Is sorry puppy always supposed to be sorry?

This blog post discusses the phenomena of feeling the need to constantly apologize for one’s existence. It’s when “repentance” goes overboard.

Scenario I:”You always say, ‘I’m sorry.'”

I had only been talking to him for a couple hours and he was already psychoanalyzing me. Despite the brevity of exposure, his insight into my character was uncanny. After he made that statement I tried semi-successfully weeding out those two words from my vocabulary. Since then I have continued to make an effort to stop apologizing incessantly.

Scenario II:”If you care about what people think about you stand on the right side of the room.”

And there I was, the lone participant in the survey on the right side of the room. The next question was something along the lines of “would you do something that needed to be done, even if others didn’t like you for it?” And again I shared my overwhelming desire to be liked and accepted. When the surveyor asked me why I was on the right side I answered, ‘Maybe it’s because I’m Asian and this is the way I was brought up.’ What I meant was I was always taught to obey and concede, even when I didn’t like it. Speaking up for myself was disobedience and disobedience was a sin punishable by Hell. Therefore, I must always obey. I interpreted that in my mind as I must always do what others want. I backed it up with Bible verses such as, “deny yourself,” “take up your cross,” “consider others better than yourself,” “to give is better than to receive,” etc. Somehow in my faulty exegesis I considered offending others as one of the ultimate sins.

Scenario II: Today’s ESL Class

Fast forward to today. During class, I was sweating bullets because some of my students were whipping through the material I had prepared at lightening speed and they looked bored, while other students were taking their sweet time like tortoises on a leisurely stroll. There I was stranded because I could not please all my students. Each one of my students has a different expectation of me and the fear of not meeting their expectations is what keeps me up at night. It also makes me hate the job that I initially had valued and enjoyed so much. And this scene of struggling with multi level learners has been repeating itself for my whole teaching career. This has been the toughest aspect of teaching, learning that I cannot please everyone.

If you ever taught, you know what it’s like to have constraints. You have your directors who need good test scores. And then you have parents who also desire results (or if you teach adults like I do, you have expectations for jobs and a higher salary.) And finally you have the actual students sitting in your class who have their own preferences and learning styles. In a classroom with 20 students there are so many variables for learning; this transforms the teacher, in a sense, to a juggler attempting to find the magic elixir that once imbibed will give the student the ability to have English flow from their lips as water from a faucet. I put a lot of pressure on myself for my students to succeed and it kills me. Not only that, but the old school I taught at put the blame for any failure of the student solely on the shoulders of the teacher. In the classroom, however, my spineless posture of attempting to save everyone gets me (and my students) no where.

“Get over yourself, MJ.”

Those are the words I said to myself after class today. After the 105 minutes of teaching responsibility were up I realized my fear of letting people down is not sustainable. I cannot cater my class to what my students want. I have to decide what my objectives are, how my students will reach them and how I will assess them on it. I have to make a plan backed up by my own reasons and stick with it. Then when my students disagree, which is inevitable (someone always disagrees), I have explanations. I have a degree in education and experience. I am the expert in the classroom. Yet for some reason I had been conditioned to think that owning up to my ability to teach was pride.

Ultimately it is my class and I make the rules. I do not do this out of the desire to control and dictate, but out of practicality. Nothing can be done and no goals can be reached if I’m constantly second guessing every decision I make.

I’m going to be honest, my personality is riddled with insecurity. I have always compared myself to my classmates and siblings. Am I as accomplished as them? Am I as smart? Am I as pretty? Am I as liked? Not only that, but I have always thought that to think anything positively about myself or any personal virtues was sinful because it stemmed from pride, the number one sin. But life cannot be lived like this. I am tired of being afraid and unsure all the time.

The passive-aggressive spectrum    

I don’t know if you can tell from reading this article, but I am very passive, to the point of passive aggression. In my mind I had somehow come to the conclusion that the way to respond as a Christian and a woman in any and every situation was passively. Now, thankfully I’m learning that the passive response is not the only response. I can be assertive, which means I am direct with my expectations and needs.

I am entitled to preferences and expectations. Before I viewed my role as a teacher/victim. Meaning, I have to jump through the hoops that others have set before me, but that is false. I am a person, just as my students and directors are. I am a human being and I have a voice, and I will use it unapologetically.

What are some lessons that you have learned about disobedience or humility? Do you constantly apologize even for things that are not your fault? Have you experienced a posture of constant apology to the point that it eventually became a hindrance? Do you struggle with speaking in an assertive way, which is neither passive nor aggressive?


  1. Probably all teachers (including Bible teachers) should read Parker Palmer, author, educator and activist. Courage To Teach is the book I read. This is likely an oversimplification but the gist of his teaching is that the heart of the teacher (and the genuine love for his/her student) is crucial and the most important factor in teaching, far more so that his or her expertise in the subject being taught.

  2. I just listened to a podcast about a guy, John Corcoran, who taught for 17 years, but didn’t know how to read or write. That’s an example of a teacher who had heart, but not expertise.

    But I think that claim is subject specific. At the college level there needs to be a threshold of expertise, but what determines that level, I don’t know. That book sounds good. Teaching takes a lot of courage!

    • My thought is that if one truly has heart, they would master their subject (for the sake of giving his/her students the best content). But one could master the subject without heart.