Stop Reading the Comments: How to Overcome Negativity

I was named 2024 Senior Teacher of the Year at Hammond High School. With the honor came the opportunity to address graduates at the May 22 awards ceremony. Here's the speech.


Good morning, class of 2024!

I am excited, grateful and incredibly humbled to be standing here addressing you today. You have had four years of amazing, dedicated and caring teachers – and you voted me as your Teacher of the Year. Thank you.

I have wanted to be Teacher of the Year for years. I think the biggest attraction was the validation. (And I mistakenly thought the distinction came with a parking spot, which would’ve been cool, too.)  But with all of the awesome choices you have here at Hammond High School, I decided a while back to just let it go.

And then, this year – of all years – you chose me. And when I say “of all years,” I mean … I have been through a lot in the past year or two. And I know many of you have, also.

I want to tell you about one of the struggles I had this year.

Back in February, I wanted to get in on the “hashtag – of course” challenge on Tiktok. It looked fun and harmless. So I gathered Hammond’s other fantastic language teachers – Madame Brower, Profe Burkett, Profesora Hall, and SeƱora Hart.

We made a reel: “I’m a Spanish teacher, of course I …”  It was fun!

I recruited my daughter Morgan, a Golden Bear alumna who sat where you’re sitting just last year, to edit the video. I posted it on my birthday.

And guess what? The TikTok video went viral. Like legitimately viral: 1.9 million views; 119 thousand likes; 1,363 comments; 3,818 saves. Who knew so many people would like a silly video made by a few language teachers.
@nerdyteachermom #ofcoursetrend #ofcourse #ofcoursechallenge #spanishteacher #frenchteacher #teacher #teachersoftiktok ♬ original sound - NerdyTeacherMom

But then …

I started reading the comments. OMG! The trolls and haters … the haters were cooking me! Like deep frying me, y’all.

They came for all of us. But they were particularly brutal toward me. They criticized my pronunciation of the only two Spanish words I even said. They dissed me for being a Spanish teacher who is not Latina. A few even accused me of misappropriating the cultures of Spanish-speakers. Some even went as far as to comment that they thank God that their Spanish teacher was Latino and not somebody who learned the language in school.

The comments were awful. And hurtful. But I kept reading them. And, to be honest, I started obsessing over them.

I wanted to defend myself – to post a response that demonstrated that I am, in fact, a good teacher. I wanted the haters to understand that I KNOW I’m not Latina. That I KNOW my Spanish is not perfect. That I choose to teach Spanish because I’m a verbal person who loves the idea of learning languages.

I wanted to tell them that I get nerdily thrilled when students ask me grammar questions. I wanted to reply that I actually tell my students that I want them to speak Spanish way better than I do.

I wanted to post that it is so overwhelmingly fulfilling when students tell me that they’ve used their Spanish to help somebody.

But I didn’t post any of that. Instead, I just kept reading the comments –  over and over. In fact, I allowed the comments to affect me so deeply that I started questioning my teaching skills and abilities. Nevermind that I have taught Spanish for 19 years. The negative comments had me thinking that maybe I am not a good teacher after all. Heck, maybe I’ve never been a good teacher. The comments were destroying my self-esteem and confidence.

So how did I get from questioning my entire career just a few short months ago to standing here in front of you as your Teacher of the Year?

I decided to stop reading the comments.

I looked back at some of the Hammond 100 surveys. (Yes, we teachers save stuff like that). The surveys reminded me that so many of you indicated that I am one of your trusted adults in school. I was reminded of your notes, cards and conversations about how I’ve helped you during your high school years.

I had to tell myself that those clowns in the comments don’t even know me. Heck, they’ve probably never even taught a high school class full of teenagers.

Why did I tell you all of this today? Because I want to encourage you, the royal Hammond High School Class of 2024 to STOP READING THE COMMENTS.

You have spent your high school years at the school “where people are important.” Remember that YOU ARE IMPORTANT.  Don’t allow trolls and haters to convince you otherwise.

Now, while recognizing your worth, remember that your participation in a community where people are important means that you are accountable. Now it’s YOUR turn to be, break and show, as Principal Reid says.

You, be the person to post something uplifting, rather than hurtful. Or simply keep strolling. You build relationships to break down barriers. In a world where hundreds of thousands of people can react to a single post, remember that there is actually a person behind the profile. (Well, usually.) You show others that they are important.

Mary Kay Ash, a great American businesswoman, said this: “Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, "Make me feel important." Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.”

I’d like to modify that message for you today:  Pretend that every single person you interact with on social media has a line in their profile that says “Make me feel important.” You never know what a person is going through or how many people are counting on that one person to stick with it. Your kindness may be exactly what is needed to counter the negativity.

So, class of 2024, please remember to be kind … even online.

Congratulations! I am so proud of you!


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