Trying to Teach with Integrity

February 21, 2011

“I touch the future; I teach.”  -Christa McAuliffe 

When I was in high school, I felt that I was mistreated as a student. I was one of the kids on drugs, one of the ones who liked to cause trouble. I also adhered to what the media taught me about school being boring and my teachers being stuffy fools who needed to get a life. I saw school as a prison that held me back from experiencing life. As I matured, I found out the hard way that I was wrong. I had issues in my life that kept me from being mature enough to see the benefits of having an institution whose sole purpose was to offer me a foundation of knowledge that would help me succeed in life. Though school offered me many good opportunities, I couldn’t see past my negative experiences to reap the benefits. It wasn’t until later in life I learned to value a good, free education. This is at the essence of my heart as an educator. I hope to reach the students who are like I used to be, I hope to put some concrete meaning and purpose into their lives. I want to make my class a life experience rather than something students just have to wait through to get on with life. Unfortunately, that’s easier said then done.

School should be a life experience in itself, not just a training ground. There are many aspects of an effective classroom. Teachers should seek to know their subjects as thoroughly as possible. In order to motivate their students they should try to make their subjects relative to what students are interested in on their own time, and they should use every opportunity to show students how important the skills being taught are in life. Without taking away from learning, they should try to make it fun. How this will become manifested depends on the subject and the teacher’s own personality, but school does not have to be boring all the time. However, even if a teacher has come up with the most creatively fun and productive activities, it doesn’t mean anything if he can’t maintain a positive learning environment in which the students are willing to put in their own work and do the activities that aren’t always entertaining.

In my opinion, the most important step in creating an effective learning environment is to establish trust. There are many ways to do this, but first you have to become a person of integrity, to be consistent in your actions. A teacher who will make clear boundaries and stick to them will give their students a sense of security in knowing what consequences to expect from their actions whether positive or negative. However, there must be an awareness of the individual as well. A teacher must take into account the circumstances of every situation and try to be aware of when they need to be flexible. Each person is different, what works for one student might not work for another, it is important to find out what works best for the individual, especially in matters of discipline.

In most cases, if a teacher truly seeks to respect his/her students and see them as people, they will sense this. Just like everyone else, a teacher’s actions reveal his/her heart. However it is difficult for some kids to receive even a positive response from someone in authority, so it is important to become skillful in language that shows the students teachers are for them and want to see them succeed. The language that teachers use should always be in a loving and self-controlled manner that provides respect. Of course, once a teacher develops a rapport with students and gets to know them individually, he/she can often use humor or sarcasm to push them in the right direction. But this is only after a measure of trust has been established, and the teacher truly knows the student.

Teachers should also seek to show students that even the negative consequences of their actions are intended to push the student to learn to make positive choices which will result in an overall higher quality of life. I like the “Love and Logic” theory of discipline. “Love and Logic” doesn’t take away the students power of choice. In a time when adolescents are testing their boundaries and learning to become more autonomous, it is important to give them this sort of control over their lives. When students are given a choice in their actions and an understanding of the consequence students will learn they are responsible for their actions, and will pay the consequence, whether positive or negative, of the choice they make. It helps them to own their decisions and their consequences, both positive and negative. With guidance and direction from positive adults, students can learn to see the good results of their positive choices and eventually begin to develop higher self-esteem. A higher self-esteem will give students the confidence of an “I can” attitude. Once the child believes in him/herself, the hardest battle has been won. Again, easier said then done, but I have seen this principle work in real life from time to time.

Under no circumstances should a teacher ever put down a child or make them feel less intelligent, yet I also am against giving students praise for something they don’t deserve. This can be even more damaging in the long wrong. A child with a false sense of accomplishment can become discouraged and even devastated later in life to find out he/she doesn’t have the skills necessary to move ahead. It is important to keep it real with your students. Honesty with tactfulness and respect goes a long way. We need to meet our students where they are. If we give them positive encouragement and confidence in their abilities to gain the skills needed for success, then they can move up and progress at their own pace, seeing their growth and accomplishments in a substantial way.

Another way that can help teachers gain the trust of their students is to be available for them outside of the scheduled class time. I don’t mean teachers should hand out their phone number to students, and I don’t think teachers should be “friends” to their students in the sense of “buddies.” It is important to be a professional first and to draw the line if you sense a student getting too comfortable in their relationship with you, for reasons concerning the respect of authority, as well as possible legal ramifications. But a teacher should never be this unapproachable person that students are afraid of. Teachers should take an interest in their students’ personal lives; they should ask them how they are doing on a regular basis. It doesn’t take much for a teacher to show they care. Teachers should also let students see who they are as individuals. They should talk about themselves, their personal interests and how the weekend went. If students can see that teachers are real people too, they will be able to relate to them better. If teachers took the time to show students they really do care, students will tend to care back and work harder in class.

These have been just a few ways to show integrity to students. No person is perfect, even teachers, but trying to teach with integrity will go a long way in gaining the students’ respect. Being real, being someone who cares, and being someone who can be trusted is being a person who is respected. When teachers gain the respect of their students, behavior problems will be greatly minimized and students may get interested in learning just because they like the teacher. Of course there are many other factors that go into learning, but once there is a manageable classroom, there is more time and opportunity to present the material and teach the skills that students will need to move up and be successful in their lives, and there is greater opportunity to offer them a life experience to grow and become more than what they were before they entered the classroom.

Peter L Richardson


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