Beth Stephas has been a middle school guidance counselor for the Eagle Grove Community Schools since 1993 and has been on the training team for Character Counts In Iowa since 2000. She takes character education seriously. Do you? Here are Beth’s thoughts on becoming smart and good students.
“Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
These words have been among my favorite during my 25 plus years in education.
When I reflect on the teachers who had the greatest impact on me while I was growing up, I think of those who inspired me to learn as much content knowledge as possible in a values-rich environment. I grew up believing that only those things achieved through responsible hard work, and done with integrity, were worth doing. I became a teacher hoping to inspire those things in my students.
I began teaching in the 1980s, at a time when the public was critical of values education. There were those who feared educators would begin pushing their personal agendas. The criticism caused some educators to shy away from talking about values; however, like many educators, I believed that schools needed to be intentional about teaching character.
I began searching for a way to capture the principles that I had been raised on, and present them in the least offensive manner. When I had the opportunity to take my first CHARACTER COUNTS! course in 1998, I found my passion. The Six Pillars of Character: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship provided the necessary language. The Pillars also represented universal values that everyone could embrace. I was inspired to teach, enforce, advocate and model the Six Pillars and encourage others to do likewise.
Recently, the Iowa Governor’s Office released their recommendations for restoring our state’s position as a nationwide leader in education. The recommendations focus on three areas: highly effective teachers and leaders, high expectations, and innovative learning. As a part of the document, is a call for state standards in character education. I will continue on my mission to teach my students to know the good, love the good and do the good.
As we recently celebrated MLK Jr. Day, the achievements of this great American, I am reminded of his belief that character education is an essential element in the pursuit of learning. It is not enough to help students become smart. We must also help them become good people.