“Those who understand see themselves in all, and all in themselves.” –Bhagavad Gita
I am often asked why I started the Character Connection. That story is now over a decade long but this is the core of it:
I was lucky enough to begin my training at a small non-profit with a big heart called Friends of Nick. Under the mentorship of its founder I was one of the first teachers to pilot the idea of incorporating intentional character language in my middle school classroom.
The results were outstanding.
Not only did I see my students flourish but I became a better teacher by having the tools to reach students who were told over and over again they were unreachable. The process was so simple:
Honor your experience, be your best, share your wisdom.
That formula applied to students, teachers, principals, and parents. Character was the teacher and we were all learning from each other. The changes were so profound that it became my mission to share these methods with any educator who would listen.
Embracing and implementing character education is actually the result of my character education story. The story itself begins on the day before September 11 with a former student of mine: Jasmine.
September 10, 2001 was the third day of my teaching career. I taught fifth grade at a small school on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. My first task that morning was to inform one of my students that she would be left back in the fifth grade. Her name was Jasmine and she was recovering from extensive hip surgery the year before. Her only comfort was coming back to school to be with her friends.
I was petrified. I was already in over my head with a challenging class of 28 students, many with unmet special needs. Now I was overwhelmed by the task of disappointing this little girl. In that moment, I didn’t want to be a teacher anymore.
After I explained the situation to Jasmine, she cried and said repeatedly that she was scared. Scared of what the students would think of an older girl in their class. Scared that her friends in sixth grade would forget about her. Witnessing her complete honesty, I violated every rule taught to a new teacher:
I smiled and said, “It’s ok, I’m new here and I’m really scared too.”
Jasmine and I then walked into the classroom and made the best of a very challenging year.
Jasmine was my first teaching mentor. Her wisdom to be exactly who she was in that shared moment inspired me every time I walked into my classroom.
I became involved in character education because of her. I needed the tools to reach Jasmine in a way traditional teaching methods couldn’t. This is where the formula comes in: Honor your experience, be your best, share your wisdom. When students like Jasmine know that they are safe to express who they are and that it’s ok to be who they are, they are empowered to make positive choices.
Years later, Jasmine and I met up. She retold that story from her perspective. She said it was compassion that made her walk into my classroom that day when all she wanted to do was run out the door and go home. Throughout high school, Jasmine’s journey was challenging but the perseverance and courage that led her to walk after her hip surgery and helped her to face a classroom of strangers after she was held back followed her through to adulthood. Jasmine has defied odds and chosen a career helping others at a nonprofit organization on the Lower East Side. Her perseverance and courage have made her successful—she continues to inspire me.