Teachers and the character they build

Since elementary school, teaching social skills and emphasizing desirable character traits ‚Äď which were once integrated into our lesson plans ‚Äď have slowly become a less stressed part of students‚Äô curriculum. This is not necessarily bad as the flexibility exercised by teachers allows students to carve out their own paths in character development.

In grade school, schools had a greater focus on the social development of students. This focus was apparent through the multiple assemblies teaching simple themes such as ‚Äúsharing is caring‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúthe merits of ‚Äėthe golden rule.‚Äô‚ÄĚ Pink slips, or written admonishments that were to be signed by parents were given out to students over trivial wrongdoings such as talking while the teacher is speaking. A reward system was implemented in which students‚Äô names were listed on the classroom wall and stickers were placed next to those who went out of their way to be kind to their peers.

In high school, however, students are no longer held to the same standards of character because they are mature enough to make their own decisions to be the kinds of people they should be and want to be. Students are held to standards to some extent; plagiarism is regarded as a serious offense because it puts academic integrity into question. However, while students can be severely punished for academic dishonesty, this does little for the moral development of students above teaching them that cheating is wrong. Teachers no longer take an active role in shaping students’ characters. However, while some teachers strictly adhere to standardized curriculum, many teachers want to help students gain a better foothold on who they are.

High school students, while they are still expected to expound the simple virtues taught in grade school, are also expected to expand on those morals to shape their own characters. For example, English students are taught to critically analyze works and identify themes. The moral lessons that are taught in literature help students decide for themselves what constitutes a hero and a villain. When students are exposed to complex characters, they gain a better understanding of human nature and the dynamic roles each person can play.

Through analysis of works, students are prompted to consider how themes could relate to their own lives; Jon Krakauer’s biography Into the Wild shows them that stability does not equate to  happiness through Chris McCandless’s willingness to risk his own life in the Alaskan wild in search of freedom from the materialistic bonds of civilization; In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Romeo and Juliet’s impulsiveness is their one fatal flaw which warns students of the dangers of having too much emotion and not enough reason. The purpose of studying these literary works is not only for students to develop critical thinking skills, but also for them to develop their own morals and learn about the human condition.

In group projects, teachers give their students the freedom to define their own roles and contributions. Students are given the opportunity to lead as well as contribute their own talents to a certain aspect of the assignment. Students decide what types of roles they want to play; while some students would spearhead the assignment others could contribute artistic skills. Group projects play a pivotal role in helping students learn how to work with each other as well as how to apply themselves in a setting where others also depend on their success.

As students advance through their academic career, they are increasingly encouraged to voice their own opinions and take an active role in developing their own skills for the future. Through academic reflection teachers provide avenues for crucial self-discovery and independent thinking.

By Angela Zhang, Staff writer

Photo by Sajid Iqbal