Third in a series by student teacher Rebecca Bauer. She graduated from a National School of Character and wants to make sure that as a teacher she includes character education, but she is finding it challenging.

EveRebecca Bauern at an elementary school as great as the one that I was working at, I still felt the need to “sneak in” character education. The classroom environment encouraged respect and responsibility, but another part of the character education equation, critical thought and discussion, was missing.  Despite believing deeply in the importance of character education, I felt uncomfortable making time to devote entire lessons to it, especially in a classroom that I was only borrowing for a couple months. While I have read and will continue to read ways to incorporate character education into the common core standards requirements, as a student teacher trying to get by, my survival strategy turned into simply sprinkling in character education wherever I could.

When teaching the strategy, reading comprehension through personal connections, I used “Horace and Morris but Mostly Delores…” to discuss friendship and how our experiences help us understand how the characters are feeling. During “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” I made sure to take the time to point out the problematic nature of Alexander’s comment to his friend. Because even on a bad day, saying “I hope you sit on a tack” is still not okay. I even used their lunch work time to assign writing prompts that would get students thinking. What makes a good friend? What would you do if you were invisible? Yet it never felt like enough. Before I knew it, six weeks had passed and I had finished my first placement. If I had been there longer, I think I would have found more innovative ways to incorporate character education into daily activities. Although I didn’t have that opportunity, luckily, my second placement presented many new ones.

On the first day of my second placement, I entered the front door of a building that looked more like a house than a school and began my experience at a tiny, progressive private school,
where I quickly discovered life was very different. While the lack of structure and scheduling terrified me, suddenly we had it. We had time. Time to talk. Time to question. Time to analyze. There was no sense of urgency. The teachers knew it. The children knew it. Everyone treated each other better because of it. On one of my first days my cooperating teacher explained to me, that students generally don’t shout out or talk over each other, because they don’t have to worry about having their voices heard. It may take a while, but all would get the chance to speak their minds. This sentiment became even more apparent when the children were put to the ultimate test of manners and kindness: sharing food.

The children had spent part of the day making corn bread and when the teacher arrived with the warm treat, all were excited. The teacher announced, “Like always, wait for everyone to be
served before you start eating.” I almost laughed when I heard this. Who was he kidding? Then I looked around the room. Everyone sat there, patiently waiting. “Why do we wait for everyone to be served?” He asked. The kids explained that it was nice to wait for everyone. “How would you feel if people didn’t wait for you?” I asked. We agreed that it wouldn’t feel very good. Then everyone dug in and ate their corn bread.

The instances of character education abound in the daily life at this school. Teaching personal responsibility, we help a child reframe the situation when he asserts that his mom forgot his jacket. Teaching about kindness and consideration for others, we often ask, “Is there a different
way you can say that?” Perhaps, “I’d like some space right now,” rather than “I don’t want to sit next to you!” The benefits of sending these messages and promoting a thoughtful process, reveals itself in unexpectedly wonderful ways. One morning, when I was taking up the entire table writing the morning message, a 5 year old approached me with a deck of UNO cards. He looked around and said, “I can see you’re working here. I’ll find another space.” It is that
combination of critical thinking and kindness that I hope to instill in all of my students. I know that helping children develop these skills needs to be a top priority. The only question that remains is a frequent teacher struggle. Where exactly do I find the time?