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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Why can’t we accept teacher’s apology?

This article is prompted by a view reported in The Star yesterday here - http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2008/8/11/focus/22052908&sec=focus.


Why can’t we accept teacher’s apology?

THERE is inconsistency in the Malaysian way of responding and reacting to certain misdeeds and mistakes committed.

Presidents, prime ministers, ministers and politicians have often made remarks that intruded on the sensitivities of certain groups of people.

Very often the offended would demand the offender retract the uncalled for remarks and tender his apology.

The unpleasant issue is considered solved upon tendering the apology.

The history teacher of SMK Telok Panglima Garang in Banting is just a human being that similarly erred.

Even after she apologised, we want her to bleed to death.

There is no provision in the law to demand she be expelled from her job, just as there is nothing to compel a president, prime minister or politician to quit or be sacked.

She is not the first person to commit such a mistake, and she will not be the last.

Just forgive her as she has apologized.


Kluang, Johor


I am simply aghast at BATMAN's view. There are so many parts that I personally disagree, although for this article I will just focus on the apology part. The question that was asked is "Why can't we just accept the teacher's apology?"

Let's examine a general example first. Let's imagine that someone has made a mistake that has caused you hurt, harm or some other form of loss. He then says "Sorry". Is this the end of the story?

What if after he says he's sorry, you noticed that he didn't really believed that he was wrong. He just say "sorry" because he thinks that this is what you want to hear. But he still believed that what he did is right. Is this a sincere apology?

And what about your loss? The harm that has been inflicted on you? The hurt? Is this just a simple matter of saying "sorry", and that's the end of it? Who should be responsible to make amends for the loss? The harm? The hurt?

And what if the person after having said he is sorry, then, went back to his behaviour again? Do you think he will change his behaviour if he has not accepted in the first place that what he did was wrong?

To me, I've always felt that an apology - a sincere one - encompass more than just saying "I'm sorry", even though it is a good start.

To me, there are at least 4 elements to a sincere apology. If there is any 1 element missing, it is not a sincere apology, and I normally cannot accept such an apology. To me all 4 elements should be present for me to accept and to forgive in time.

1. Self-acceptance. The offender himself must first accept that he has committed a mistake, an error in judgement or the like. This self-acceptance must be present. If he doesn't accept it, you can know about it very quickly. E.g. you hear excuses. Or explanations that puts the blame on something or someone else. Common sense and your own heart will tell you whether this "self-acceptance" exists or not. If you can't sense it, it doesn't exist. If he doesn't accept that he is responsible for his mistakes, then, the "I'm sorry" that comes after that isn't usually worth much.

2. Apologize. Once the self-acceptance and self-realization is there, then, the next step is to clearly communicate to the victim "I'm sorry". It needs to be done in a timely, sincere and humble manner. The victim must be able to feel your remorse (the sense that you are "sorry"). If it's done person in person, don't avoid eye contact. Don't fidget. Be open and say "I'm sorry". Clearly specify the event, clearly acknowledge where and what you did was wrong, be specific. And instead of doing that, tell them what you should have done instead. It shows you accepted that you were wrong.

3. Take ownership. Be accountable, and be responsible for the mistake. Make amends. If there is a financial loss, offer to pay for that loss if the entire loss is caused by you. If a physical harm has been done, then, offer to pay for the hospitalization and medical bill and anything else that you can reasonably do. In other words, as part of the apology, be prepared to take responsibility for the consequences of your mistake.

4. The Commitment. Commit to learn from this experience, and commit to never repeat the mistake again. We all know "I'm sorry" is easy to say, but is shallow when the same mistake gets repeated. There is no short cut to apologies. You cannot say "I'm sorry" and then keep repeating this behaviour. It is simply not acceptable. The question is how does one demonstrate this behaviour? To me, it is part of 3. And part of 2. And part of 1. They are all interlinked. When you yourself has accepted deep inside you that you've made a mistake, when your apology is sincere, when you've shown that you are genuine to make amends and take what ever responsibility that is necessary, and you know what to do next time, then, it shows that you are committed to not repeat the same mistake again. It shows you have learnt from that experience, you know what must be done in future, and that is a very, very good thing.

In fact, I want to share with you also this link from Wiki - http://www.wikihow.com/Apologize. It has 10 steps on how to apologize. It is more detailed than my 4 Steps, but the contents appear similar.

So, going back to the article above - "Why Can't We Accept the Teacher's Apology".

Well, this article alone doesn't quite explained what happened. We need to understand what exactly was her offence in the first place. MT reported this here - http://us3.malaysia-today.net/2008/content/view/11225/84/


Gunaraj said some teachers in the school were blaming the affected students for lack of a history teacher.


"In the incident last month, the teacher allegedly told students of a certain ethnic group in a Form Four class that she "wanted to test their level of patience" and then began abusing them with derogatory words.

She even wrote the words on the blackboard.

Two students later lodged police reports against her.

Several days earlier, she had allegedly entered a Form Five class and called the students using a derogatory word.

She also accused them of being gangsters and thieves.

She was also alleged to have ordered the boys to do push-ups.

When some of them could not do so, she allegedly stomped on their backs."


So, what do you think?

Do you think that this teacher single apology is acceptable?

Even though I haven't followed the story in detail, there is more than enough information in the italics above that tells me loudly that this is an extremely serious problem in that school.

Firstly, did the teachers in the school accepted that what was done was very wrong? Did they demonstrated remorse? Or are they blaming the students for a lack of history teacher? Do you think there was true self-acceptance by the school?

What about the teacher? Did the teacher concerned accepted that what she did was wrong? Did she demonstrated remorse? Or did she apologize because her superiors told her to do so? Or did she apologized because she just want to keep her job?

What exactly did the teacher do that was wrong? I count at least 5 mistakes, not just 1. I expect the teacher to clearly acknowledge that:
1. It was wrong to hurl derogatory words to the specific individuals involved.
2. It was wrong to write those words on the blackboard.
3. It was wrong to accuse the specific individuals to be gangsters and thieves.
4. It was wrong to punish the boys with push ups.
5. It was wrong to further step on the boys on their back.

Those are just 5 mistakes reported, but it is possible there is more mistakes that went unpublished.

Did the teacher accepted that each of these 5 areas are a mistake? Did someone else has to specify it to her, or did she come to that realization herself?

If you are the guilty party (e.g. if you are a student that was victimized), I think it should be clear whether you can feel the "remorse". A genuine apology can be felt by the victims.

Second, how has the teacher concerned apologized? Was the apology done person-to-person to each individual student that was affected by her abuse and their parent if necessary? She abused specific persons in Form 4 class and specific persons in Form 5 class in public. What should be an appropriate manner to apologize? Would a "blanket apology" alone be sufficient without a one-on-one apology? Would an apology communicated by a "third person" on her behalf sufficient or even genuine? Do you think the parents and the students can ever trust her again, if her apology is not genuine?

Third, what has the teacher done to show that she is taking responsibility and making amends? Besides the individual students and their parents, did the teacher publicly apologize at the school assembly? Did she apologize at the school assembly? Her actions brought disrepute to the school's good name (or whatever good name it has left). Did the teacher voluntarily apologize to the Headmaster? PTA meeting? Or just the Press? Did she genuinely enquired about the health and well being of the students that she previously stepped on? These are grave and serious offences. What about the profession? It is obvious such a case would bring poor reputation to the teaching profession.

Fourth, has the teacher given the commitment to herself and to others, that this behaviour will never be repeated? In the same situation again next time, what could she has done differently? Has she made this personal commitment to her God, if she is a religious person?

You see, it is not easy to apologize for a mistake of this proportion. Just saying "I'm sorry" is personally not good enough for me. And a blanket apology by a third party cheapens the apology very much.

So, you can see why I think that BATMAN opinion - to use politicians as yardstick - is a poor example and in poor taste indeed. I have yet to see a politician apologize properly in public. Dr Chua Soi Lek comes very close, but I'm still unsure whether I still trust him or not. Something like that usually takes a long time to regain trust.

Personally, I expect teachers to teach politicians how to apologize, not the other way around.

In fact, teachers should be teaching their students how to apologize, by setting good examples themselves.

I think the present case would be a good start to show the world how to apologize properly.

Do you think our teachers know how to apologize?

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