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Teacher Apologies: Never Too Tenured to Say You're Sorry

Bronx Classroom Tales

Teacher Apologies: Never Too Tenured to Say You're SorryAs hard as it may be for us to admit sometimes, teachers make mistakes. We make less as we get better, but we’ll always make them.  


Sometimes, I forget to enter a grade where there needs to be one. At the beginning of the year, I tell all my students that one unfortunate soul will have their essay lost among a stack of my papers and it won’t be found for two years if ever.  (I’ve already hit my lost essay quota this year, Vanessa’s defense of Hamlet’s behavior, and my guilt has made me super anal retentive since.) 


At times like these, I’ve found that it doesn’t hurt to say “I’m sorry. I made a mistake,” and not to follow it with, “I work 60-75 hours a week, I deserve one.” 


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The Apology Refusal

I remember a couple years, I was asked to work on a grant for our school to take an overnight trip to visit a couple colleges in D.C. I put a lot of effort (20 pages) into it, and had it ready on my boss’s desk the day she asked. When I asked if we had heard back on it a month later, she informed me that we had missed the deadline and the grant was rejected. MISSED THE DEADLINE?! 


I was extremely disappointed and felt taken advantage of. I had volunteered to write the grant, but not for it to never be considered. I wanted an apology, so I asked her for one. 


Me: “I need you to tell me that you made a mistake and that next time, we’ll all try and be more on top of things.” 


Boss: “I can’t do that.”


Me: “How about simply that a mistake was made, by someone.”


Boss: “Listen. There’s a lot going on, here. It’s impossible to do it all alone.”


I tried maybe one or two more times to get something out of her, before realizing that wasn’t going to happen. She wasn’t going to take on an inkling of blame– perhaps what she saw as weakness. Ironically, it was because of this that I saw a weakness in my leader that day. It was also because of this that I ended up billing the school overtime for the time I spent on the grant. I never would have if someone would have just told me, “I’m sorry.”


Why I'm a "Sorry" Teacher

I see it the same way with my students. If I’ve done something wrong, whether absent-mindedly or otherwise, the person affected deserves an apology. It takes strength to admit a mistake and it holds you more accountable not to make another. You don’t want to have to say sorry everyday.    


Are you a “sorry” teacher or an apology refuser? Share your apology approach in the comments section!