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It’s Time for Teachers to Stop Apologizing

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5299579966_3a4453b2ab_oPhoto Credit: Flickr creative commons 95iJuo

It happens every fall. Many first year teachers become newlyweds and begin having children. Veteran teachers in the prime of their careers–those who worked hard to find a balance between work and family–are suddenly responsible for their elderly parents’ care.

Someone gets sick. Someone takes a different job. School begins, schedules change. Life gets in the way and suddenly, we’re drowning. Then we are apologizing.

“I’m sorry. I had to take my mother to the emergency room last night. I’m not as prepared for this meeting as I wanted to be.”

“My daughter has incredible separation anxiety, and the morning drop-off has been a nightmare. I’m feeling the loss of that quiet prep time I used to have before school each day. I’m sorry I’m not better prepared.”

“I’m sorry, but I wasn’t able to finish the chapters for our professional book club.”

“I’m sorry, but I’m not sure I can do this extra duty.”

“I have to attend a mandatory training for my new position–I’m sorry I can’t be there.”

“My husband has cancer. I’m sorry, but I’ll be out for a few days.”

“I have to help my parents with their business. I’m sorry I can’t come back for the concert tonight.”

“I’m doing an internship this fall. I’m sorry I won’t have time to coach.”

“I’m having a meltdown. No one told me it was going to be this hard. No one told me it was going to be this crazy. I don’t think I can do this anymore. I’m sorry I’m letting you down.”

These conversations happen every year, in every school and organization I support. I anticipate them now, and I prepare for the apologies.

I also brace myself against the waves of shame that roll off of these high achieving and outrageously over-scheduled people, as they ask for forgiveness.

Really?

Enough is enough. I say, it’s time for teachers to stop apologizing.

I’ll go first.

I won’t apologize for the fact that I completely overwhelmed myself the first years that I was teaching. I was a newlywed with a new baby and a grandmother who was dying from brain cancer. My husband was working two jobs, and nearly everyone I knew was questioning my sanity.

More than a few plates stopped spinning during my first year teaching, but I regained my footing. I also learned who I could trust, and this was important.

I won’t apologize for failing to post to my own blog or my Twitter or LinkedIn accounts in any sort of predictable fashion at all this summer. Anyone who is anyone in the world of social media marketing will tell you that I should be if I am truly interested in working as an independent consultant long term, but I’m getting back in the groove this week.

More important, I wouldn’t trade my time away for the world. I was filling it with important memories that I won’t ever have a chance to relive with people who mean everything to me.

I won’t apologize for the writing I didn’t do. I wanted to publish far more than I was able to last school year, but instead I spent time writing curriculum with teachers and reading about assessment design and loving a bunch of friends and family members who left us too soon while one kid played too much hockey and the other one got ready to leave for college.

I have a garden. It’s a big one, and I love it. I love my husband too. I have a house to manage and bills to pay and groceries to buy and a cat whose nails need clipping far too often. My dog is going deaf, my living room ceiling needs to be replaced, and my car is in desperate need of a washing.

I’m tending to these things. And I’m not apologizing.

People say life is short, but you know what? It’s also long. Maybe we don’t have to do or be everything all at once.

In most cases, there will be time.

This is true of school lives, our professional lives, our personal lives, and our spiritual lives.

Maybe we need to breathe and seek balance. Sometimes this looks like putting projects aside for a bit or committing to one instead of a dozen. Have you ever noticed how experience often provides valuable fuel for others anyway?

There is no such thing as wasted time. There is an ebb and flow to our lives though, and when we swim against the tide too hard for too long, we end up exhausting ourselves.

If I had one wish for teachers as they return to a world of added responsibilities this fall it would be this: make no apologies for work left undone.

Think of the living you did instead, the other problems you faced and worked hard to solve, the people you cared for, the difference you made, and the lessons you learned along the way.

Instead of berating yourselves for investing your greatest energies elsewhere for a while, be proud of yourselves for taking care of life’s business and for returning to your work undistracted.

Our out-of-school lives matter.

They make us better teachers.

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.

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