Learning From Our Mistakes: The Art Of An Apology


Teaching teacher candidates is a challenge.  You want to share the best of the best with them.  I mean, really.  Open the newspaper and you can get depressed about the state of affairs in education.  So, week after week I make it my mission to balance theory and practice while always emphasizing the positive!  I share the good, the bad and the ugly (the stories I’m embarrassed to admit) because in all of it, you can find the positive.

The one lesson that we can all learn from is the how to apologize to our students and parents.  As teachers, our responsibility is to learn from our mistakes and take ownership when we are wrong.  Each semester, I painfully retell a story that I’m ashamed to admit.  Nothing about this story represents the person I am day in and day out, but it did happen and for this, I will always be deeply sorry.

There were two eighth grade boys.  One was brilliant beyond his years.  The type of student who could talk sports, politics, religion, literature, art, history and everything in between.  He was the student every teacher wants in class.  I’ll call him Jimmy to protect his identity.  The other student had different priorities and put sports and his friends before his studies.  He was popular and not easy to engage in the classroom.  He was the student that teachers tend to send to the office and make phone calls home on a regular basis.  I’ll call him Michael to protect his identity.

Michael was known to tease Jimmy on a regular basis.  One day, Jimmy had enough and was upset.  I reacted immediately because I had had enough too.  I was hot mad for the constant harassment that Jimmy had to endure.  Enough was enough.  I pulled Michael out of class and went up one side of him and down the other.  I hate to admit this, but I wanted to break him.  I wanted to make him cry. To write this now is painful.  My actions were completely inexcusable.

When Michael told his side of the story it was much different than Jimmy’s version.  How had I forgotten to ask about the other side of the story before I reacted?  Without hesitation, I apologized to Michael.  I admitted that I was ashamed and embarrassed at my behavior and that I needed to call his parents. With Michael by my side, I called his mom.  I apologized immediately and admitted my wrong doings.  I told her that I had just apologized to her son and wanted Michael to be part of this conversation.  I admitted that I had jumped to conclusion and had wrongly accused her son.  I wasn’t expecting it, but his mother thanked me for calling and for being honest in front of her son.

Surprisingly, Michael changed after this completely unfortunate event.  He was a different student.  Immediately, there was a noticeable change in his behavior and effort in the classroom.  He began applying himself.  He was participating in classroom discussions and coming to class prepared.  He became a model student.  Is it my imagination or did the simple act of an adult admitting her short comings positively influence Michael?

I share this story with you now in the hope that you will always get both sides of the story before reacting, as well as take the opportunity to admit when you’re wrong.  It is never too late to learn the art of an apology.

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7 comments

  • Thanks for being real. I’ve had so many experiences where I needed to recognize how wrong I was, and take the step of apologizing. It’s good for us. It’s good for them. It’s good for all.

  • We all have a time (or two) when we really blew it. Apologizing means we learned from it.

    When I apologize, it means a lot to kids — and then they are more willing to apologize when they do something they shouldn’t have.

  • Apology is a powerful relationship builder. A very honest post about courageous action on your part. Thanks for sharing.

  • It seems like you both learned a lot from this experience – what a fantastic way to create a teachable moment about integrity, even if it wasn’t your original intention.

    It’s so important to remember that we share not only content and skills with students, but model life skills and respect or citizenship as well.

    Thank you for this!

  • Marialice should be commended for this ten times over. She is one of the best teachers and people I have ever met and would expect nothing less of her. But then to go and share it, just re-enforces to me how great of a person and teacher she is, and how she wants others to learn from her experiences.

    I can’t say enough good about Marialice as a teacher, or as a person.

  • Makia Easterling

    I just read your story which totally reminded me of the incident I had with a 6th grader I was covering a class for an Art Teacher in the South end of Hartford. The day started off as to be expected, a few students were misbehaving because of the absence of the primary teacher. Towards the end of the daythere was a student who began to throw and break the crayons that belong to teacher. Also he started tearing down the art work of other students. At this moment I began to get upset and frustrated with this student and what I was taught on how to handle these situations went straight out the door. I began to insult the kid and also tried intimidating him. By the end of this whole blow out the student was in tears and I felt like I let myself down as well as the students. My behavior and actions was not of a person who should be practicing a more positive behavior. I apologized to him and later on in the school year I had the pleasure of being in that student’s class and found that by me apologizing to him and being sincere created a bond and a respectable relationship.

  • Pingback: What I’ve learned from blogging this year… | The Dyslexic Professor

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