Fourth in a series by student teacher Rebecca Bauer who graduated from a National School of Character and wants to make sure that as a teacher she includes character education.
After completing my student teaching, I find myself asking the question that I probably should have started with. What is Character Education and what does it mean to have a Character Education program? Some of the confusion about character education seems to be due to the presence of many different names for the same practices. I have encountered many professors who have never heard of character education but strongly encourage teaching with “a culture of care,” without understanding the enormous overlap. I have met teachers who implement the Responsive Classroom approach, without knowing that in the process, they, too, are incorporating some of the elements of character education. Schools can always teach more character education and there is always more work to be done, but one way to convince people that character education is worth teaching, is by showing them they are already teaching it.
While some schools boast that they have a character education program, simply because they plaster their school with posters encouraging responsibility, others have it deeply embedded in their daily routine and do not even realize it. A large part of getting people enthusiastic about character education ought to be acknowledging the ways they are succeeding. In both of the schools that I student taught in and almost all of the ones I’ve ever visited, morning meeting serves as a friendly, fun, unity building activity. It is a great time for students to get to know more about each other, for the class to discuss group concerns or simply just to play a game to remind everyone that school is fun. In language arts, analyzing character traits during read aloud, character education is actually more inevitable than it is difficult to implement. Simply supervising recess provides a wide variety of opportunities for character education.
Creating a well planned, thorough character-based curriculum is undoubtedly complex and challenging. I do not mean to imply that it is easy. However, knowing how overwhelming student teaching and those first few years can be, I do mean to imply that teaching character education does not need to be difficult. I frequently find myself thinking about and explaining character education in terms of what needs to be done. While it is challenging, I think it is important that we start with what we already have, and build from there.
If we aim to reinvent the wheel, we will run out of time, energy, resources and maybe even hope. However, taking these highly effective aspects of our classrooms, like morning meetings, read-alouds, incentive programs and classroom rules and using them as a springboard for productive discussion, seems like a much more reasonable undertaking. As I continue this beginning stage of my teaching career, I challenge myself, and others in similar positions, to think of character education not as something that needs be in the schools, but rather as something that already is in schools but that needs to be revitalized so that it can reach its fullest potential.