Be a Duck! Learn to Let Unkind Comments Slide

A MiddleWeb Blog

Remember the first time schools closed in our new COVID-19 world? Remember how much love teachers and school leaders got after parents realized how hard it is to teach their own kids?

Well, those days sure didn’t last long and honestly, I didn’t expect them to. Recently I had a parent lash out at me for reasons that still confound me.

It’s Not All That EZ!

Our school is face-to-face, but we are diligent about being prepared in case we have to resume virtual classes. One step we’ve taken is to communicate several times per week with families through ClassTag. I asked a teacher to help me use it for the first time. We set up a practice message and scheduled it to go out to parents the next day.

Just as I was ready to click “send,” the teacher said, “See! Isn’t that easy?” So I said it was and I typed EZ into the message and clicked! Now, the idea was that I would delete the message before it was scheduled to arrive in families’ inboxes…but you know…the best laid plans…I couldn’t delete it! The message disappeared! Arg!

I was hopeful that somehow I had made such a silly mistake that the message wouldn’t send at all. No such luck. The next day, I got quite a few messages asking what “EZ” meant. So, in an attempt to ameliorate the situation, I sent the following message to all.
Now, if you’ve read anything I’ve ever written, you know that I tend to take a casual tone and like to laugh at myself. That’s what I was intending to do here, and for the most part parents laughed with me. But one return message I got was downright mean! Read it below.

 WHAT?!?!?!

Honestly, I’m a nice woman. I work really, really hard. The goal of almost all of my actions is to serve. Parents like me! Kids like me! Teachers like me! It’s pretty rare that people are mean to me (or at least my rose-colored glasses make it hard for me to recognize it if they are being mean). So this message took me aback! I went through a series of “maybes” and “sheeses.”

The “Maybes”:

Maybe I read her message wrong. (I read it again. Nope, I read it right the first time.)
Maybe she didn’t mean it to be mean. (I called her on the phone and asked if I had done something to offend her. She swore at me and hung up. Nope, she meant it to be mean.)

The “Sheeshes”:

Sheesh! What did I ever do to her?
Sheesh! Where does she get off being so mean?
Sheesh! What is wrong with her?

But it didn’t take me long to work my way through those somewhat negative emotions and find myself at the “Oh, well, I’m doing my best and I can’t please everyone” stage.

Let It All Roll Off Your Back

In an effort to help teachers see that we all take our licks, I shared the angry parent’s comment with all in an email with the subject line, “You can’t please everyone!” I wrote, “Sometimes you just have to laugh! I am inviting all of you to laugh with me and remember that we have to, as my mother always said, ‘Be like a duck and let it roll off of our backs!’ It may not always be EZ to do, but it’s always the right thing to do anyway.”

I’ve been teaching for 26 years, many of them at the junior high level. I’m tough. It takes a lot to pierce my armor. But I realize I’m the exception, not the rule. I watch many of the wonderful teachers in my life suffer when parents are unkind, unreasonable, or even downright mean. Teachers are, for the most part, feelers. We like to please and when we don’t, our feelings can be hurt. But, it’s probably in our best interest to toughen up a bit and learn to take things in stride, to learn to let it all roll off our backs.

How to Be a Duck

Below are some tips and hints to help you be a duck!

Don’t dwell! You will get mean comments from parents and the community at large. But try hard to remember that the loudest voice isn’t always the right one. Do like Elsa and Anna and let it go! Letting things dig deep holes in your heart and soul doesn’t help. It just doesn’t.

Pack away the positives! When you get kind emails and notes from parents, students, and colleagues, save them. Keep them in a folder so you can access them when you’re feeling low. Reread them and remember, you are loved!

Laugh with a friend! Okay, this may sound callous, but I’m going to tell you anyway… sometimes I like it when folks are unreasonable with me because I know I can store it away to add to my two-women comedy show with my BFF later. We laugh at the absurdity of the world and at ourselves and our roles in it.

Think of it as a gift! A wise friend once told me to think of people who treated me with disrespect as my “spiritual masters.” He meant that when confronted with cantankerous people, we are offered a gift of practice. We get to practice rising above, keeping our cool (more on that here), and using self-calming strategies. Finding our inner duck.

Start with love, end with love (and empathy and compassion and grace)! Truly this tip is embedded in the tip above. Consult your core values and respond in the way you think best matches them. I have a sign on my desk that says, “Start with love. End with love.” When people are crabby or unkind or otherwise lose their cool with me, I try to focus on what a truly loving person would think and do in response. Then I try to do that. 

While I sincerely hope that you’ll glide through the rest of the year on a cloud of positive support from the families you serve, I kinda’ doubt that will be the case. So, if you do find yourself in a situation where a parent or community member is less than kind, I hope you find some of the tips above helpful.


Rita Platt is a principal and NBCT in Wisconsin and recently received a leadership award from the Kohl Foundation. Her first book, Working Hard, Working Happy: Cultivating a Culture of Effort and Joy in the Classroom, is a Routledge/MiddleWeb publication. It’s a quick read, filled with practical ideas about creating a learning culture in your classroom and school (see this review by Anne Anderson). MiddleWeb readers receive a 20% discount at the Routledge site with the code MWEB1.

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