The Lost Principle of Managing Criticism

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An emotionally mature person knows how to admit mistakes and can accept criticism with grace and humility. Emotionally mature people listen to criticism and ask themselves if what they are hearing is true. They do not get defensive or angry when someone doesn’t say what they want to hear. Often, the way a person is brought up plays a huge part in determining whether or not a person can handle criticism.

People who are placed on a pedestal when they are young will believe they can do no wrong and will have a difficult time when anyone criticizes them. At the other end of the spectrum, people who are raised in an environment where they were constantly criticized when they were young will also have a very tough time when anyone criticizes them. Often, people from both types of environments isolate themselves and ultimately have a real problem being around people for fear of hearing something that they don’t like.

I was brought up in a family where criticism was the rule, not the exception. My mother’s criticism had an extremely cruel edge to it as well. She was an expert at making each one of her children, including me, feel like a bad person.

When I began my career as a teacher, I was twenty two years old. I was a special education teacher in a middle school in Plainfield, New Jersey. My class was made up of the toughest, most violent kids in the school. Their behavior was terrible and I had a tough time controlling the class.

On one occasion very early in the school year, I was observed by the vice-principal. He came into my room unannounced and watched me teach for a full hour. My kids were not well behaved but I didn’t think they were as bad as they usually were.

About five days later, my principal sat down with me to go over my performance evaluation. I was nervous since performance evaluations determined whether or not teachers get rehired.I knew very well that performance evaluations are designed to point out to the teacher some strength but mostly weaknesses that need improvement. I knew I had to get myself ready for some criticism when I read the evaluation.When the vice principal went over his findings with me, there wasn’t one positive remark in the evaluation. Every category was checked as either unsatisfactory or needs improvement. A mature reaction on my part would have been to engage my boss in a discussion so I could find out what he wanted me to do to improve. Instead, because of my knee-jerk reaction to any criticism whatsoever, my blood started to boil. I want you to understand that I knew my principal was a fine administrator and a real gentleman. Knowing this, I should have realized that he was just doing his job and actually trying to help me. Unfortunately, that thought never entered my mind. Instead, I was having my immature, emotional reaction to him.

A day later, I went straight to the union representative and had him look at the evaluation. He immediately scheduled a meeting between himself, the principal, the vice principal and me. The principal of course supported the vice principal’s findings in the evaluation but he gave me a suggestion that actually leaked through my thick head. He told me to go over to another school and observe another class like mine and see if I could get some help.

I went over to the other middle school in the district and started to observe a veteran teacher work with students who were as tough if not tougher than the students that I had in my class. This teacher had been in the district for many years and had developed so many effective techniques that he never really had any behavior problems. He was a kind, giving man and really took he under his wing. We became good friends. I learned from him and I became a better teacher.

The principal observed my classroom about four weeks later. This time there were positive things going on in my classroom. The kids being were pretty much on task and stayed in their seats. It actually looked like a classroom, not the circus. My new evaluation was great and assured me that my hard work was recognized.

Even though I had had an immature reaction to the first performance evaluation, I had luckily listened to the one recommendation of the principal to visit another classroom. I started out very reactive but, with the help of others, finally realized there was a lot of truth in the criticism that had been included in that evaluation. It probably saved my job.

I Don’t Care Who Hears What I Say: A Haunting Attitude

Many years ago a wonderful friend of mine asked me what the smallest part of the body is. I was very young and probably very stupid at the time and I responded with “Duh, a finger.” He commented to me, “No it’s the tongue.” He also said to me that although the tongue is the smallest part of the body it can do the most damage. I never forgot the conversation that I had with him; unfortunately he has since passed away and I miss him dearly. I could sure use a lot more of his advice and teaching. Our words can really do some damage. Damage sometimes that can be life long, and sometimes we don’t even know what we’re doing, probably because we just were never taught how to shut-up.  Kids and adults can shoot their mouth off and think that they are being funny, or that they’re standing up for themselves when in reality they may be doing more harm than good. I was watching a baseball game very recently and watched one of the players go crazy over a called third strike. This is a grown man.  He had to be restrained by 3 other players and the manager. Of course he was thrown out of the game. He was also suspended for three games right in the middle of a pennant race. I guess he really showed them. What a dope.

We also like to have laughs at someone else’s expense. My philosophy is if we both aren’t laughing it’s not funny. Kids today have a real problem with behavior like this. They say things, get a laugh and really hurt the feelings of another person. I don’t even think that they are aware of the fact that people are listening and not everyone is impressed with their wit, and that they are creating a negative image of themselves in the minds of other people.

That wonderful friend of mine who talked to me about the tongue was also full of illustrations and stories that were inspiring and instructional. He illustrated this societal problem with a true story that I always refer to as the “Deaf Boy Story” and it is worth sharing here.

There were two boys who were brothers. One of the boys was deaf. They had a friend who hung around with them all the time.  This friend was the biggest jokester on two feet. He was always telling jokes or making fun of someone or something. One day the three boys were headed out of the house and this jokester started to make fun of the way the deaf boy spoke. Well the deaf kid couldn’t hear, and the brother gave a half hearted laugh and they left the house. No harm no foul? The deaf kid didn’t hear so no one got hurt. No one else heard right?  No one heard except the deaf kid’s father who was reading the paper in the den.

Let’s fast forward the tape. At the time of this incident these two boys were sophomores in college. Two years went by and they both graduated with degrees in business administration. They both went on the job hunt. This jokester had an interview with a large insurance company. He had to go through one more phase of the hiring process. He had to meet the Vice-President of the company. Who do you think the Vice-President was? The deaf kid’s father, and the only perception that he had of this young man was that he had made fun of his son. It cost him……..the job. People hear and they watch too. You never know when you are going to need someone or something. The things that are the greatest desires of our hearts are the things that will be withheld from us because of our past words or actions. Self-control is important and if your tongue, a one ounce body part, has more control over you than you have over it, it will cost you when least expect it. You never know.

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Bare Feet and White Flour


Have you ever wondered why your parents did some of the things that they did. I did lots of times. My dad had so many regimented activities that I thought he had a screw lose or something. I’m only going to talk about two here because there are too many to put into one essay. I really spent time observing my dad as a kid and listening to him, and it wasn’t until I was about forty that I realized some of the benefits of his behavior and very recently some of the real benefits of his behavior. My dad had an unbelievable fear of getting a cold. He came home from WWII with malaria and tuberculosis. He was always cautious of sharing food, towels, cups, and silverware. Any watermark on silverware in a restaurant was sent back immediately.  I remember one time in a restaurant in New York a fork went back three times. Some people send food back he sent the silverware back. It got so bad that one guy sitting close to use told my dad that the he thought that the waitress was on Candid Camera. If you sneezed you were accused of trying to bring a cold into the house, to try and kill him. He was hospitalized on December 27, 1967 due to a re-occurrence of the TB and was sent to the infirmary at the veteran’s hospital in East Orange NJ for 3 months. When he came out that’s when anything and everything could give him a cold. Two things were absolutes, cold feet and white flour. I never saw my father walk around without shoes or slippers on. He wouldn’t walk three feet without putting on a pair of slippers. If you sneezed he would always ask you what you ate. My sister, my mother, and I thought he was crazy. Bare feet and white flour would make you sick and if you got sick, well as he put it, “If I get a cold I am finished.”

All of these things I observed always stuck with me. When I was about 40 years old I started to battle my weight. Always watching my calories and trying to stay in shape. The Atkins diet started to become very popular along with other diets that restricted carbohydrates, and other foods that contained you guessed it, white flour. Exactly what the old boy was talking about 30 years ago. Suddenly everyone had a carbohydrate allergy, was gaining weight, had type-two diabetes, high blood pressure, and all kinds of health issues because of white flour. I started to watch my white flour intake and I started to lose weight. The stuff I loved as a kid was something that could now kill me. The stuff that my father said could make me sick was making me sick.

Recently I was walking around the backyard with a pair of flip-flops on. I have a tendency to drag my feet when I walk primarily because my feet are kind of flat, something that I also inherited from my dad. I walked from the shed to the concrete walkway and slammed my right foot into an Adirondack chair. I know I broke the middle toe, at least it looked broken. The next day passing through the garage I stubbed the same toe on a hand weight in the middle of the floor. I got into the car in agony looked down at my foot which had the same $3.00 flip-flop on it and I could hear my father say to me, “Will you please put your slippers on.” This isn’t the first time I stubbed that toe but it is the first time it dawned on me that my father knew me because I was just like him. He didn’t want me to go through the same agonies that he had gone through. He didn’t want me to get fat or stub my toes he just had a strange way of letting me know. I don’t think he ever gave me the reason why he did what he did, that’s probably why it took me thirty years to figure it out on my own. If I could ask for something I would ask that my two daughters learn the reasons why I do what I do quicker than I learned things from my father. There’s a question that kids ask all the time “Why do we have to do this?” Sometimes by the time that gets figured out it’s too late. So put your slippers on and have a piece of whole wheat toast, you’ll be glad you did.

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lessons On Character

These lesson are designed to provide the students with a view of some of the quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King and also the character qualities that he displayed as a civil rights leader in the 1960’s. The lesson includes 10 quotes with one bonus quote at the end. Each quote has a character quality associated with it and 5-6 questions that you as the teacher can ask your students that will provoke discussion and give the students a chance to think of their responsibility as it relates to the character qualities. There is a short quiz at the end that the class can take as a whole, with one bonus question. Each question is worth 10 points. The bonus question can be awarded as many points as the teacher would like in order to increase the student’s score.

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How To Listen So That Kids Will Talk About Bullying

Huffington Post

10/31/2016 11:16 am ET | Updated Nov 02, 2016

Signe Whitson Author; School Counselor

In the last several years of working as a School Counselor and speaking with professionals, parents and students across the United States on the topic of Bullying Prevention, one of the observations that stands out to me the most is that parents, in general, are very eager to talk about bullying while their kids, on the other hand, seem to want to do anything but talk to their parents about this topic. The more parents pry, the more kids withdraw. The more parents push, the harder kids push-back — with excuses, minimizations, abrupt subject changes, stonewalling, silence, and sometimes even complete denial that a peer problem exists.

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