Character Education and the Accidental Teacher – Chapter 3

Character education duties often hurtle downward from administrators to crash painfully into unwilling hands. Educators who contracted to teach other courses suddenly become accidental teachers of this subject, forced to make unsought trips into character education country. In Chapters 1 and 2 of this guidebook, we gave such accidental teachers travel tips on what to pack, where to stay, and where to eat when required to take such “business trips.” In this final chapter, we prepare a proactive presentation on character education – a character education lesson plan that will be both captivating and effective.Character education presentations should be viewed as priorities – especially by the accidental teacher who has been sent to deliver them. It is important to remember that trips into the lands of mathematics, science, history, and other subjects will be unsuccessful if character education presentations fail.Prepare your proactive presentation weeks before you must give it, working to make it so excellent that even the king of character education land will applaud. The following points should always be included. Others may be added if time and your expense account allow.Parts of a Proactive Presentation1. Proactive Approach. Too often, accidental teachers engage in reactive character education lesson plans. Reactive presentations look at the past instead of anticipating the future. Focusing only on weeding out undesirable bad behavior, they encourage reactivity. That is, they encourage students to change their performance or behavior just because they have become aware that they are being observed. The accidental teacher must work to avoid reactivity.This can best be done by consciously adopting a proactive approach. Anticipate the moral needs of your listeners in character education country. For example, give a presentation on responsibility before, not after, listeners prove themselves irresponsible. The control you exercise with such a presentation will cause listeners to build and exercise responsibility immediately. Irresponsibility is avoided or greatly reduced through proactive presentation of the trait.Be enthusiastically proactive in your speaking. If you aren’t interested in what you have to say, your listeners will not be interested either.2. Story Power. Have you noticed how often dynamic public speakers use stories in their presentations? Storytelling is considered by many to be the key to business communications. It is the key to character education communications, too. Even the great teachers of ancient Greek and Rome recognized that fact. They used story power to teach high moral values – and the accidental teacher will want to do the same.Listeners get caught up in story-powered presentations. They identify with the central figures of stories, their attention riveted on your presentation to learn what happens to those figures. Stories are non-threatening. Stories don’t point the finger, or shake it in listeners’ faces. Stories in character education presentations link powerful emotions with information – a key way to drive knowledge deep into your listeners. Stories, and the understanding they impart, are retained long after lecture have disappeared in a memory dump.So base your presentations on books, but not just any books. Choose books that are purpose-written for inhabitants of character education land. For young listeners, select books that provide clear definitions of moral traits, and weave explanations of those qualities into exciting fiction. For more mature listeners, choose how-to books written specifically for character education country.3. Professional Input. Proactive presentations link professional input to story power. Give your presentation maximum clout by using character education lesson plans prepared by the author of the book on which you base it. An author who is a professional in both the educational and literary worlds will deliver the kind of input that keeps listeners captivated while conveying accurate knowledge.The materials you carry with you should speak to every type of learner in character education land. Auditory learners will benefit from listening to the story and your discussion of it. Visual learners will benefit from visual aids you use as well as the images supplied by their own imaginations during your presentation. Kinesthetic learners will need the interaction described below to get full benefit out of your meetings in character education land. Professional input should include materials that appeal to these and other learning styles.Professional input should also include evaluation for use at the end of your presentation. It would never do to leave a presentation without evaluating whether or not you were effective – whether or not you attained the end for which you were sent on your journey. You want results, and should test for them in a variety of ways.4. Interactive Time. Get listeners involved in your presentation. Have them sing along with you, tying the music to your presentation theme. Get some up on stage to perform a skit that will help them remember. Many speakers use tactics such as these to be sure listeners are alert, and so should the accidental teacher. Add a workshop to your presentation, introduce a craft or other project, and you will push your information into sometimes recalcitrant minds.5. Take-Away Bags. You may have attended a seminar at which every participant received a bag of “goodies” to take away at the end of the meeting. The bag held items that served as incentives, motivators to make you eager to do what the speaker urged. It held reminders, too, that helped you recall what you learned for months after the speaker left town.Make sure your presentation has provision for the distribution of take-away bags. You don’t need an actual bag or even a bagful for each attendee, but be sure everyone has at least one or two items. You could even use your interactive time to create take-away bag items with participants.6. Closing Awards. Yes, seminars do give awards to participants, and the inhabitants of character education land will be happy to receive awards for their exercise of the qualities you urge on them. You won’t need awards for your first trip to the country, but be sure you work them into your presentation for succeeding journeys.Remember, a proactive presentation must anticipate the moral needs of your listeners in character education country. It must help them build high moral values before anyone observes a damaging lack of those values. It must plant good trees instead of trying to knock bad fruit off of sick trees.ConclusionCharacter education teachers are often forced to leave their comfort zones and travel where they don’t want to go, becoming accidental teachers of the subject. Such a teacher may enter character education land “with his eyes shut and holding his breath and hanging on for dear life,” but he can, if he invests the time and effort, become an accidental teacher of character education who enjoys high esteem and success!

Who Deserves an Education?

American education has been the gold standard for the world largely because of its commitment to provide education to all its citizens, regardless of their potential for success. Education has been seen as the wave that truly lifts all boats in society. All persons are better off in life with education, because it enhances their lives and ability to succeed. Today, that concept is being discarded on the altar of fiscal necessity. I would like to take a moment to discuss with you the plight of the school of which I am chair as we have tried to help needy students, and the result of those efforts on my school. I will be discussing students Alpha a male, and Beta a female attending this school from 2007 until present. For obvious reasons, neither the name of the students or the college will be given.In 2008, I became a school chair for a local four year college. It was at that time I met students Alpha and Beta. Alpha was a young male in his middle twenties with significant learning delays, but no other physical impairments. Student Beta was a female, also in her twenties, but not so fortunate. In addition to learning delays, she had significant speech, and physical impairments. Both were already students in the school before I accepted the position as Chair. Both had been successful in most of their classes, to that point. There was some question arising at the time about the virtue of continuing the education of students such as these. The question was asked; would they benefit from education? At that time, my response is the same as it is now. Everyone benefits from education. I was successful in the argument, but not without some reservations on the part of management both locally and nationally. Both students were allowed to continue their education, and I began actively monitoring their progress. Each required different levels of support, and types of support.Student Alpha was seen by his class mates and school management as slow, and not able to keep up with class regimens. I taught him in several classes, and will acknowledge he needed additional time, but with some additional effort, he could handle the class loads and material. He had great difficulty with writing. This was not a problem unique to him, but one that many young students have when they come from secondary schools with poor staff and equipment. He was, and continues to be a very personable young man, full of eagerness to learn, and hope that he would succeed in life. Alpha completed his courses for a Bachelor’s Degree in 2010. His writing difficulties and other limitation have made his search for employment challenging, but manageable, although as yet unsuccessful. His educational experience has left a very positive mark on him, as he is now reading better, and working hard to overcome his other deficits so that he will be better able to compete. As he is fond of saying, “he will not let other people ruin his dream of success.” The key to this student is not the student’s attitude, but the lack of a job, which counts against the college under existing Department of Education standards, and corporate standards. No job means, no successful student. By those standards, this student and many others like him should not be admitted to colleges, and if they are, as one person put it, “They should be flunked out immediately”. The impact of this type of student on the college will be seen and discussed shortly, but now let us look at student Beta and her journey through education.Student beta not only had significant learning limitations, but significant physical impairments. She suffered from speech difficulties that made her difficult to understand. Sometimes she would have to repeat things several times to be understood. There were also problems with mental health as a result of feeling that others found her unacceptable because of her appearance. You see, she could walk only with the use of a walker. She was living, and continues to live in assisted live facilities more or less independently. Despite these handicaps, student Beta managed to maneuver her walker daily to catch a bus and attend class. The use of the walker was in itself problematic. The use of the walker marked up the tile in the hallways, creating complaints from management. To solve the problem, several tennis balls were modified and attached to the walker to alleviate the scuffing of hallway tile. In the winter, the walker presented another problem. Snow and ice made it difficult and dangerous to use. As a result, student Beta would often miss an entire quarter in the winter. However, as soon as the winter was gone, like a spring flower, she was back in class. She would often catch a bus to class, and have to spend several hours waiting at school before she could get one to return home. She was seldom idle. During her wait times she was working in the library, or getting tutoring from other instructors or mentors. Although she was completing her courses, there were some failures. These resulted in a renewed evaluation of her status, and additional cries for her dismissal. With the help of a sympathetic Associate Dean, we were able to get enough information to put together the documentation for an Educational Plan, and keep her in school. With luck, and a lot of effort and support from many faculty members, she will graduate with her Bachelor’s Degree in 2012.But the problem does not end there. Upon graduation, she becomes a statistic against the college, and my school in particular. Although her life is greatly improved and enhanced by education, will she be employable? If she isn’t, the improvements in her life are meaningless. I started this article to look at the impact education has had on these students and also the impact that honoring the commitment to educate all our population has had on the school. Because students like these are often less employable, they are counted as failures in the grand scheme of education. It is not the improvement in the quality of life of the person education affects, but only the return on investment; their ability to repay the money they borrowed to become educated through having a high paying job that counts. Both students Alpha and Beta are better people because of their education. Their lives will be greatly enriched, and society is the better for it. Yet the effort to educate them is a failure. Last week I was informed that classes scheduled to start in my school, the one that foster students Alpha and Beta would be canceled. The reason given is the employment rate for graduates is too low. No future classes will be allowed to start, and students currently enrolled in the program will be moved through to completion, or shifted to online classes. The corporation has decided they are not worth educating. I disagree. Education is what makes life worth living. I feel privileged and honored to have had the opportunity to teach those students and the hundreds like them that will have richer lives because of their education. I wish each and every one of them the very best in all their endeavors. As for me, the old adage I learned as an engineer truly applies; No good deed goes unpunished.