Should Teachers Apologize for Mistakes

Cartoonist Lynn Johnston, best known for the For Better, For Worse comic strip once said, “An apology is the superglue of life. It can repair just about anything.”  Because so much of our ability to navigate successfully through the world hinges upon our ability to get along with others it would seem reasonable to assert that teachers, as well as all types of professional people, should apologize when they make mistakes.

Not only are teachers charged with educating young minds, they also serve as some of the most important role models that some young people will ever have.  With the often fractured and dysfunctional families within which some unfortunate youngsters are forced to dwell, a teacher may very well be one of the few positive influences in such a child’s life.  Teachers must be conscious of these stark facts and work hard not only in instilling academic excellence in their students but also providing encouraging behavioral models for students to follow.  Showing a willingness to admit errors, to apologize, and to strive repair any damage is the right thing to do.  Sadly, the media repeatedly exposes young people to examples of shameful behavior in adults in positions of power on a regular basis:  crooked politicians, unscrupulous business people, dirty cops, pedophile priests, and adults from all walks of life with serious substance abuse problems.  A teacher who is willing to admit a mistake in the classroom, to sincerely apologize, and to make reparations can serve as an important counterbalance to these negative influences.

Witnessing the apology of a teacher demonstrates to students that apologizing and being accountable for mistakes are not signs of weakness.  Instead, this ability is a show of maturity and strength of character, traits which all students can benefit from developing.  A teacher who is willing to apologize serves as a living example of honesty, integrity, responsibility and fairness.  It is these kinds of traits that will encourage students to regard a teacher with trust and respect.

Apologies can open the doors to communication and students will feel more secure in the understanding that everyone, even teachers, make mistakes.  However, a mistake doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the world.  A teacher who offers a heartfelt apology for an error may help to convince students that their own future mistakes will be dealt with in an understanding manner.  Such students may then be less tempted to lie or to cover up their mistakes.

Students can learn as much, or perhaps more from the mistakes that they make along the way.  By acknowledging and apologizing for their mistakes, teachers send an important message that mistakes can be a normal and largely forgivable part of the learning process.

Reference

Lumpkin, A. (February 2008).  Teachers As Role Models Teaching Character and Moral Virtues.  JOPERD 29 (2) p. 45 – 49).