“Sorry, I’m…”

Apologizing for our Humanity via Zoom

My time as an #OLDFF fellow was filled with interesting discussions about how to humanize learning, but even as we were working through these complex pedagogical discussions, it seemed so many of us were apologizing for the very things we were there to unpack and unlearn.

In one of the weeks, we were discussing how to do away with deadlines and what it means for our own teaching and learning if all deadlines are flexible. There was a compelling debate in our breakout room regarding how we can trust the students to submit their own work, to respect the value of education, and to commit to learning if deadlines no longer had late deductions or refusals associated with them. I asked something like “Why can’t we just expect that they are not cheating AND that they have other stuff going on in their lives that is more important than our assignments?” At first, this was met with silence by my fellow Fellows and we all agreed that the punitive system of late penalties, etc. was the lens through which we first learned how to be teachers. It was the institution that did this to us, but we internalized it as a natural and normal reality of learning. This was an incredibly saddening realization amongst us as academics.

Following this experience, I reflected on some of the previous weeks we had already shared together. As we had Zoom breakout rooms each week, it dawned on me that each one started roughly the same way. We would introduce ourselves and many of us, including myself, would include an apologizing caveat:

“Sorry, I’m in my pajamas”.

“Sorry, my kid is in the room”.

“Sorry, I’m eating”.

“Sorry, I’m having an existential crisis”.

…the last one might have been mine 😉

Following this realization, in one of our last week’s, our breakout room moved to a conversation about how often we feel like our inability to complete our tasks leads to excuses, guilt, and shame. It was important to witness how we tend to ask things of students that we don’t want to ask of ourselves. This sparked in me the idea that forcing students into a position where they have to ask (if not beg) for extensions is denying them their humanity – or, at least, making them apologize for it. “I’m sorry that I’m going through a really hard time right now…” is a statement I have heard countless times before the pandemic, but especially since the pandemic. Creating a dynamic with students where professors are some sort of receiver of “confessions” or “admissions” is not a power imbalance that any of us should want to perpetuate. We must lead from a space of understanding and kindness – with ourselves and our students – so that we can recognize what it means to move past apologies. We should also not punish students for the structural failures of institutions that expect us to deny their humanity – as well as our own. We can encourage spaces of compassion, support, and recognition of each other’s humanity, so that our relationships are not forged from a space of “I’m sorry,” but rather “I’m here”.

By Victoria Kannen

Sessional Instructor

Communication Studies

Twitter @victoriakannen

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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