Category Archives: Influence of Students

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.



I Carry Your Heart

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

I’ve carried this e.e. cummings poem in my heart for years.  Wherever I go, it’s gone with me.  Much like the students I have known over the years.  This morning I was inspired after reading this post, “An Empty Desk, An Unexpected Change” and I found myself flooded with memories of former students who still to this day rents space in my heart.

One particular student, I’ll call him Frank (that’s my dad’s name) has had the most significant influence in my personal and professional life.  I was teaching sixth grade back in 1998 and my dad was having an operation just prior to our December break.  A substitute covered for me and my students knew why I was starting my break early. Not too many details, but enough that they knew I’d be at the hospital with my family prior to Christmas.  They made cards, bought a maroon blanket for my dad (maroon for BC – we’re a big BC family) and had parents drop of meals-on-wheels for us in the waiting room.  The gesture to this day still fills me with raw emotion.

Things did not go as planned and my dad ended up in the hospital for 59 days. That’s a lot of days to be out and I tried my best to go back to school as often as possible.  One particular day, Frank was wound up during homeroom and just had to go to the office. I was barely hanging on and really have no idea why he had to go to the office. Without any questions, I just left him go.  As the day progressed, I was now teaching Frank’s class during the lunch block.  The very worst block to every teach – the first twenty-ish minutes the students can’t think about anything but lunch and the second twenty-ish minutes after lunch they are focused on what he or she said during lunch.  It’s always been my least favorite block of time to teach.  Frank could not settle the first half of the block and then the front office called and asked that Frank come to the office.

When Frank came back to class, he was carrying a bouquet of flowers with a message that read, “Don’t worry Miss Curran, your father will be alright because he has a daughter like you.”  Putting the pieces together, I learned that once Frank saw me that morning, he was determined to have flowers delivered to school to cheer me up.  He had the front office call for the delivery and had left his hard earned paper route money to pay for it.

It is one of those moments that has been etched in my heart ever since. I came back to school after February vacation a changed person.  I had lost my dad and had to face my students.  My most powerful lesson happened that day.  I didn’t worry about trying to catch them up.  Instead, I opened my heart to them and taught them the most valuable life lesson I could.  I said something like this, “Today you need to tell someone I love you, thank you, I’m sorry, etc. because all we have as a guarantee is today.”

SCN_0004I took out a letter written by my dad on September 24,1988 and began to read. I’ve carried this letter with me for years and have shared it with many students.  It has a leaf taped onto the worn letterhead.  I’m sure it was a bright and colorful leaf when I first opened it in ’88, but it is now brown and fragile.  The letter reads:

My dearest Marialice:

Yesterday, I opened the door of the family room and lying there before me was this beautiful leaf.  Somehow it reminded me of you! The many fall days we would leave together on our way to the Washington School or McCall or the high school.  How many times have both of us trundled through so many beautiful leaves but in our anxiousness to get to school have never noticed them?

Mom and I both said today how quickly the years have passed as you have transitioned from infancy – early childhood and adolescence into young adulthood.  Your growth has happened so quickly that perhaps I have not been attentive enough to tell you how proud I am of you.  As some tree has to be proud of this leaf, this father is proud of his DAUGHTER.  You have become everything that I could ever hope for!

The letter continues talking about Town Day and the parade and his hope that the Red Sox would win the World Series that year.  I cry every time I read it and I certainly cried the day I read it to my students.  I asked them to use the class time to write a letter to someone. They took the assignment very seriously and were deeply engaged from the moment they started writing. In sharing my dad’s letter, I explained how having a handwritten letter is like owning a piece of that person.  Like a piece of history, carrying them in your heart forever.

So for all my students back in 1998, especially Frank, “i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart).”