7 reasons to be thankful when a learner complains about your teaching
While receiving criticism is not something most people would look forward to, there are some positives worth pointing out.
For the highly-sensitive or insecure teacher, there’s nothing quite like the stinging feeling of being told a student has complained about how you teach. It might be tempting to get defensive and dismiss the concerns as nonsense or spite but getting angry or upset can affect listening skills – so first of all, make sure you have understood exactly what is being said.
It presents an opportunity to grow
The learner’s perspective is a really valuable one – they are the ones experiencing your teaching after all. Ask questions to find out what they are unhappy about and if the concerns are fair, acting on them is an investment in your professional development; by validating rather than denying the learner’s experience, you will demonstrate empathy and integrity and this can help build trust and rapport between you and the learner.
It’s a sign you need to be more observant
The most painful negative feedback can come when it’s least expected – when you thought the learner was perfectly happy and haven’t suspected a single thing was wrong. This could mean that you need to tune in more carefully to the student’s behaviour and mood and how they fit into the dynamic of the group. Remember that monitoring an activity is not just about checking whether they are on task – it’s also an opportunity to get a feel for the social, emotional and relational dimensions of the people in the room.
The learner has a sense of agency
By speaking up about a concern or problem, the learner is taking responsibility for their own learning and requesting a change that they feel will improve their chances of success; self-efficacy is critical to effective learning so once you have resolved the situation, you are likely to have a highly motivated, engaged and autonomous learner to work with.
It can transform pride into humility
Some teachers who have been in the business a while can come across as having a bit of a God complex – the thought of doing anything to merit a complaint is simply incredulous to them. Negative feedback is a humble reminder that nobody is perfect nor infallible. Likewise, for those afflicted with a perfectionist streak, acknowledging you might need to change something about yourself or the way your work can be liberating.
It flexes your resilience muscles
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from difficult situations; while you may feel hurt and angry, try to remember that the feeling will pass and it’s more productive to focus on resolution than rumination. Bear in mind that even though the tone of complaints is often critical and confrontational, the intention behind them is usually to find a peaceful solution.
It’s a reminder of diversity
Each and every learner has different needs, expectations and preferences. An activity that one student loves might be terribly boring for another and there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to learning. Part of a teacher’s skillset is to be able to imagine the classroom experience from these diverse standpoints and adapt accordingly.
It can reveal a lot about who you’re working for
Is the issue managed in a fair and constructive way by management? Are you given the opportunity to learn something from the experience, or are you simply reprimanded? Having worked in schools where teachers were told off about negative feedback in front of their colleagues, or were immediately replaced for minor issues, leading to loss of earnings, I have experienced how some managers and institutions deal with complaints in a dehumanizing manner. An organisation that truly holds education and self-improvement at its core will be committed to the learning of everyone involved.