Character Education in the Public School
As an relatively new educator, I have discovered that part of the problem in our schools today is that our students lack character. They have not been taught at home as so many of us were in our childhoods. The task has come to us to teach these children character and morals. Our society has become so desensitized that no one thinks anything about the fact that these kids have no character. Good solid Christians hide in their homes because they are afraid to go out. Children who have stable home lives are afraid to go out anytime. It is a sad state that we have come to in our soceity today.
As a Christian educator in a public school, I find it hard to teach character without teaching about the relationship with Jesus Christ that goes along with it. However, I have learned that this is what must happen and even though I cannot speak about my faith and about Christ, I make sure that my actions speak about it every day. These character traits that we need to teach our students will not only help them in their work as students, but someday out in the workforce or in their homes, I hope that they will remember the things that they have been taught. The seed is planted and I pray that someday it will take root and grow.
In the 1940ís the top ten discipline problems in schools were: talking out of turn, chewing gum, making noise, running in the hall, cutting in lines, dress code violations and littering. Jump ahead fifty years and in the 1990ís the top problems were: drugs, alcohol, pregnancy, suicide, rape, robbery and assault. Today some of the top problems are shootings, sexual harassment and abuse, pregnancy, and new and worse drugs. What has happened in last sixty years to our children and what can we do about it in our public schools?
There are four things that schools can do to promote educational success. Successful schools eliminate automatic promotion and administer standards. They evaluate teachers yearly. A school should not necessarily give a teacher an extended contract. So many teachers when the trial period is over, knowing that they cannot be automatically fired, do not teach as well as they once did. Knowing that a poor evaluation can lead to termination is good and helps a teacher keep his focus over the years as he continues to teach. There is a disciplined learning environment. Everyone is treated the same regardless of race, color or creed. Successful schools reject relativism and teach the values that built our nation, and promote character. This helps children develop successful habits.
So what are the teacherís responsibilities the classroom and with students? A teacher must act as a caregiver and mentor. It is important to love and nurture kids. It is important to help them succeed. Once they begin to succeed, they will want to continue that success and will look for the teacher for help in order to do so. It is important to take transgressions seriously but lovingly. The transgression must be important to the adult in order for it to be important to the student. This is how you get students to care about moral values.
Mentoring is a form of loving. A teacher must love troubled kids to death. They must be reached before they can be taught. Some ways to accomplish this are as follows. It must be private. There must be time for the teacher and the student to have a discussion in private away from others students and staff. Developing a realtionship with this student is important as well. However, you want to avoid the student being seen as teacher's pet. As you build this relationship, the student will begin to trust and maybe be able to tell you the root of the problem. At this point, you can work together on solutions to the problem. The student must be told what the consequences are and how the behavior will hurt themselves and others. Follow up is the most important. Sometimes it takes time to get through to a student. Written communication can be helpful as well as journaling on the part of the student.
A moral classroom community is important to the success of the whole school. In a classroom community students know each other. They respect, affirm and care for each other. They feel that they are part of a group. It is good to get students to partner up and work together projects. It is also good if the students work with different partners from time to time. It is also good to change the seating arrangement from time to time, so that students have to sit next to someone new. This is the way they get to know each other. As a classroom becomes other focused, they develop patience, understanding and empathy.
There are several ways to develop a group identity in the classroom and to make students feel a part of what is going on. Traditions are an important part of many families. Traditions in the classroom can become important as well. Class meetings, a class song, symbols, and a coat of arms are good examples of class traditions that can be done together as a class. Teacher intervention on behalf of a child is an excellent way to help a child feel included and loved.
Responsibility to and for the group helps to promote a healthy classroom. Establish goals and rules and consequences as a group. This helps promote interdependence which is dependence on self and on each other. Problem solving is another way to promote this interdependence. In coping with a crisis it might be good to hold a class meeting, ask for a confession from the perpetrator and then ask the class to forgive him or her.
Teachers are responsible for the moral discipline in a classroom. They are to project a clear sense of their moral authority. It is their right and duty to teach respect and responsibility and to hold the students accountable. Approach discipline as a way to develop a good moral community in the classroom. Consequences should be used educationally. This helps a student appreciates a ruleís purpose and make amends and improves behavior. It is important to care for and respect the student. Find the cause of the problem and find a solution that will help the student to become successful and responsible in the classroom.
Rule setting can be a daunting task. It is sometimes helpful to get input from all of the students and to make a list of rules from the lists that were made as a group. Sometimes only doing this with unruly classes is a good idea. This helps these students to think about what is respectful and how to be responsible in the classroom. If a teacher has some rules that must be followed without exception, this is okay too. It helps the teacher to enforce their right to teach and studentís right to learn.
Treat enforcement of consequences as teachable moments.
If you are working on consequences as a group, be aware that students will set harsher consequences than adults. This helps them develop moral reasoning. Consenting to consequences beforehand is easy way to get them to look at what they did and to take responsibility for their actions. It is important to develop a relationship with a hostile student. This is not easy, but it is well worth it and can be helpful in disciplining and teaching him. Some consequences are fixed meaning they are the same every time. Some can be variable meaning that the punishment fits the crime. It is important to have a balance in the classroom. This helps a student learn why behavior is wrong and how to make up for it.
In an individual conference a student receives individual discipline and instruction. This type of discipline helps a teacher to look for the root of the problem and explain to the student why the behavior was unacceptable. There is also time to develop a plan to prevent recurrence.
Class meetings are a great way to get to know students and them to get to know you and each other. They can brainstorm together ways to solve problems in the classroom. This then can be carried out into the hallway and to other classrooms. If the students have the skills, they can make an impact on the whole school.
Homework helps to improve grades in lower and average students. If the school day ends and the homework is not in, the student should be made to stay after school until the work is done. One day a week anyone who does not have all work in must stay after school and get the work done. This means no after school activities for that day. This type of discipline has been known to have great success. Students do not want to have to miss their after school activities, whether it be band, sports, drama etc. Quizzes should be based on homework. Pop quizzes are especially important because a student has to always finish the work in order to be prepared.
It is important for the principal to model moral and academic leadership. He must have a vision for the school. It is helpful to have organized clubs, and other organized activities during lunchtime. This helps cut down on discipline during this time of day. Older students can help supervise activities and can help with younger students. This helps to promote school wide community. Also helping to promote school wide community are extracurricular activities, good sportsmanship and school assemblies. There are jobs that students can do together in the school. For example, they can beautify the bathrooms, clean the cafeteria, help in the office or in other classrooms, they can help on the school paper or in the school store if one is available.
As you can see, these ideas can be very helpful. However, it is important that you model your faith along with these values. Teaching values without faith is not a very wise thing to do. Howver, in our post Christian society, sometimes the only thing you can do, is to be a good role model in this area. Sometimes actions do speak louder than words and this is an important concept to consider as you prepare for another school year.
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