Teaching Tips – 5 Mistakes Every New Teacher Makes – Part 4

As we continue looking at the five mistakes every new teacher makes, it is important to bear in mind that vital teaching rule: never assume anything. The rule applies to many areas of life, but is especially crucial when our assumptions affect other people. Assumptions made about students and their education can affect those students throughout life.

Lemony Snicket writes the following in his children’s book, The Austere Academy,

Assumptions are dangerous things to make, and like all dangerous things to make — bombs, for instance, or strawberry shortcake — if you make even the tiniest mistake you can find yourself in terrible trouble. Making assumptions simply means believing things are a certain way with little or no evidence that shows you are correct, and you can see at once how this can lead to terrible trouble. For instance, one morning you might wake up and make the assumption that your bed was in the same place that it always was, even though you would have no real evidence that this was so. But when you got out of your bed, you might discover that it had floated out to sea, and now you would be in terrible trouble all because of the incorrect assumption that you’d made.

While I am not condoning all that Lemony Snicket writes or that for which he stands, I do agree that assumptions can be dangerous things to make. We have looked at some of those dangers as we worked our way through the first three of the five mistakes every new teacher makes. We turn now to the fourth mistake – and the assumptions that lead to it.

Mistake #4 – Wrong Assumptions about Character Building

An increasing number of new teachers find the challenge of character building in their job descriptions. Inevitably, the new teacher receives little training in character building. As you look over the character education program provided by your administrator, you might readily make several wrong assumptions about character building.

Value of Character Building – Many teachers, experienced as well as rookies, wrongly assume wrongly that character building holds only limited value. What reason have we to assume such a thing? First, the school district makes it clear that character education is not compulsory. Our schools incorporate it if convenient, but cancel it anytime they want to fit something else into a crowded schedule. Our administrators assign it to classroom teachers, guidance counselors who visit now and then – or to any available adult: bus drivers, cafeteria workers, coaches, maintenance staff, and even volunteers. Noting this treatment, new teachers assume that character building rightfully sits forlornly on the bottom rung of the curricular value ladder.

Those pressed to get more involved may receive a character-building program that leads to further assumptions depending on the type of program.

Pompom Program – A new teacher may wrongly assume the best character-building calls for a quick-and-easy pompom program. We make this assumption when our administrators supply not classical-style posters, but multicolored graffiti-style posters for us to hang. They remind us with regular memos to feature the character trait of the month on our bulletin boards. Our classroom public address systems come alive each morning with a quick announcement of the month’s character trait. Our administrators’ actions show that they believe the waving of cheerleader pompoms constitutes a simple answer to the need for character building, and the new teacher is happy to assume they are right.

Remember-and-Recite Program – Many new teachers wrongly assume the standards of character education can be met only with a remember-and-recite program. What might lead us to make this assumption? Its simplicity appeals to busy educators. It demands little from the teacher, since it requires no posters or bulletin boards. The teacher simply hands each student a list of character traits, each trait followed by a brief definition. The burden of memorizing the page falls solely on the student. They work to remember and recite the list, upon which some assumed magic is thought to translate their efforts into behavioral change. Rookie teachers may doubt, but assume the administrator who chose this knows best.

Compulsory-Correctness Program – New teachers, eager to produce results, wrongly assume a compulsory-correctness program works best for character building. Why do we assume this is the best choice? It is very appealing in that it saves us preparation time, money, and effort. The program demands no more of us than to snap orders with a believable degree of authority, which may seem especially fitting to some. “Say please and thank you!” “Walk in a straight line!” “Keep your eyes straight ahead, arms at your sides!” “Sit up straight!” “Raise your hand and wait for permission to speak.” Novices in the field of education are apt to assume that such a character-building program will most quickly result in visible change.

Merit-and-Award Program – Educational greenhorns who are themselves products of educational merit-and-award systems may assume quickly, but wrongly, that a simple program of positive reinforcement cannot help but build solid, lasting character. What is it about such a program that leads to that assumption? It asks us to watch for students who are “being good” or showing the character trait of focus. When we catch a student doing what is expected, we cite them for meritorious behavior. We lavish praise and/or award merit points. Students can spend these merit point awards later on small gifts or school supplies. A new teacher may make the assumption that this is character-building at its best since it appears to produce a measure of good behavior in at least some of the students.

It is a mistake to assume that any of the four program types above, divorced from more solid material, will build solid character.

An additional wrong assumption made by new teachers, new administrators, and many who have served long, is that the best character education program can only come from the biggest, most well-advertised company. We rely on an Internet search engine to guide us to the best source of programs – and often end up with those we already discussed.

How to Avoid this Mistake

In Part 1 of this article series, we referred to the U.S. military process of making decisions. Troops include unproven assumptions in their plans, but then try quickly to convert their assumptions into facts. They can count on facts, but not on assumptions. You also must count on facts rather than assumptions if you are going to avoid this mistake.

Turn into facts the unproven assumptions you hold concerning character building in the classroom. Take time to build your own file of information on Character Building Programs. Contact the company if you are unsure which program is right for your students. Give them facts about your school, grade levels for which you want a program, weekly time scheduled for character building, and other helpful facts. Research supplementary character-building materials that will help you totally immerse students in the development of an active, strong character. Add a realistic estimate of the program cost.

Once you have assembled detailed information, create a brief presentation of the facts to convince your administrator(s) of the program’s value. Schedule an appointment and describe your findings. Convince the administrator to try the program in your school.

Rookies or veterans, we dare not assume that Character Education is of little value. We dare not assume that our school is using the best character-building program for our students. We fail miserably if we assume that materials from the largest, most highly advertised company are the best simply because the company looks successful.

Those with the heart of a true teacher, greenhorns though they be, will work to be sure the character building program they use and the zeal with which they use it testify to the high value they set on moral values.

We have looked at four of the five mistakes every new teacher makes. We move now to the final article in the series: Part 5

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