Reputations: What My Students Can Learn From Katherine Heigl


It has been widely reported that actress Katherine Heigl is a diva. While I am always distrustful of entertainment-based stories in the media, a recent interview given by Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes appears to confirm this, at least regarding her behaviour when on the set of Grey’s Anatomy, stating that “there are no Heigls” allowed on the set of Scandal and that she doesn’t “put up with bulls–t or nasty people [anymore].”

The friendship the pair originally had turned bad in 2008 when Heigl withdrew herself from contention in the annual Emmy Awards because of what she felt was poor writing on the show, stating:

“I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination and in an effort to maintain the integrity of the academy organisation, I withdrew my name from contention.” At the time, the remark was seen as a criticism of Rhimes.

Rhimes has since become one of the most powerful television producers in Hollywood.

Heigl has recently responded to Rhimes’s remarks during an interview with Mario Lopez for the Hollywood Reporter. It has been called an apology, although a closer examination of this appears to be more of an acknowledgment of Rhimes’s feelings towards her rather than her own behaviour:

“The last one with Shonda . . . it sucks. I am sorry that she feels that way and I wish her nothing but greatness and I have nothing negative to say about [her],” she continued. “I’m a big fan of her work. I watch Scandal every week and so I’m sorry she’s left with such a crappy impression of me. I wish I could do something to change that. Maybe I will be able to someday.”

However, regardless of the way in which we choose to consider the meaning behind her response, it seems that Heigl may have learned a valuable lesson: don’t kick people on the way up, as you may need those very same people on the way down.


This is what I have been trying to teach my students. Reputation is everything. A good reputation leads to glowing references either on paper or word of mouth and this can sometimes be the deciding factor in which a candidate is offered a job. The world is a very small place and it’s often as important who you know rather than what you know. Apathy, laziness and rudeness will affect the opinions that others have of you. Katherine Heigl’s behaviour has affected her reputation and potentially lost her contracts in the future – it seems to have certainly ruined her chances of returning to Grey’s Anatomy anytime soon despite the fact that she has expressed an interest in this.

I work in an excellent school and enjoy a good working relationship with most of my students, but there was one in particular at the very beginnings of my career that I will always remember as being the most difficult, challenging and on occasions aggressive student that I have ever had the privilege of working with. For two years he was my nemesis, challenging my behaviour management skills to extremes. He was, and is, the only student to make me go home and cry from frustration. He was a very intelligent young man, he had extremely supportive parents, he didn’t possess any diagnosed learning or behaviour difficulties (which was investigated fully by many organisations during my time with him) and he was more than capable of doing the work. There was just one reason why he didn’t get the work done – he simply didn’t want to, and he was quite open in the fact that he felt that education was a waste of time as he was going to become a professional console game player – he was going to test computer games for a living. He became rude and arrogant, frequently telling me and other teachers that his parents paid my salary and therefore I should do as he said. He mocked other students’ answers to questions, calling them derogatory names when he thought we weren’t in earshot. On his Geography GCSE paper he decided to answer the questions by drawing rude pictures and writing sarcastic comments.

The day he left, I wished him good luck through gritted teeth. His response:

“Don’t worry Miss, you’ll need it more than me. At least I’ll never have to see you again.”

I had to walk away before I said something that I would have got into trouble for.

Two years later, I was sitting in my classroom during a free lesson, and who should walk in but my nemesis. As confident as the day he had left, he strolled over to my desk, greeted me and sat down.

“I was wondering if you could write me a reference? I have a job interview and I need someone who will give me a reference before they interview me.”

I was gobsmacked and he must have picked up on this because he followed his question with:

“Don’t worry, I’ve changed now, so you won’t need to give me a bad one.”

I suggested that he go and find his form tutor. His response?

“You’re the third person that said that. I can’t ask her because I told her to f*ck off and called her a b*tch on the last day. Oh well, see you later.”

Off he went, and thankfully I have never seen or heard from him since. His form tutor is not the sort of person to hold grudges and would have written him the reference, but I secretly loved the fact that he knew that he had burned some bridges.

I’ve told this story to many of my students over the years (leaving out the curse words), but even now I still have to deal with young people who will be leaving full-time education next year and don’t seem to realise how their current behaviour will affect their future. There are many things that they can learn from this and Katherine Heigl’s situation that may help them when they step out into the big wide world.


Leave your personal feelings at home. It isn’t a question of being two-faced or false, it’s being able to conduct yourself in a positive, professional manner even if the very sight of one particular person makes your blood boil. Don’t bad mouth these people to anyone else – you are allowed to have any opinion of someone in the same way they do about us, but keep it to yourself.

Stop the negativity. Stop complaining that you can’t do something, that you won’t do something, that something is pointless. There are lessons to be learned from every activity, every opportunity, every experience.

Remember that there is a difference between confidence and arrogance. Confidence is being self assured in our own capabilities. Arrogance is possessing a self-inflated sense of importance, often without justification. I know that I am a good teacher, but that doesn’t mean I consider myself to be a better teacher than my colleagues. I ask them their opinions and I take their advice. I learn from them.

Don’t forget to be grateful for opportunities given to you and the people who make it possible. Say thank you. Don’t ask for or accept someone’s help and then throw it back it their face later on. It’s guaranteed that they won’t help you again.

Take responsibility for your own behaviour. Of course, we all meet people that are going to dislike us, sometimes without a valid reason, but often opinions are formed about us based on our actions. If you accept the times when you are in the wrong, avoid blaming others and actually offer a sincere apology, it is more likely that they will respect you, even if it doesn’t change their opinion of you.

Don’t expect others to tolerate poor behaviour forever. Most will accept a few instances of someone being an idiot, but eventually they will decide that they have had enough and move on. As a teacher, I always try and move on and start each new lesson with a clean slate, but the real world is not so forgiving.

Be consistent, and follow through on things that you have promised. If you say that you’re going to do something, do it. Don’t make promises that you can’t keep.

Avoid living in a bubble, and remember that you are not the only person that exists. The world does not evolve around you. Take time to involve yourself in the lives of others in a positive way – offer to help them, listen, understand and support.

Be nice! We all have our bad days, but if you can greet those around you with a smile and a positive message it is more likely that they will want to be in your company and even help out when needed.

Finally, remember that everybody, regardless of who they are and what they do should be treated with respect until they give you reasonable cause to think otherwise. Nobody is beneath you. As I repeatedly tell my students: don’t be nasty to the ‘boffins,’ the ‘nerds’ and the ‘geeks’, as it’s likely that one day you’ll be working for one.

What about you guys? What builds a good reputation?

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog, and don’t forget to check out my Facebook page


40 thoughts on “Reputations: What My Students Can Learn From Katherine Heigl

  1. As a former professional therapist with an advanced degree who worked with adolescents, I officially diagnose your former nemesis with Oppositional Defiant Disorder and when he turns 18 he may be in line for a diagnosis of Anti-social Personality Disorder. Feel free to dig up his old records and add that.

  2. Well, you have put some very important Life lessons in there. You are likely to catch more fly’s with honey than with vinegar. A person’s reputation does precede you.

  3. Some very good advice!
    There are some people I’ve worked with that seem to think they are above our job and have either sabotaged work deliberately or just stopped turning up when they have handed notice in and are moving on to another job because of this very same attitude. Unfortunately they’re not considering who’ll be giving their references when new employers ask for their job history! It’s very short-sighted.

    • You’re absolutely right – Ive seen a few former staff take the opportunity to speak their mind when they have left, and I hope that it doesn’t come back to bite them on the arse! Thanks very much Hayley!

  4. These are some fantastic, fantastic tips. My hat goes off to you and all of the teachers out there who have had to grit their teeth and bite their tongues on a regular basis. My mother was a teacher for over 30 years, and I’ve seen some of the difficulties that arrogant students (with arrogant parents) can bring to the classroom. Fantastic piece! 🙂

  5. I don’t think your former student really had changed when he came back. What had changed is his understanding that he now needs you, so he better play nice – but I wonder what his attitude then was towards the people he’s forced to deal with but doesn’t really need anything from them.

  6. It’s really refreshing to see a blogger make use of celebrity stories and apply it to help teach young people. Considering actors/actresses and singers alike are supposed to be role-models for children and adolescents, it would be nice if they had some more stable role-models. It sounds like they’ve got a good teacher in yourself though!

  7. I love hearing different teachers’ experiences – I worked in a school for a year and could never do what you do! Your style reminds me of ‘secret teacher’ in The Guardian – did you ever think of trying to get something published?

  8. Wow, hard lesson learned for that young man. I tell my students much of the same. With all of the technology and text happy teens, it is important to seek out a “live” relationship with those who can serve as a mentor. I was a bit of a smart ass in class but made a change before senior year and had no problems obtaining college recommendations. Thank goodness!

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