In August 2012, I urged teachers to “Go High Tech” for their new school year. For 2013, I challenged you to “Be a Leader”. And for the 2014-2015 school year, I beg you to “Be Honorable”. Both “leadership” and “technology” are buzzwords in the education world. My goal is to make “integrity” one of them. Of course everyone hears about academic integrity. Don’t cheat. Don’t plagiarize. Teachers expect it of their students. But do we expect it of ourselves?
A lack of integrity can cause huge problems. Just a few weeks ago there was news of a principal who falsified his credentials. Of course I am discouraging behavior of that sort but I want to focus more on the little dishonorable things that I hope we can erase from our schools. How often do teachers start the school year off strong only to find themselves cutting corners by mid-October? How many times do teachers give in to the temptation to give students busy work just so that he or she has time to check email?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I truly believe that the majority of people working in schools are honorable teachers, administrators and staff. I use the word “temptation” because I think that most people start out hoping to do the honorable thing but fall prey to the appeal of the easy way out. I can’t tell you how many times in my life I have seen people take the easy road that I am then so helplessly allured to follow down too. I have overcome some of those desires but others I have justified to myself as OK to do. I’m not perfect and I’d like to think I have learned from those slip ups.
So how do we maintain our integrity? For starters, don’t put yourself in the way of temptation. You can’t eat something you shouldn’t if you don’t have it in the house, can you? Whatever it is that tempts you, find a way to take it out of the equation. Next, find support. There are teachers in your school who struggle the same ways that you do every day. Talk to each other and support each other’s good habits. In the same vain, avoid those teachers who often take the easy road. If you spend too much time with them, you may be tempted to take their short cuts. It may seem like they are doing half as much work as you but still getting the same pay check. I challenge you to not let this tempt you. Yes, teaching is a job that comes with a paycheck but doing only the bare minimum to collect that paycheck hurts our students deeply.
Having integrity can often go unnoticed. Most people don’t get a raise for having integrity, they don’t often get invited to the White House, and they certainly don’t win the lotto. But students know the difference. They may not know that they know the difference but looking back, I realized that my favorite teachers in school were not the ones that let us get away with having our shirt untucked or gave us open book tests. My favorites were the ones that took pride in their job and didn’t cut corners. They were the ones that made sure I learned the material and didn’t just memorize everything. They came to class every day as a professional dressed in a suit and tie (and a “carpe diem” tie-tack). They had bad days and family issues but still gave it their all.
When you start this school year, write the name of the most honorable person you know on a piece of paper and put it somewhere you can see in your classroom (on your desk, under the clock, near your most trying student). Any time you feel tempted to cut corners or take the easy way out, look at that name and remember the integrity they exemplify. We can bring integrity to our classrooms every day.
Have a great new school year!