Last week I wrote about the difficulties teachers face in finding punishments that work. Probably the most popular consequence for breaking a school law is the “apology”. Teachers have traditionally required students to apologise to them or a classmate before that child can reclaim their privileges.
My problem with this, is it’s very rarely an honest, authentic apology. Usually it is said under duress and the child has no alternative but give the teacher what they want to hear.
It’s just like the fight we used to have with our siblings when growing up:
“Go on! Apologise to your sister!”
How many times did we actually mean it when we said sorry?
And that’s what teachers face on a daily basis. It’s like pulling teeth!
“What are you sorry for?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well you can’t say you’re sorry and not know what you’re sorry about.”
For even worse infringements the apology is ramped up to a public apology. This is when the student is made a spectacle over so as to show the others that there is a penalty to be paid for overstepping the mark. Again, is it really worthwhile if the student’s apology isn’t genuine?
Sometimes I feel like we impose the apology so we can close the chapter and get on with life. The chid has made the apology, I dealt with it and now we can move on. It’s more about seeming to do something rather than actually doing something.
The problem with this is that mistakes that haven’t been learnt from get repeated. Chances are, the apology will not mean much weeks later when the child breaks the same rule again.
Whilst I understand the “apology method” and have personally subscribed to it more times than I feel comfortable admitting to, perhaps it should be the last step in a more extensive response.
For example, in the case of an argument between two students, perhaps we should spend more time mediating the kids and letting them exchange view and clearing the air. Some do this already, others are reluctant to use the time (and go for a quick apology instead). Only when it seems that both sides can appreciate the other’s point of view, should we request the apology. That way it will be genuine and longer lasting.
Elton John once sang that “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.”
It’s only hard when the person saying it, actually means it.