It’s the standard thing you encounter in every teacher training course or teaching manual (and a quick Google search):
“When students (particularly teenagers!) get angry and hurl insults at the teacher, DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY, it’s not about YOU. The students are bringing in things from outside the classroom, issues related to their home life, their relationship (or lack of) with their peers, their academic struggles and much more. So taking it personally is a huge mistake. The insults roughly fall into two main categories – insults regarding the teacher’s appearance or insults regarding the teacher’s professional abilities.
Supposedly only an inexperienced teacher (or an unprofessional one) gets insulted. This is the cause of all the teacher’s troubles, and what is obstructing a calm and cool response.
At an in-service teacher’s training session I attended at school today, the instructor took a refreshingly different approach, one that rings true and makes more sense to me.
In a nutshell, the instructor explained that feeling insulted is an automatic and instinctive human reaction, a survival strategy which indicates the person must protect himself /herself.
Therefore, it is utter nonsense to tell a teacher not to take insults personally. We’re human beings, that’s what makes us caring teachers. Students crave empathy, to be really and truly seen, that requires emotions.
Actually, the instructor claimed, teachers who can respond appropriately and in a constructive manner to a student’s outburst are those that RECOGNIZE their feelings and have given thought to how he/she reacts to such feelings and what works to enable them to regain their equilibrium. Teacher’s aren’t robots! I believe Palmer discussed this in “The Courage to Teach” but I read that a long time ago and don’t encounter such an attitude in my reality.
Interestingly, the instructor noted that research has shown that what really gets under most teachers’ skin are insults relating to how good they are at their profession and not barbs targeted at personal appearance…
I would add that what hurts more than anything a student could say is when a staff member whom you turn to for support and understanding replies:
“You took that personally? What?! You should know better by now”!
Note: I recommend checking out this very practical post, on a different angle: “Controlling the Power of Words: Teaching Students How to Confront Insults” by Dr. Richard Curwin