Why You Should Apologize to Students

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I have some teacher confessions to make. I have bad days, I’ve been cranky, and I have been grouchy at my class. Why am I confessing these things? Because I know that ALL teachers have moments like this (you do too, admit it), as much as we feel guilty about it. The question is, should we apologize to our students? I say, absolutely! So let’s chat about the real importance of apologizing to our students.

Apologizing to our students is so important because it shows kindness and also models empathy and social skills in the classroom!

Why You Should Apologize to Students

Sometimes we can get caught up in trying to look like the “perfect teacher,” and we feel badly that we can’t seem to measure up.  

But I have learned that what makes a great teacher (Because perfect isn’t going to happen, sorry!) is someone who continually reflects on their practice and strives to learn, grow, and do better each day.

A great teacher is someone who truly loves and cares for their students and wants the best for them.

While thankfully the times that I have been “cranky” are few and far between, it always really bothers me to think of myself speaking to a child in a rude tone.

There are definitely moments when a firmer voice is needed with some students (like NO you may not cut his hair, because just….NO), that is different from plain ol’ grouchy.

So here is another confession:

I apologize to my students when I have been grouchy.

Yep. I do. I refuse to just “shake off” a cranky moment and assume the child will forget about it later. “Oh, today was rough, I barked a bit at Betty, but she was driving me crazy!! Oh well… tomorrow will be better.” I no longer think that way.

I was a child who didn’t shake things off too easily.

A Memory of Mine….

I remember one of my teachers snapping her fingers at me during circle time and barking “Stop it!” in a harsh tone, because I was making an annoying sound. I remember getting sent to a separate area, when I honestly didn’t know what I had really done.

Now, as a teacher today, I realize that she wasn’t mad me and probably was mostly frustrated at Billy who wouldn’t stop poking his neighbor, and Lila who wouldn’t stop interrupting, and Betty who was floor rolling all while the poor lady tried to teach a lesson. But at the time, I was little and I was crushed, because I honestly hadn’t meant to bother her. I felt like she was mad at me.

I Understand…

I’m the exception and was a little more of a worrier than most. Lila or Betty (not real names) probably wouldn’t have thought twice about it and would have gone to the corner happily to roll on the floor over there. But to me it was a big deal.

And guess what? There are students like me in my own classroom. A little quiet, maybe a little worried. I just wish that she could have said, “Alex, could you please stop making that sound?” instead of first snapping at me. I bet my students today would want that too.

She is a great lady and was a great teacher. I in no way hold onto bad memories of her. This is just a point to show that what we say and how we act really does matter to our students. Some more than others.

You probably know your kids. You know already which ones need a bit more of a “firm” tone and which ones would be absolutely horrified if they were corrected at all, am I right?

So… when do I apologize to students?

I don’t want you to think I go around throwing out apologies like confetti, because I certainly don’t. Saying “I’m sorry” needs to be true and meaningful.

But, yes, I do apologize to students. My students are very young, so they need apologizing and social skills modeled to them frequently. When they are grouchy with each other, I always have them talk it out and work on it, so I try to model the same thing as an adult.

Apologizing to our students models positive social skills.

What does apologizing to my students sound like?

I may pull them aside when there is a moment I regret and say, “I noticed that I talked to you in a way that didn’t sound very nice. I am sorry about that, and next time I am going to speak kinder, ok?”  

Or, I might say, “I was feeling frustrated when you weren’t listening to me, but I am going to work on how I say that to you next time.”

I do not talk “down” to them by using a small voice or small words just because they are young. I model a full apology.

Typically, I’m met with a smile and an, “It’s okay teacher,” followed by a hug.

Would I have been forgiven anyway without saying apologizing? Yes. They are 5, and what I love most about children that age is how quick they are to forgive. But, did it feel good to know that they had kindness modeled to them and were able to forgive in a kind way also? You bet!

So why should we as teachers apologize to students after moments of “crankiness”?

Because we expect them to! And because modeling behavior gets the point across much better than just telling ever will.

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  1. Hi, let me just add in my two cents. Students simply do not understand what it is really like to be a teacher, because they have not seen it firsthand. All they see you do is tell them what to do all day, make sure they do it, and teach them material that they are sure they will never use or need to know. They do not see you grade schoolwork, organize your classroom, plan your lessons out, attend parent-teacher meetings, etc. That is, unless one of their parents (or whoever they live with) is a teacher! Have you ever seen the 90s/early 2000s cartoon called “Recess?” T. J. And his 5 close friends very rarely showed any respect for Principal Prickly. However, in one episode, they had a name drawing to see which student would get to be the school’s principal for a day. T. J.’s name was drawn, and the next day, he got more of a taste of what it is actually like to be a school principal. Initially he enforced only cool rules, such as “ALL DAY RECESS!!!!” However, as the day went on, T. J. finally started to intrinsically understand just how hard it is to be a school principal. Maybe something similar will help students understand what it is really like to be a teacher (minus having them attend parent-teacher meetings, or other things that might involve other students’ personal information). They can actually plan out lessons, organize a classroom, and teach a class themselves. They have to try to do all of this, all while the others in the classroom are acting like animals.

    1. Hi Leanne,

      Thank you for chiming in! I agree we would all really see things differently if we took a walk in another profession’s shoes, and that sounds like such a fun thing to have kids learn about!

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