Teaching is a very difficult job, but parenting is even harder. I know this firsthand as I once was a teacher and now am a parent. As a parent, I rely on teachers to keep my children safe throughout the day, to teach my children the academics needed to be successful, and trust that they are teaching and reinforcing character traits. As a teacher, I had faith in our students and confidence in their parents. Teacher hopes that when students go home, they are taught the same manners, values, and behaviors that we reinforced at school.
Parents and teachers should act as one team – teaching and leading the children with the same message. In my experience, there is a gap between what happens at school and what happens at home. Teachers can’t fully understand what each child goes home to, what expectations they are held to, and what kind of family life they have and parents only have a glimpse of what their child spends their day learning and experiencing at school.
We aren’t born with most of these traits like courage, respect and citizenship. We must be taught character and its importance. We are taught and encouraged to use polite words, to respect adults, to cooperate with others, to show compassion to someone when they are grieving, and to persevere even when life is tough.
As a teacher, I think about former students and often wonder what they are doing now. I have had past students reach out to me and ask for help, advice, or just say a quick “hello,” which I love. I also enjoy hearing their success stories proving they learned the academic and character traits necessary to live the “American Dream.”
I often think of the student who I taught and knew she was learning it. I think about the child who I and many other teachers taught about character, how to seek out good character traits in others, and about courage to stand up for yourself. How could she be the one I read about in the paper? Why did she make such a tragic choice? Where did things go wrong for this beautiful, intelligent, young lady who was my student in 6th grade?
Sadly, there are many similar stories out there about my former students. How do we prepare our students to live in a society where bullying and violence is a daily occurrence? How can we prepare the leaders of tomorrow to face the future with courage and fearlessness?
Even though we live in a society that hears about cyberbullying on a consistent basis, we also hear about incredible character that people exude on daily basis. We hear about how teenagers risk their lives for others, how people half way around the world help those grieving and in need, how children save their parent’s lives, how students stick up for each other when their rights are violated, and the list increases every day.
We have the opportunity to use these stories and teach our children what character truly is all about. Let’s use the Character Choices curriculum to its fullest extent. Let’s take each of the nine traits (respect, responsibility, cooperation, compassion, good judgment, integrity, perseverance, citizenship, courage) and make them come to life for our students! Let’s allow our students to learn these traits while learning academics, throughout interactions with teachers, watching videos of people of character, in literature, with song, and by becoming involved with the community. If character was taught in a way that was infused into both their school life and home life it would become increasingly ingrained into them. Just imagine students holding each other accountable for character and instead of working against each other. They would realize that it benefits everyone to work together.
Along with teaching our children about these traits we need to work with the families and communities to make these traits come to life! Research on character education programs has shown that you can use any character education program effectively in a school, but if the parents and community aren’t educated and involved then the program, it is generally ineffective. I wish I would have had the foresight to educate my “lost” student’s parents more on what I saw happening with her life every day and what traits and problem solving skills that I encouraged her to use. If her home life and school life had been more consistent maybe she could have been helped. I can’t speak on past students now, but I do know that we have an incredible Character Choices program that CAN be integrated into everyday lessons, steps that CAN be taught to children to solve problems, notes that CAN be sent home to involve parents, family events that CAN involve the community, and certificates that CAN celebrate those positive everyday choices that lead to great lives. This program has the potential to help parents and guide children to a life that they have always dreamed of.
Will you take on the challenge of helping to guide our student’s character? Will you take a child’s hand?