One of the toughest parts about growing up has been developing a thicker skin. As a perfectionist and high-achiever, receiving criticism, complaints, and negativity is not typically welcome. Also, I’m a crier. It’s not a habit I’m particularly proud of, but I can admit to crying to a variety of strangers during stressful situations. The pharmacy clerk when my insurance wouldn’t cover hundreds of dollars in meds. The cable company phone operator when I couldn’t understand what they were charging me for. The neighbor when I couldn’t open a jar and I was living alone for the first time. When I feel overwhelmed and powerless, it pours out of me like a stream.
At my job, I make a substantial effort to be strong, humble, and accepting (as well as keep the tears away). I have been working on being less sensitive to the attacks I receive, and learning how to approach them gracefully.
My first year as a teacher, I had a few conferences that threw me off. One parent criticized the way I was teaching foreign language, since it wasn’t the way she learned it. Teaching younger grades, my focus was (and is) on conversational skills and growing a love for language, as opposed to heavy amounts of grammar and memorization. I wondered how much she enjoyed her classes and if she still used her Spanish. Being a new teacher, I didn’t have an immediate defense for myself and felt caught off guard. After time, I learned to believe in myself more and trust myself as a teacher, even when others did not.
Throughout my first year, I received a handful of critical, questioning, and belittling e-mails from parents. I felt the urge to respond to each one immediately, to defend myself with a lengthy explanation, and to call them out for their inappropriate commentary on my job. It only took sending one e-mail too quickly to learn a few important lessons. Take a few hours away; cool down. Think before you press send. Respond professionally and usually, the less you say, the better.
I had a co-worker storm into my classroom and gripe about the awful way I handled a situation. I felt attacked and unsupported. I knew that I had both done the best I could, but also could have done better. I slowly learned to swallow her comments and chose to keep only the useful criticism for future situations.
I spoke to a parent over the phone who was angry about a situation involving her daughter’s opportunity to participate in a class. I explained the reasoning and the system of our school. I mostly listened as she poured out her frustration on me. At one point, she asked why the system wasn’t different, “Isn’t it someone’s job to do this?”. Why yes, it’s my job. Thanks. However, she did not crush my spirits. Letting her harsh remarks slide passed me, I realized I had learned how to respond to her anger without putting the blame on myself.
It hasn’t been easy to build toughness. I’ve got a long way to go. Luckily I have had the chance to survive experiences that taught me valuable lessons. I trust myself and believe in myself, but I admit to mistakes and learn from them. I take time to let my emotions run their course before confronting a conflict. I hear people out when they want to complain, but I also realize they are not always meaning to attack me directly; sometimes I am just the first person who will listen to them.