There is a lot of chatter out there about how today’s children are spoiled, lazy, and suffering from an epidemic known as entitlement. While I must admit that I have witnessed evidence of these unflattering traits, it is unfair and unfounded to lop all children into this “me first” category. Good people still exist in this world and many of them are children. I have been a 3rd grade teacher for 16 years, so I have experienced a plethora of personalities overflowing from children eager to be a part of the world. Whether my connection with each child is immediate or it takes some cultivating; it is my job to grow with each child while modeling and teaching appropriate behaviors and effective character traits. However, to think that I am the only role model in my classroom would be short sighted. The classroom is a small, yet diverse community in which all children participate and play an important role. Quite often, the most valuable learning experiences that children encounter come from each other. Children are not always able to label good character, but it is impossible for them to miss it when it happens.
Let me share a story with you about Sarah Grace. It’s a simple situation really, but certainly not a typical display of character for a 9-year old. In 3rd grade, learning the multiplication facts is a big deal so we spend a lot of time mastering them. Our class was having a competition one day to see who could finish 100 multiplication facts with the fastest time. To provide a little motivation, the students wanted me to write the names of the fastest three finishers on the board. As students finished the problems, they would simply look up at me so I could make a note of their time. Sarah Grace finished in a tie for third place with another girl. It was not a surprise to see her finish so quickly because she really knows her facts. Sarah Grace is super smart and works extremely hard! Her name went on the board as she proudly smiled. At this point in the year, most of the students are getting all the facts correct. But we still check them to be sure. While checking over the facts as a class, Sarah Grace raised her hand. When I called on her she had tears in her eyes. While trying to choke back her tears, she explained how she had accidentally skipped a row of multiplication facts on her paper. She wanted me to erase her name off of the board so that her classmate could rightfully have the third place title to herself. Now, you might think I’m making a bigger deal out of this than I should. I am not. First of all, in a world where kids get trophies for simply signing up for stuff; third place in a contest like this is a big deal. But the most important thing here is the character displayed by Sarah Grace. Not only did she choose to shine through an adverse situation, but she did it in front of the whole class. It takes a fair amount of character to admit a mistake. She showed courage that most adults don’t’ have when she admitted the mistake in front of the whole class. She was honest even though she was the only one who knew that she skipped a row. And she was fair because she made sure her classmate got the outright third place title that she deserved. To be there in the moment with her absolutely touched my heart. I made sure to capitalize on that teachable moment with my class. We need more people like Sarah Grace in this world.
Boys shine too! Christofer was one of my students whose character consistently made me proud this year. One particular time happened on our annual field trip to the state capital of Columbia. The educational purpose of the trip is to study the animals at the zoo and see where our state government works in the state house. However, for most kids the highlight of the trip is at the zoo’s gift shop. This is definitely where money burns holes in pockets. So, while all of the children are running around looking for a way to spend all of their money, I try to help them estimate their purchases and make good choices. I’m pretty successful with the former, not so much with the latter. In the gift shop, I went over to check on Christofer. He had talked all day about buying a stuffed animal and he was trying to figure out his money situation. He picked out the one that he wanted, and calculated that he had just enough money. Then he paused for a moment as if thinking about what he really wanted to do. He looked at me. Then he looked at his stuffed animal. Then he looked at these much cheaper Lego animals that you could buy in a box and assemble. Finally, he asks me if he has enough money to buy two of the Lego animals instead of the stuffed animal that he picked out. When I told him that he did, he explained to me that he wanted to get the Legos so that he could have one and his little sister could have the other. Again, maybe you had to be there with Christofer to truly appreciate the unselfishness of the moment. Or maybe you just need to imagine what the 9-year old version of you would do. Christofer knew what he wanted. He had enough money for it. But then something made him realize that he’d rather buy something for his sister than get the one thing he wanted all day. Christofer was cool way before that moment. But now he’s the kind of cool that I’ll remember forever.
So these stories may be simple, but they are genuine and unscripted. They are stories from which everyone can learn and be inspired. May they be reminders that wonderful children are in this world, already making an impact. Christofer is a shining example of thinking about others and not just yourself. He never got his stuffed animal and he is okay with that because he got something money can’t buy. Sarah Grace reminds us that we should do the right thing even when it is difficult. Her name never went back on the board for that contest, but she ended up with the highest average in every subject for the year. I learn from children every day and I am constantly inspired by their generosity and huge hearts. It’s no secret that the world can be a difficult place. Life is not always easy, but the correct answers are out there to be found. Good character can help navigate that journey on the path to finding your true significance. Let’s remember to celebrate and cultivate good character in our children. Investing in their character will pay off now and in the future.