I go back to the classroom this week for the first time since early May 2022. I did not teach a course during the fall semester of 2022. It was the first time in 22 years that I did teach in a professional capacity. Tomorrow marks the beginning of my first class, with new students, at a new institution. Teachers hold a near-universal belief that whenever we switch schools, it is as if we are first-year teachers all over again. I so feel that.
One of the major frustrations of my life as a professor and advisor was the near-constant apologies from my students. In the middle of a lecture, a student would politely raise their hand, wait to be recognized, and put forth well-formed, thoughtful questions which demonstrated a clear understanding of the lecture and outside reading.
The script for each of these questions went something like this, “I’m sorry for having this question, but when you mention ________, I wonder how you balance the work of __________ and the thoughts of __________. I know _________ isn’t present in our assignment, but I did some outside reading to satisfy my curiosity.”
That, my friends, is a love letter to teachers. In haiku form:
I have done the work
I wanted to know way more
Help me understand
So why the apology?
I am still determining the source, but have we created a pocket in a society where one feels the need to apologize for asking for an authentic human connection? I think about this often. It would be a lie to say that I do not catch myself committing the same action. There is a place for an apology. When we knowingly or accidentally do something that brings harm to another. I firmly believe an apology is an act of responsibility and an admission of the consequences of our behavior. I do not subscribe to the edict from the book/movie Love Story that love means never having to say one is sorry.
But when communicating a need, appropriately processing emotions, or asking a genuine question, no apologies are necessary. This is a core belief.
To replace my apologies in the above scenarios, I’ve switched “I’m sorry” with “thank you for your patience” or “I appreciate your understanding.”
If someone wants to process my feelings about returning to the classroom, I’m open to an unapologetic, honest conversation.
Have a great week.