It has everything to do with virtues or their absence, as expressed by a keen group of student teachers in Rarotonga at a workshop I was invited to give by Maureen Goodwin, a Learning and Teaching Advisor for Ministry of Education, who one student said, “has all the virtues!”
The descriptors for worst teachers were, “growling, boring, mean, shaming”, and “just there to collect a pay cheque.” Best teachers displayed their virtues: “loving, funny, inspiring, caring, encouraging, and patient”. Teachers who love their work and their students make a life-changing difference.
These Year 1 and 2 student teachers showed true passion for their profession. I shared with them the Five Strategies of the Virtues Project as tools for creating a school culture of caring and enthusiasm. We need these tools in parenting, marriage, and personal growth as well, to create a good life of purpose and joy.
My least favorite teacher was Mrs Axt. (You can guess what we called her.) She was meeeeeaaann! On Day 1, she shamed new students if an older sibling had played up in her class.
“I’m watching you. I know your family brings trouble!” she said with a witchy scowl. One little girl immediately wet her pants in embarrassment, confirming the Axe’s worst suspicions. Oy!
My favorite teacher was a short homely woman named Mrs Palmisano, sporting a wee moustache and clunky shoes. The first day in her 8th grade class (Form 2), she came up to me, a poor performing daydreamer, and said, “Linda Kavelin, I see how intelligent you are. I expect great things from you in my class.”
Whaat? I was gobsmacked. I had heard the shaming term “scatterbrain” at home and school, and believed my brains had spilled out long ago. Mrs Palmisano lit a tiny flame of hope in my heart, and from that time on, I discovered a deep love for learning. Bless her encouraging soul.
The student teachers learned a “virtues translation” in response to misbehaviour. Instead of shaming words like “stupid,” “useless,” or “bully”, they learned to call students to “show your courtesy and listen please,” “this is the kind of respect you all need to practice” - focusing on the students who are cooperating rather than the ones’ misbehaving. With bullies, instead of saying “Cut out that bullying or I’ll bully you!” (showing that might is right), call student to peacefulness. These methods reflect the Virtues Strategies of:
1. Speaking the Language of Virtues to correct and acknowledge (especially catching someone in the act of committing a virtue).
2. Recognising Teachable Moments as opportunities to practice virtues.
“Go from shaming to naming virtues”. Not the “naughty chair” but the “peace chair” or “the help corner”.
3. Setting Clear Boundaries based on Restorative Justice – giving educative rather than punitive consequences. Replacing violent words and punishments with expecting rigorous responsibility and amends. Creating a visual of a “class promise” each year of how we want to treat each other. and let detention become “reflection” time in which they plan how to act next time and make amends to one they have hurt.
4. Honoring the Spirit by including virtues in art, poetry, and assemblies. Araura College students painted a koru tree installation featuring their favorite virtues as the fruits. One school made bulletin boards with a soccer ball goal such as “Reading Excellence” with footprints of steps to achieve it. An Araura class created a virtues legend based on Bob the Builder.
5. Offer Spiritual Companioning. Listen and help students empty their cups so they can find their own pearl of truth, their own solutions.
I feel truly hopeful for our children after spending time with these devoted young teachers, keen to bring love and excellence to the classroom.