Should Teachers Ever Apologize for the Damage We Do?

“…Peter*…What am I?  Chopped liver?”  And with these words the boy that changed me turns around and gives me a smile.  It is the annual PTO carnival at my school and he has come back with a friend to see his old stomping grounds.

I stand there not quite knowing what to say, feeling like I should apologize and tell him how much having him in my classroom changed the way I teach.  How I am sorry for not changing sooner, for realizing that punishment and rewards was not going to help motivate.  For not giving up on homework he was not in a state of mind to complete  For not treating him as a child and more like a product.  I don’t know where to start and so I don’t.

“How are you?”  I say
“Good…” and he smiles again.
“How is school?”
“Really good…”
And I smile.
“I am proud of you, do you know that?”I stammer out.
He smiles, shrugs and nods.
“Good to see you…” and I release him back to his friend.

The words left unspoken rattle me and I turn to a colleague, “If he only knew how much he means to me.  How much having him changed everything for me.”  Perhaps it is just not something you tell a middle school boy.

When do we as teachers apologize for the way we teach?  When do we apologize to the students we failed to reach?  Do we ever or is it part of the nature of teaching, that we wont be able to reach them all?  Do we ever own up to our previous ways or do we just carry it with us hoping it will push us forward and never teach that way again?

Would Peter have cared if I apologized or simply shrugged and nodded as must middle school boys do? I don’t know.

*Name changed for obvious reasons

image from icanread
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3 thoughts on “Should Teachers Ever Apologize for the Damage We Do?

  1. Hey! My name is Rebecca Stuart. I a student at the University of South Alabama for elementary education. This blog post touched on some thing I've wondered about this since I started this journey. How do you suggest getting the class to be good if you don't use rewards. I need suggestions for my classroom because I'm worried I'll fall into the trap by saying to them, "if you do good, I'll give you so and so at the end of the week." I loved this post because it got me thinking! Thank you!-Rebecca Stuart

  2. Hi Rebecca,Thank you so much for this comment, I have written a lot about not having rewards http://www.pernilleripp.com/p/no-homework-no-grades-no-punishment.htmlI hope this helps you in your journey.Best,Pernille

  3. Thanks so much! I just realized I got assigned your blog again this week! I will be a follower! I enjoy reading through with lots of great information.

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