even thought to compare those two because each student is unique and needs help in different ways.

    Secondly, everyone that is saying you opened yourself to criticism is WRONG. You asked how they would handle it, not for them to tell you if you handled it in a way that was acceptable to them. There is so much to know about each kid that can't be put into a short blog post. You have WAY more information than us, and so you are the best qualified to make that judgement.

  32. First off, I would hardly call what she said "criticism." What she said was hurtful and rude. Her whole comment reeks of ignorance-she doesn't know the complete situation about your students, she hasn't been with them the whole semester, and anyone who attacks someone else's religion over something like this, clearly doesn't know a whole lot about said religion.

    You use your blog as a venting space and to get your thoughts out. There are always people that are going to disagree with you, so just keep on doing what you're doing :) Haters are gonna hate, no matter what you say.

  33. I would have composed a very organized and very nasty tempered retort/justification/dismissal. Then I would have thought about how small and pathetic her life must be that she feels like this kind of nastiness is acceptable human interaction. I bet her 40 cats don't even like her...

    Btw... you have one of THE HARDEST JOBS EVER... and also one of the most important. I would not judge you... only applaud you.

  34. New follower (saw your comment on my blog last week! Thanks for stopping by.)

    First I think the internet makes it so easy to say things to people that you would never in a million years say to their face. I think when you ask for an opinion someone is bound to leave a comment like the one she left.

    Also it is easy to make a snap decision when you are not the one in the actual position as the teacher. Of course you can say you would do this or that but until you are actually in a situation you have no idea!
    Thank god for all you hs teachers out there!!! You have a special heart to teach those teenagers. I could never do it.

  35. You did what you feel is right. I agree with your decisions. That kid can't use his situation as an excuse, because he will do that for his whole life.

  36. Great choices and reactions, I think. I was one of those who jumped in and defended the fact that everyone is different and doing their best, and I don't even know you. Negative comments online just bother me because they are so easy to put out there without harming yourself, but they take the other person down. Why?? What does it actually help? I think you handled it well though. :)

  37. I read your original post, and I picked similar choices to yours. Why? Because I am a teacher too. Or was, I guess, before I birthed a kid. The thing is, you know each of your students individually and what might seem like the "wrong" choice to an outsider, it might be exactly what that student needs. Sometimes leniency is necessary, and other times, yeah. They need to see that THEY have failed because THEY didn't do the work and maybe that will get their butts into gear next quarter. No two kids/situations are the same. Teachers (and parents) make tough (and unpopular!) decisions because it is THEIR JOB. And honestly? Those choices show that you DO love your students- if you didn't, you would just pass them all willy-nilly.
    I hate that people say things on the internet that they would NEVER dare to say to you in real life. harsh. Can't we all just be a little bit kinder?

  38. Haha....oh boy. I don't understand negative comments. I'm all for constructive criticism but that comment just seems nasty. What's the point? There are so many other ways to say you disagree. And you did nothing wrong by "failing" that student. You are supposed to be preparing students for the real world and the real world doesn't care about your problems at home. He knew what was required of him and he chose not to do it.

  39. I have to say, technology can be really awesome. Reading blogs is a lot of fun for me, but the internet has done nothing to make us kinder. Your asking for our opinions about what to do did not equate to asking our opinions about how we think YOU handled those situations. I'm not a teacher. I have never spent a single day teaching high school, and for me to think I have all the right answers would be absurd. When I read each question, I thought I might handle one or two differently than you did, but that doesn't mean my decisions would have been right. I know you've been attacked in the past for certain posts, and I just hope that you don't allow cruel comments to hurt you (though I know they would certainly hurt me). I wish people would treat others with respect. If God so loved us, we ought to love one another. <---I need that reminder as much as anyone!

  40. One of my favorite quotes...

    "You have enemies? Good. That means you have stood up for something, sometime in your life." - Winston Churchill

    Rock on, Bon!

  41. I was one of those nosy people who clicked the link on FB just so I could see your post and the hateful comment after : ) And I came back just so I could defend you. Something I've learned about blogging is that it's so easy to be brave when you're behind a computer and not face to face. I don't really have anything to say about Lilian. I think you covered it : )

  42. I honestly didn't even think about the initial discrepancies in your treatment of the student. I think I probably would have failed the one who plagiarized as well, but that's because I think it is so incredibly lazy and stupid to do so. And in college, you will immediately fail, no questions asked. No nice teachers like you.

    BUT even if I disagreed, I still don't understand the necessity to be rude to you personally. While you did invite disagreement while asking for opinion, you didn't ask for an open attack. In our age of information, nasty, anonymous comments are part of the game, unfortunately. I can't read comment sections on any news, political, or sports article without getting incensed. It's a sad indication of the vitriol in our country today.

    As for what I would have done afterward, I probably would have done 1, 5, and 12. I wish I could do 10 instead, and I would hope that it would be my response, but I unfortunately would probably settle on 12. Though sometimes 12 is the even more immature way to go, unfortunately. Taking the high road is always easier said than done though. Don't let the hatas get you down!

  43. She was a bully in her response. She is allowed to disagree with your decision but she was personally attacking you. Boo for her.

  44. LOVE how you handled this! And you sound like an amazing teacher. :)

  45. First of all, not as many people can be so honest as you are, even if it`s on your account. Secondly, she can disagree with you, but it would have been good of her that she said all that in more assertive way, and not like this - attacking! Of course that your first response was defense. And thirdly, I think taht your answer was completely right and "on its place". She should envy you on knowing how to say ones attitude on in a proper way. You go, girl!

  46. And let's be real, Lilian probably isn't a teacher, so she has NO IDEA what it is like to make those calls. I am a fellow teacher in Georgia, and even though I teach 4th grade, I can understand exactly why it is so hard to make those decisions.

    You know your students, you know your job, and you know yourself. The lines are never black and white in education.

    I loved this post and the What Would You Do post.

  47. Wow, great post! I'm horrible when someone criticizes me. I turn it all in on myself and make it worse. You are an inspiration!

    Thanks for the follow from the Empowered Living Hop! Happy to follow back and I can't wait to hear more.


  48. Well, I commented on the original post with my thoughts on the situation..I liked that post because people really have NO idea what it's like to be a teacher unless they are one so that post really did highlight just some of the decisions we go through on the daily.

    I'm interested in some of the commenters on THIS post who are saying, welll you did ask for feedback. it's like, you didnt ask someone to be totally rude! you just asked what they would do in the same situation! i am kind of impressed that lillian didn't make herself anonymous interested if you responded to her comment via email and if she reads this post if she has anything to say! how can people have such negativity ill never know!!

    keep on keepin on bonnie! you're great and im pretty sure that's why we all keep coming back to read!! :)

  49. The more I read your blog the more I love you. YOU GO GIRL! Tell it like it is!

  50. I think you gave ample opportunity to redeem the grade on both students' parts. I have taught in a school where many students had difficult home lives. One of our teachers gave grades and let them get away with all sorts of inappropriate behaviors. I did not. And my students hated me - at first. But, in the long run, they loved me and I loved them. Students feel more accomplishment when they EARN their grades. You are preparing them for real life. The end. You did what I would have done.

  51. I am a high school teacher too--and I can't tell you how much I love this post! I just recently had to deal with some very similar situations with the end of the quarter last Friday. Loved reading this post! You said it perfectly!