What I’ve Learned: The Power of Character in the Classroom
Educators may spend their careers preparing lessons, but often the most memorable are those they learn themselves. With that in mind, NEA Today asked school staff – everyone from classroom teachers and bus drivers to guidance counselors and school nurses – to share the everyday lessons they’ve picked up along the way in a series called “What I’ve Learned.”
What I’ve Learned: English Teacher Margaret Flaherty
I’ve learned the power of forgiveness. I used to think it was weakness, that to forgive was to allow another a free pass to mistreat me. However, I get my best disciplinary results when I forgive students for their misbehavior and tell them that the true expression of their atonement is in their making a change in their comportment. I am clear with them that tomorrow is a clean slate for both of us, and I explain the positive behavior that I expect. In all of this, forgiveness is the linchpin.
I’ve learned that greeting a student by name at the door goes a long way toward making the classroom a community. It is an individualized invitation for each student to feel and be important when he or she enters our shared work space. And I’ve learned that it is ours. My work is their work, so I do my best to invest in them as partners and recognize them as individuals. I learn who my athletes are and wish them well on games. I learn who my mathletes are and bring their talents into classwork. The star of the fall play? She is my go-to for reading a passage aloud in class while I let my tired voice rest.
I’ve learned that who a teacher is as a person is sometimes more important than what he or she knows. After the recent administration of a plagiarism survey, I had a frank discussion with my students about the topic. They admitted to frequently cheating at school and freely offered the names of teachers with whom they had been dishonest. One student volunteered that she had never and would never cheat in my class. Others nodded their heads as she spoke. I asked why: Was I harder to trick? Were my assignments harder to cheat on? “No,” she said, “I respect you too much.”
I’ve learned to get my students out of the classroom as a means of energy management. We read under the dogwood blossoms in the courtyard or do a class activity in the hallway. A change of venue is sometimes all that is needed to re-energize a lagging lesson. Also, I bring them on field trips to plays and poetry slams. Many students do not have the opportunity to experience art unless it is at the insistence of a teacher, and who says education can’t be fun?
I’ve learned to ask the students what they think before I tell them what I think (if I ever do at all). My students are in high school and old enough to be casting ballots that can change the path for our community and country. It is their time to formulate opinions and ask questions, and it is our time to maintain the forum and facilitate the dialogue.