Wellbeing: 5 ways to cope with mean student comments

Teaching isn’t a popularity contest – but you can still feel upset if pupils don't like you, says Nikki Cunningham-Smith

Nikki Cunningham-Smith

Teacher wellbeing: How teachers can handle mean pupil comments

“No one likes you anyway, Miss.” 

“I’m not here to be liked, I’m here to teach you.” 

I know that, after an exchange like this with a pupil, I can take it with me and it can begin to eat away at me.  

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These days it often feels like anxiety is high and self-esteem is low. And when you’re having difficulty with relationships at work, that can become even worse.

You can't be everyone's cup of tea, but remember that you will be someone's champagne flute. Developing a thick skin in teaching is so important to protect yourself and your longevity in this career.

But looking for the positives and finding ways to disarm the negative and personal feedback is a skill that even those who have been teaching for a long time will find hard to enact. 

Sometimes we forget that the reason we are stood in front of the class in the first place is to pass on our knowledge and passion for the subject; that can get lost in behaviour management, exam needs or other activities.  

And with that will come pupils who just don’t share the same passion with you for the topic, and that’s OK, too.

Remember, for every child who hates that topic, there will be one who desperately loves it, or even better, one who you will win round and will discover a love for it via you. 

Teacher wellbeing: How to handle negative pupil comments

Here are some things that can help: 

Don’t rise to it

Pupil’s often tell me that they do what they do and say what they say because they “know how to press the teacher’s buttons” or they are trying to "wind them up to get kicked out”.  

Some pupils will do whatever they can to get out of a lesson they don’t like, caring very little for the collateral damage, such as your feelings. It's at times like this that a deep breath and tactical ignorance can be your ally. 

Be the adult 

It seems like a ridiculous thing to point out, but sometimes our pupils don’t have the emotional maturity to care about the things that they are saying.

You do. Which means it may have to be a “water off a duck’s back” scenario to get you through. 

Don’t take it personally  

Sometimes it is so difficult to filter out criticism, especially if they have managed to pinpoint something that hurts you. It can feel targeted, personal and spiteful.  

Sometimes the mean things that are said are not meant for you as a person. You are the person that they see day in, day out, you are the safe environment that they know, and in providing that, you are enabling them (rightly or wrongly) to feel comfortable enough to say whatever they think. 

Talk about it

An insult shared is an insult halved. Lean on your staffroom support network; being able to get it off your chest the same day can stop you from taking these moments to heart.  

The ability to laugh it off can bring objectivity that allows you to limit the impact that mean words can have on you.

Don't compare

We all have that teacher in school who, no matter the event, ends up walking to their car laden with presents because they’re the first one the pupils think of at Christmas or to buy an Easter egg for. 

Remember that some pupils just naturally gravitate towards some types of teachers, and some teachers just drop hints (I’ve seen it happen).  

You may feel that the pupils don’t like you, but you would be completely surprised by the ones who you have had the biggest impact on. They are often the ones who reveal themselves to you years after they have left school, stopping you in the supermarket to say, “Thanks, I went into science because of you." 

Keep developing your support network, get your rhinoceros skin on and keep on plugging. You never know whose life you’re going to affect for the better tomorrow. 

Nikki Cunningham-Smith is an assistant headteacher in Gloucestershire

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Nikki Cunningham-Smith

Nikki Cunningham-Smith is an assistant headteacher in Gloucestershire

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