“We should all get more comfortable with owning our shared, flawed humanity and be willing to say them more often.”
This reminds me of a situation that many of my former students probably still remember and have always referred to it as “Remember the zoo!”
This was probably 20 years ago and I had talked my principal into letting my 8 self-contained high school students go to the local zoo with the students in the Child Development class. That class was also bringing along a group of 3 -5 year olds with us. My class consisted of good students but I also had some students who needed closer supervision than others.
Everything went well until lunch time when we left the zoo gates to eat lunch at the picnic shelter close by. 6 of my older male students ( a couple who were 18 years old or older) had forgotten their lunch and asked if they could go to the concession stand to buy some lunch which I allowed them to do. About 40 minutes later they still had not returned and I was very worried. Still with me was a girl who had a brain tumor and was physically clingy to me along with a boy who liked to smoke pot when he thought no one was watching. Seeing how worried I was, the boy offered to watch the girl and promised me he would not smoke pot, do anything illegal, or let the girl wander away. The teacher for the other class was close by and promised to keep an eye on them so off I went to hunt for my wayward boys.
I was imagining all sorts of terrible things such as them teasing young children, maybe feeding them to the animals, or who knows what else! The longer I hunted, the madder I got. Finally I saw them walking to me but when they saw my angry face, they turned around the other way. I screeched for them to stop and not move. Then I proceeded to “get in their faces” and pointed my finger up at every one of them (they were a lot taller than me!) while I scolded them for a long time. They all had their heads hanging down as we went back to the picnic shelter.
Finally after calming down and making sure everyone had lunch, I started feeling bad about ruining their day. A parent pushing a stroller walked by and asked to speak to me on the side. He told me that he saw me scolding the boys and wanted me to know that they all were eating lunch at the concession stand quietly and respectfully the whole time. When I heard that, I felt awful!
I finally talked to the boys calmly and asked them why they didn’t return. They thought they had to eat the food there and wasn’t allowed to take food away from the area. They didn’t know that I was waiting for them and was worried that they hadn’t returned. They thought they were doing the right thing.
At this time, I realized how wrong I was and deeply apologized to them. I tried to explain that my anger was mostly out of worry for them. I didn’t mean to ruin the day for them by being so angry. They were surprised that I apologized but they seemed to understand. For the next hour we went back to the zoo and stayed together as a group.
For years after that, this story became a legend and “Remember the zoo!” was passed on from year to year, especially if we had a field trip planned. Every time we went on a trip, my students were on their best behavior because they never wanted to face my anger (which over time was greatly exaggerated) like those boys had.
It was hard for me to apologize but it was the right thing to do. I think it sets a good example for the students when they see teachers apologizing when they are wrong. It also shows students that teachers are human too.
Have you had a situation where you had to apologize to your students? Please share.
Image: 'Sorry - On Australia Day'
Found on flickrcc.net