Sorry, not sorry

You know what teachers? Kids can be hard. Older kids can be even harder and yet we show up every day hoping to help them along a little further. As we know, we hear it all the time, we don’t always know what happens in our students lives before they get to the classroom but we sure as hell get to deal with the consequences of those events.

I was working with a group of High School teachers recently who were sharing how they were tired of being told to ‘fuck off’, or being called ‘a stupid bitch’. I get why that is tiring. I get why that is exhausting. I also get that with some students, in some places, it happens. Every day.

Let’s just take a look at the whole of that story for a second, hang in with me if you can. Let’s suppose a student has a dreadful morning – maybe mum screamed at him, or she missed breakfast, or he was told off by another student on the way to school, or all three of those things happened. By the time this student gets to school they are already super pissed off. Regardless of being super pissed off they now have to go into a classroom where the teacher expects them to be switched on to learning in that subject area – even if it is not an area they like or are perhaps not good at…doesn’t matter…bell = sit down and learn. They are still pissed. The teacher might only ask them a seemingly insignificant question the response to which is a hearty ‘fuck off’. The teacher, knowing that it was not really intended, states that isn’t the time or place for that kind of language. The student hopefully responds with a ‘Sorry Miss’ or ‘Sorry Sir’. The teacher moves on with the lesson. No harm, no foul.

Except that now the teacher is annoyed because they ‘said sorry but didn’t mean it’.

Now here is the thing. The teacher is correct. The student did not mean sorry.

The student meant ‘I am acknowledging that my language was inappropriate’ and I think we should be OK with that. We talk a lot about how kids say sorry but don’t mean it and that it is because they have been taught to say ‘sorry’ for just about everything and as a result it has no meaning. We even do it as adults. We apologise for things when we are really acknowledging understanding of how we transgressed a social rule, maybe you almost, but not quite, bumped into someone, ‘sorry’. Other adults don’t flip out at us and accuse us of ‘not meaning it’ so why do we do that with kids?

When a student says sorry in this situation it is very much a ‘sorry, not sorry’ situation. It is however an acknowledgement and therefore understanding of the transgression that hopefully they can learn from. Isn’t this what we want? Understanding, acknowledging and learning? It is hard to be sworn at multiple times a day. I get it. But our days can be a little smoother, the students days a little less rough if we can point out the transgression and accept their acknowledgement.

Sorry, not sorry. Works for me. Can it work for you?