A couple of years ago I wrote a short book aimed at novice teachers taking the four week course to learn the basics of teaching English, CELTA. Based on many years experience as a tutor on this course, it aimed to help with the key classroom teaching skills needed, such as giving instructions. 

It was pretty well received and has sold in decent numbers ever since. A number of CELTA tutors reviewed it with 5 stars. I was pretty pleased with myself. 

Until I got the following review:

** Nothing new unfortunately.

I haven’t found anything worthy or useful in this book, even being not extremely experienced teacher. But this is just my opinion.


In fact, the book clearly isn’t aimed at experienced teachers, so it wasn’t surprising that she already knew it all. As a qualified experienced teacher, she should have done, but still it stung. 

Negative bias

Why is it that we remember and focus on negative feedback or criticism so much more than praise? As with many things, we’re actually all wired that way (though some of us work on strengthening and reinforcing our negative bias even further). Paying more attention to that negative story about the sabre tooth tiger that ate the kid in the next cave is a good way of helping us survive real threats and dangers, but paying so much more attention to criticism than to praise, can lead us to feel bad about ourselves, decide not to try anything new again, and keep us in the ‘dead zone’. 

So, does this mean that we should ignore criticism, and just think ‘ Well, f** them then ‘. Actually, no, I wouldn’t say so, because they may actually have something to teach us. Having been writing and working with editors for twenty years now, I know that when I first get feedback I nearly always get an initial reaction to any criticism. I don’t take that feeling of a punch to the solar plexus too seriously now, just notice it and make sure I don’t respond until that reaction has calmed down. Then I look at it again, and usually see that they’re right. And if they’re not, I can explain why in a more detached way. 

Whether someone is criticising your clothes, your lesson observation or your partner, the key is to get better at noticing and observing that gut reaction, without initially acting on it in anyway. Try and really listen to what they have to say, and assume good intentions (at least until you’re sure they aren’t).

Don’t take it personally?

People often say, ‘don’t take it personally’, and that seems hard, but actually it’s usually only personal because you take it that way. If it is about something you did which could be improved, then that isn’t about you as a person, any more than someone directing you when you’ve got lost in a city.

If it actually is meant to hurt you, then it’s much more about them and their issues than it is about you.

In all cases, ask yourself what you can learn from it (which might not be what the criticiser intended) and then let the rest go. It’s like sucking out an orange- there’s no need to eat the peel.