The Power of Real Apologies in a Fake-Apology World

You might not need to go to these lengths to apologize. (Photo credit: butupa)

You might not need to go to these lengths to apologize. (Photo credit: butupa)

Apologies require the highest level of human capacity: mindful self-reflection and the ability to acknowledge another person’s experience. If that isn’t hard enough, it often requires putting ourselves in a position of vulnerability—often to the person to whom we are apologizing.

That’s why no one has ever woken up in the morning excited because they have to apologize to someone. Of course, it feels better in the long run, and yes, it’s the “right” thing to do, but usually we dread these moments. It’s why we so often come up with reasons not to apologize, like refusing to believe we’re wrong, excusing our behavior, blaming the other person, or thinking nothing we say will make a difference.

Adults often have the best of intentions; however, the way we teach children to apologize is often counterproductive. We often force them to apologize when they don’t mean it or we don’t understand what’s really going on. We demand they apologize, get angry with them when they refuse, and then don’t think to revisit what happened later when they’ve been given a chance to self-reflect. Or, we make them apologize but don’t realize or know what to do when they only apologize to get themselves out of trouble.

But there is a lot on the line: how you as a teacher model and teach giving and accepting apologies matters. If you handle these moments well, you are giving young people a foundation for their ethical development. If you don’t, you miss a critical opportunity to demonstrate your values in action and it decreases your credibility as an ethical authority figure.

Students Speak: 7 Poems About the Stars

Whether we’re looking up from a front porch on a warm June evening or watching from the beach as people dance around, there’s no better time for stargazing than in the summer. This week, we’ve compiled seven Poet Warriors poems about the stars; take a moment to read through them, look up, and step into the summertime dreamings of our students.

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Read the full poems:

Family and Orgullo: A TFA Alum Attends a Former Student’s Graduation

This week, New York City welcomes its 2014 corps to my beloved city, a place where I call home and am raising my two daughters. Ten years ago, I was in the incoming corps members’ shoes, and didn’t yet know that my life would be forever changed by my students and fellow teachers in the South Bronx—and by one student in particular, Oscar.

On Saturday, I attended Oscar’s high school graduation alongside his family. I was reminded that my commitment to my students and my community was in no way a two-year gig. I am a teacher for life, and celebrating Oscar’s tremendous accomplishment reminded me that the impact I can have on my students—and their impact on me—goes beyond a single school year.

Dear Oscar,

Do you remember that first day of school in September 2004? I do. I remember meeting my 28 new second- and third-graders from the Hunts Point area of the South Bronx. You met me, a brand-new Teach For America teacher, Miss Castellano. You probably saw right through me: excited and scared to death, but bent on providing a bilingual education for my students, one that never happened for my parents and grandparents who immigrated from Italy and Colombia.

The Letter


During Induction, a piece of paper was placed in my hands.

“Write a letter to yourself,” someone told me. “We’ll mail it to you later.”

I remember writing in my cockeyed script on the unlined white paper. I remember telling myself to focus on my motive no matter what challenges were ahead. I remember writing something about my values. And then I placed the letter in an envelope and forgot it.

Months later, a letter appeared in my mailbox. I opened it and read the first line:

Dear Lydia,

Immediately I was overwhelmed with a sense of irritation at the naïve and idealistic girl. I put the letter back inside. My dreams were too broken. The year had been too hard. I wasn’t in the mood to hear the ramblings that I imagined were in that letter. So I put it in a pile of papers—once again forgotten.

Student Poetry: 6 Summertime Poems

Summer is finally here! Like other kids across the country, our Poet Warriors anticipated this day all school year, so today we look back on six summertime poems written by kids daydreaming out the classroom window. Grab your surfboard and soak up some sunny stanzas!

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Read the full poems:

Coloring Outside the Lines: Addressing the Error in Literacy Education

(Photo credit: Brenda Clarke)

(Photo credit: Brenda Clarke)

When I tell people what I do, they cringe. Seriously cringe—as though I’ve just pinched them or recounted a dramatic history of medieval bloodletting.

I teach ninth-grade English.

On cue, they are abuzz with stories of memorizing Shakespearean soliloquies and reciting conjugations of irregular verbs. I admit this is only a small part of what I do (the bloodletting, not the recitation of irregular verbs). Predictably, the conversation veers toward the demographic composition of my inner-city charter school and how it must be so difficult to teach English to those children. How it must be impossible to make those students read because their parents probably don’t know who Shakespeare is.

The next question, adamantly, is why. Why would I, a Brown University graduate, subject myself to such a daunting task (the teaching, not the bloodletting)? Why don’t I simply obtain a doctorate and live happily as a college professor among cobblestone walkways and grassy quadrangles? That’s what bookish people like me do, isn’t it? And there has to be something wrong because I’m not already pursuing my Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies like my liberal comrades.

At this juncture, I generally decide whether I should mention that unlike the majority of my Ivy League peers, I received full need-based financial aid to attend school. That in several notable ways, I identify with those students.

Father’s Day Poetry: Students Write About Their Dads

(Photo credit: Pascal)

(Photo credit: Pascal)

Sitting in a classroom in Sanders, Arizona, 7th grader Onajae Betoney put her pencil to the page. Her teacher, Katrina Turner (New Mexico, ’13), gave her the freedom to write about whatever she wanted, and so Onajae wrote “Loving My Daddy.”

Like so many of the students who write for Teach For America’s Poet Warriors Project, Onajae was told she could write what matters the most and could publish a poem for the nation to see, and she chose to proudly share the story of her dad. In the past few months alone, at least 70 other Poet Warriors have published poems about their fathers. On this Father’s Day, we want to share a few excerpts. (Click the links to see the full poems on

 Phoua can only describe his father using the most beautiful metaphors:

He’s the leaves that reach so high,

which sits right on the tree tops.

He’s those fences

that guards the flowers.

He’s those hopes

that keeps us believing…

My dad is the sun

that shines through the hardships.

Excerpt from “Family,” by Phoua Lee

Should Tech-Free Time Be Part of Our Lesson Plans?

(Photo credit: Pittaya Sroilong)

(Photo credit: Pittaya Sroilong)

A lot of teachers will read this headline and laugh. Anyone who has worked in a struggling school has likely encountered a startling lack of technology resources. Many of you have probably been teaching for two, three, four years and have never seen one of those “SmartBoard” contraptions that everyone is talking about.

You’re not alone. During my first two years teaching in Philadelphia, I delivered all of my instruction via a cracked chalkboard and hand-written transparencies on an overhead projector. That wasn’t the dark ages—that was 2009. And, not surprisingly, that lack of technology meant that many of my high school students couldn’t type, didn’t have email addresses, had no idea what spellcheck was, and couldn’t find credible information online. I did what I could to help them learn 21st-century skills, but there was only so much I could do with 50 minutes a day and no computers.

After that experience, I found myself wondering how teaching and learning might change in a technology-rich environment. I accepted a job at a technology-driven charter school, where all my students had a personal laptop that they were expected to use every day in every class. For my freshman, it was a steep learning curve. Like my students in Philadelphia, many of them had very little experience with technology in an academic setting. But they learned quickly because it was always at their fingertips. I’m certain that they will have a considerable advantage in their educational and professional endeavors because they learned to use tools like email, shared drives, and blogs.

But the longer I work in education publishing and curriculum development, the more I wonder if the push to integrate technology into every aspect of learning is doing our students a disservice. We already have plenty of cognitive research that warns against introducing too much technology to younger students. Too much screen time can impair development of motor skills and vision in the early years of life. But now an article recently published in The Atlantic is making a case for why we might want to limit technology for our older students. There’s a new study out that confirms what many of us might have intuitively known: if we use computers to record information and take notes, we don’t learn as much as when we take notes by hand. The study also found that people have a harder time studying or reviewing new information when they only have digital notes for reference.