Molding Character

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Core scripture: “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable.  Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (1 Corinthians 15: 58).

Message: Have you ever run into old students in public?  Kids you haven’t seen in over ten years?  I didn’t think I’d ever see the day when my gangly 7th graders were having kids many years down the road, but guess what?  Oh, yeah, I’m there.  I saw a former student of mine this summer at Walmart.  The kid is 21-years-old now, he has three kids, and get this—his oldest is almost as old as MY oldest son!  Talk about scary.  I looked him in the eye, called him by name, and smiled at him, exchanging stories and catching up.  He smiled back, looking somewhat overwhelmed but happy.  Part of me hurt for him, but then part of me said that this was the life he had chosen for himself.  And he seemed to be hanging in there through our brief conversation.

Let’s be honest here.  Put yourself in my shoes above.  When you run into that kid, what will matter more to you?  Will you want the kid to remember your curriculum or to remember life lessons that you happened to stick in his or her heart?  Don’t get me wrong.  If that kid told me what a simile was and said he knew it because of my impeccable teaching, I’d be happy.  If he sang the helping verb song that I taught him, it would make me laugh and feel proud for him.  But I tell you what … if that kid said that I made a difference in his life because I taught him how to conquer adversity in life—there is nothing that could touch that feeling.  Call me crazy, but as much as I love Language Arts curriculum knowledge, I love life lessons a tad more.

It is called teaching character.  Real life stuff.  Stuff that will stick like peanut butter to the soul.  Stuff that they will use later in life beyond the classroom.  And this stuff can be anything from virtues that we all know will stand the test of time (the fruits of the spirit come to mind) to lessons you see the students learning on a daily basis.  Let me give you an example.  Tonight I received four e-mails from students talking about how their iPads were not downloading iMovie correctly on a project we have been working on since last week.  Though I want to believe these kids are telling the truth, I know some are more than likely trying to buy more time to finish.  Therefore, tomorrow I will talk about integrity.  Honesty.  Stuff that will stick!

How often should the Christian teacher teach character?  Daily.  No questions asked.  Even if you don’t actually speak about character in a lesson, the way you conduct yourself models character for all to see.  Matthew 5: 16 says, “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see so that everyone will praise your heavenly father.”  I want ALL my students praising God because they see something higher in me.  Let’s go back to the honesty lesson above.  Though I would feel wounded inside, God calls me to forgive those kids that might have lied to me.  My thought for the day tomorrow will be about honesty, yet if one of those kids who e-mailed came clean, I would forgive them in a heartbeat.  I would tell them that their honesty dispels anything they did.  And then I will define dispelled because don’t you know at least seven kids will ask what the heck that word means.  Context clues, baby!

I teach character daily through my actions, but I likewise teach it through my bell work Tuesday through Thursday.  It is like clockwork.  The kids know it is coming.  Sometimes my thoughts are light, such as be positive and have a smile on your face.  Kinda reminds me of Philippians 4: 8.  Other days they are heavier, like telling them how an adversity in life can actually lead to something greater down the road.  Like a valuable lesson learned.  Learning from a mistake.  Kinda reminds me of James 1: 2-4.  Just do yourself a favor and leave that scripture out if you teach in the public school system.  Your job is not worth risking, and God calls us all to obey our superiors in Romans 13: 1.  Separation of church and state.  Nuff said.

Need some ideas?  I put some on my blog for you a few summers ago.  Check out the link off to the side called “Character Lessons.”  I love finding motivational videos to complement the thoughts I impart upon my students.  Like a track athlete falling on the second to last lap only to rise up and finish the race strong, never quitting.  Maybe you saw a cool commercial that displays the thought of love or kindness.  Take time to show it!  If you can connect the thought to an area of your curriculum, all the better.  I just saw a Michael Jordan Nike ad at last Friday’s inservice that I NEED to find.  Jordan talked about all his failures in his life (missing last second shots, being cut from his high school basketball team, etc) and then followed that by saying the fact that he failed helped him succeed.  That is good stuff!  Kids need that stuff!

Do you truly care about your students?  Is there any day in Cougar Time when there is no homework and the kids are bored and looking for something to do?  Teach character.  Start with a video.  Make it no more than 10 minutes max.  Four to five minutes is perfect!  Ask questions afterwards.  Have the kids write about their feelings.  Spur a class discussion.  Even pull in a personal story about how you failed to meet these criteria or rose to the challenge.  What I realize is that my students respect me when I humble myself and talk of my shortcomings.  It shows I am human.  We ALL make mistakes.  Hello, Romans 3: 23, right?  We all sin!  Just don’t sin by losing an opportunity to inject life lessons into your students on a daily basis.  The worst feeling ever would be to see a student years down the road and to say to yourself that you could have done more.

Teach character.  Model character.  MOLD character.  See those kids who are on the fence jump right over to your side.  They may roll their eyes now, but they will love you for it later!  Amen.

Challenge: What are your students struggling with?  What do they NEED to hear?  Is it work ethic?  Taking responsibility for your actions?  Finishing strong?  Whatever their need may be, teach them that lesson.  Make it intentional.  Tell a story or show a video to exemplify it.  Watch your students soak that lesson in, and pray it will stick!  Start small with one lesson, evaluate how it went, and try it again.  Try for movie clips that display character.  Or just search YouTube.  Have fun with it!

Song to bring it home: Is Christ in you?  If you call yourself a Christian teacher, He better be.  Through your every word, every step, every action, others should see Christ in you.  Do you see Him?  Listen to Jeremy Camp’s “Christ in Me” for inspiration to live more like Him.

Prayer: God, if there is ever a time I can reach out to my students in love, teaching life lessons of character, let me not miss any opportunity.  Give me ideas on how to impart wisdom that will carry these kids to the next level of life, and let me model the Christian character you have called me to exemplify.  Amen.

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