Saturday, November 2, 2013

Teaching Character

When I went to graduate school to obtain a teaching degree, I took many courses. History of Education, Methods, and more. What I didn’t take – what I think I should have taken, was a course in counseling. A course in social work. A course in how to raise children to make the right choices. Those courses are suspiciously absent from my transcript.

Many teachers joke if we could just concentrate on teaching the “curriculum” then our jobs would be so much easier. How true that statement is. On a regular basis I not only try to teach my students to be readers and writers, but I also worry about:

·      The child who is hungry this morning.
·      The children that are in a fight today.
·      The child that is being left out.
·      The child who doesn’t seem to have friends.
·      The child who is angry.
·      The child who is sad.
·      The child who is sending inappropriate texts, Instagrams, etc.
·      The child who is upset because his parents are divorcing.
·      The child who has wrapped up their identity in being popular and, unfortunately, being mean.
·      The child who is trying to be cool, but really is struggling.
·      The child that cannot focus.

And on, and on. I spend at least half of my day dealing with social issues and every year, that time increases. More and more families are struggling at home. More and more parents, it seems, want to be friends with their kids. More and more kids seem to be lost and searching for their place. Fifth grade is an amazing age – the students are excitable, interesting to talk to, and the possibilities are endless. Fifth grade is also a tough age. You are on the cusp of becoming a teen. Peers are becoming more and more important. You are beginning to see who you will become and what you will stand for.

This week we had some issues – girls are being unkind. This isn’t unusual, more par for the course. But I don’t take it lightly and neither do the teachers I work with. We’ve talked with the kids, met with groups of girls, and still the issues persist. Finally I decided to have a lesson in reading class.

We’ve been working on what we take away from stories – how we can connect to them and how they can inspire us to act, change, become better people. We’ve talked a lot about Wonder and choosing to be kind. Friday I wanted them to see how various forms of media can also cause a reaction or change.

I showed them the following video clip:

Afterwards, we had great discussions. We talked about how we could focus on making everyone’s day better. We asked what our school would look like if we tried to give everyone a sincere compliment. The students filled up index cards with their goals on how they were going to make a change. I hope they do.

As the last child walked out the door on Friday, I glanced at my round table. There was a large stack of cards they had made for me to deliver to my mom. They know her as our sub and my mom and they were so concerned when they heard she was in the hospital. I don’t need this visual reminder to know how kind they are, I’ve seen it so many ways this year. We are still working on being kind to each other, but the potential is there, waiting, untapped. This group has so much ahead of them, but old habits are holding them back. I hope Friday’s lesson sticks with them. I hope they realize that they are in charge of who they become, no one else. I hope they reach high and go for something great. I know they can do it.

If my students were just a little older, I think I would show them this video. I just don’t know if they would understand it yet.

I love how Hank Green talks about how our greatest creation is our selves. You create you. This is so important because this is where my students are – they are creating themselves. And I think his line towards the end is so important. I think friendships are the commodity by which we should all be judged. Who our friends are says a lot about us as people. How we treat them says something else. This is what I hope my students can see. Life is short, we need to live it well.