To what extent do you view yourself as an educator of CHARACTER in the secondary classroom?How far do our responsibilities to teach civic responsibility, leadership, citizenship, respect, etc....

To what extent do you view yourself as an educator of CHARACTER in the secondary classroom?

How far do our responsibilities to teach civic responsibility, leadership, citizenship, respect, etc. extend into our classrooms where we are also expected to teach our curriculum?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wow. All the things you mention are SO important, and your point about time available, along with teaching the curriculum, strikes such a chord, I'm sure with many of us.

Years ago this was stressed as a part of teaching, and then there was a sense that some parents did not want us parenting. I believe things have shifted again.

I have always felt it was important to teach character. As an English teacher, it was easier in discussing the concept through literature. Honesty, leadership, respect, etc., are so necessary and sometimes not just difficult to teach, but hard to find. If we don't teach it, who does? "Rock stars, Hollywood babes and politicians?" Parents struggle to do so, but celebrities are cool, where parents are...old and boring.

Some of the most famous or recognizable faces in society don't set a strong example for loyalty, integrity, etc., so I expect it rests with teachers and mentors to try to explain what publicly so often seems an unimportant aspect of the human condition.

We talk about it at unexpected times (the teachable moment). And I try to do a unit each year (just a "mini") about cheating. In a survey of three questions, followed by exactly the same survey—but given anonymously—I ask my kids how they feel about cheating. There is always a surprisingly large number of students who believe cheating is wrong IF you get caught.

It's not easy doing the right thing or being a "good" person, for adults and kids alike. Teaching the concept is difficult. You plant the seed and hope it takes root. If this is the best we can do, so be it. But I do believe we have a responsibility to put the ideas out there and promote them as best we can.

Great question!

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

History and Literature teachers are afforded many opportunities to reinforce values and ethics in their teaching.  As students read the classics, profound moral lessons are imbued in subtle ways so that students do not feel that they have been preached to.  Interestingly, so often students make what they feel is their own observation about human conduct that indicates their assimilation of themes from what they have read.

For the most part, however, these observations are merely reinforcements of what students have already learned from home since studies have shown that basic values are formed in children by age six.  Nevertheless, the reinforcements of literature and historical lessons do seem to help strengthen the moral character of students.  For example, students certainly learned the repercussions of stealth and lying during Nixon's last term.

After a teacher retires, he/she will be told by former students what type of example was set for them.  They may not recall any lessons of the discipline, but they will certainly remember how the teacher acted in certain circumstances.

clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think I actually do more character education on a daily basis than curricular education, in terms of how much my students listen to the character lessons versus the parts of speech lessons.

Character education comes very naturally to me because I get into my students lives easily and quickly.  I am a very personal teacher and I share a lot of myself personally.  Because of that, my students are the same way.  I have multiple opportunities a day to help kids think for themselves and consider others' points of view.  I can't stand the general sense of disrespect that is so prevalent in teenager attitudes.  I cannot stand how often it goes ignored and enabled.  I always attack attitudes, directly and publically, in my classroom, and force kids to think before they talk.  At the beginning of a semester, this is a trait that often makes me feared and hated as a teacher.  But by the end of most semesters, I've found my classroom becomes a place where students are more comfortable, more respectful, and generally less afraid to share their feelings and opinions.

rskardal eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Should we teach students to have character? With America's current emphasis -- both in terms of teacher evaluation and school funding -- on standardized test scores, I would expect many American public school teachers to focus more on "hard" curriculum skills than on "soft" skills like character development. This is not to say that teaching character is unimportant, though I think that the word "character" itself is ambiguous in this context. It's worth noting that some schools attempt to define the aspects of character that their schools should teach and assess in their mission or philosophy statements; other systems do not. I agree with pohnpei's suggestion that some subject teachers have an easier job of incorporating character education into their teaching, but I think we can argue that, as kmalone suggests, all teachers can incorporate character objectives into their classes. The thing is, if everyone wants to do this -- not only teachers but I suspect many parents as well -- why are so few teachers in this forum citing curriculum objectives related to character?

susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I guess I lean toward literature that forces students to come to terms with their own moral standards.  That is why I enjoy teaching such works as Faulkner's Light in August, or Greene's The Power and the Glory, or Roy's The God of Small Things, to name a few.  In studying each work, students attempt to apply preconceived moral codes to situations that defy such dictums.  In a sense, they must redefine what is they believe is right and what is wrong.  Literature teaches that the world is very complex, that humans are very complicated, and that the situations they find themselves are difficult.  We try to do the best we can, we try to do what is right, but at times the path is not always clear.  Cormac McCarthy in All the Pretty Horses illustrates this idea very well.

In other words, teaching literature involves shaping character.  It, by its very nature, invites students to judge characters and their decisions within a given context, and by extension, students develop a finer sense of their own moral codes.

missy575 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Most people who go into teaching do so because they wish to contribute to shaping character. But by the time these kids are 18 and in our secondary classrooms, they do need to be living with stated and unstated consequences of lack of character. In public education our hands are often tied because of the so many varying values systems that students encounter in their homes. What one set of parents believes is a bad word, another set of parents will use prolifically with their children.

I find myself pushing citizenship, respect and responsibility as far as I can in my classroom because for a short amount of time, I have a stage with these kids. They may never all grasp the concepts I try to teach through classroom discipline, those "teachable moments", or when the curriculum gives me opportunity with characters from a novel, but I try. Then, I cut myself some slack and acknowledge that I can't save them all.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To some extent, this is an easier question for those of us who teach things like history and government.  Much of what we teach about does have to do with citizenship and how people should act when they are part of a democratic nation, etc.

However, outside of that, the only thing that we can do is to model behaviors and to discuss them.  This is much more effective than preaching about them.  If we talk about how students ought to behave (us telling them), they will not generally listen.  However, if we model good behaviors and if we have discussions about such things, we are likely to encourage them to think and come to their own conclusions. This is the most effective way that we can teach character and such things as that.

So I believe that we are not educators of character if that means that we set out to explicitly teach our students to hold certain values.


larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have often told younger teachers in my department that anything one says or does in the presence of a student is a "teaching" moment--not a teachable moment, but a teaching moment. Students learn much more from example than precept. One must be cognizant of the fact that not all lessons are positive. If my students know that I am active politically and vote in all elections, then I have emphasized to them the duty of voting. If they overhear me joking with another teacher about tearing up an out of town parking ticket, I am also teaching them about responsibility, in a negative way, sadly. For that reason, I always conduct myself in a way which I hope will reflect creditably toward my students. I address them with the same respect I expect from them, and do nothing in their presence I would not expect to see from them.

trophyhunter1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
To what extent do you view yourself as an educator of CHARACTER in the secondary classroom?

How far do our responsibilities to teach civic responsibility, leadership, citizenship, respect, etc. extend into our classrooms where we are also expected to teach our curriculum?

In my opinion and from 29+ years of classroom experience, I think a large part of our job as educators is to somehow teach values and morals. I do this by example. I also do this if a student asks a specific question regarding a moral issue by my response. Manners are important to teach too. Sometimes, kids interrupt eachother while a discussion is going on. We as adults, have to reinforce manners, leadership, and being genuinely good people and citizens.

kmalone614 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I firmly believe that all teachers, regardless of topic, are called to teach character, but it can be done WHILE we teach content. We all know that students - all of us really - learn better when we have prior knowledge or meaningful input to attach it to. What better to attach our content to than a student's sense of right and wrong?

High school students do not like to be taught down to. To include in our content discussions of civic responsibility or respect, is to include them in "adult" conversation about "real" things. Our students will respect us more, and we'll be come better teachers because of it.

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I use teachable moments when they crop up to teach character. For example my students are not allowed to use words like retarded, gay and other offensive words. When they do, however, I address the issues such as how offensive it is to people who live that reality for those words to be used as insults. I use teachable moments to address stereotypes when students use expressions like "blonde moment" or when they call themselves stupid. I don't teach lessons on character, but I use teachable moments consistently and effectively. I also try to teach character by modeling socially acceptable and expected behaviors.

kapokkid eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'd like to think that every so often I have a chance to teach my students about character, but hopefully I am providing opportunities for them to learn about it.  We often try to read things that raise questions about how we look at the world and what we think is right and wrong and give them a chance to discuss it as well.

I also hope that by example I can provide good modeling for them as far as trying to be a good person, but I would guess that everyone feels that way.

trophyhunter1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As an educator of character, I try to build self-esteem in my classroom. I also try to help students become independent. However, another important role of an educator is to emulate values and behaviors that would be important for later on in life when the student is hopefully working in a productive career. These values are being on time, reliable, honest, consistent, speaking a manner that doesn't include cursing like many of our students do, etc. Students learn by example.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

By the time students get to middle and high school, their personalities are pretty much set.  They are not entirely polished though.  The polishing is the job of secondary teachers.  If we teach students to explore their world and themselves, we can show them what kind of person we want them to be.  Then all we can do is hope that they will choose to be better versions of themselves.

lrwilliams eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In today's classroom we are all teachers of Character. I like the post by larrygates and the example he gives about teaching by example. It seems that most of our students unfortunately would grab hold of the second example as the one they would remember and learn from.

deannashelor | Student

Being an educator of character has everything to do with teaching in the secondary classroom.  In an ideal world, students come to us well on their way to becoming the bourgeoning stand-up adults they would become.  The reality of the situation is that the majority of today's students seem to have a very limited perception as to the applicability or the importance of character.  By the time students reach the secondary classroom, if they have not learned this it is doubly difficult to address or correct this.

I do self discovery projects in my classroom that help students identify who they are and explore what and who they want to be. One example is the Illustrated Dictionary where students must find a word for every letter of the alphabet to describe them or their personal interests.  They must create a package for their dictionary as well as provide definitions, paragraphs that relate the words to them, and provide graphic depictions.  Some use photos, some draw or use magazines, others use graphic design.  All these activities serve the students in many levels and they get them thinking about themselves in ways they have never thought of before.

I also do a multi-genre project where students pick a topic and explore it in different ways -- various writing styles, numerous graphic representations, heart maps, neighborhood maps, wanted posters. Topics relate to the works we are reading.  The choices and the finished product help to build character.


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