Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Nature of Character

James Glover, a newly graduated teacher, stood at the front of his classroom preparing for another battle.
He glanced at the students as they filed into class – Worn out sneakers, shirts untucked, shoulders slumped. What could his English class give these kids that would help them with the problems they faced in the real world?
He had tried reaching out to them and he knew that he’d failed, but today he was going to try a different approach.
“OK everyone, grab a seat and listen up!
“Today we’re going to talk about the nature of character. So… Damon, what does character mean to you?”
The heavyset boy in the second row shifted in his seat uncomfortably before replying, “Umm, character is the people in a story?”
“You’re right Damon, characters are the people in a story, but the nature of character goes much deeper than that. Let me show you something.”
James lifted two plastic trays up on to his desk so that everyone in the class could see them. In each tray sat a large sponge. He then produced two glass jugs. The first contained clear water and the second contained dark brown drain water.
The young teacher poured the clear water into the first tray and the brown water into the second tray.
“OK, who can tell me what’s happening here?”
“The sponges are soaking up the water?” replied the usually quiet Sharon.
“That’s right Sharon, the sponges are soaking up the water that surrounds them.
“And that’s exactly how we develop our sense of character. We absorb the ideas of the people around us just like these sponges soak up the water.
“If we surround ourselves with supportive, optimistic people we gradually develop a positive character,” said the young teacher indicating the tray containing the clean water.
He then motioned towards the second tray.
“On the other hand, if we continually associate with pessimistic and cynical people, we gradually develop a negative character.”
James paused and noticed that the background chatter that usually filled the class was absent.
“Now what happens when I take the sponges out of the water?” he asked as he lifted up the sponges, one in each hand.
The class looked puzzled.
“How do they look?” prompted James.
“They look the same to me” said Damon and the class responded with a ripple of laughter.
“You’re right Damon, they do look the same on the outside, but there’s one important difference.
“Watch what happens when I squeeze the sponges.” James squeezed the first sponge and clear water flowed back into the tray. He then squeezed the second sponge and released a steady stream of dark liquid.
“You see, even when I remove the sponges from their trays, they still carry their water with them. Its only when I squeeze the sponges that we can really see what’s inside them.
“The same thing happens with us,” continued James, “When we leave our familiar environment, we still carry our character inside us and when life puts us under pressure, our true character emerges from within.”
The class was quiet as they reflected on James story.
For Damon Washington, this was a timely message. Since moving schools he’d been spending time with a group of neighborhood kids who had a very negative view of the world.
In a moment of insight that belied his years, Damon realized that his new ‘friends’ were a lot like the dark brown water in Mr. Glover’s second tray. Perhaps his Mom was right after all – perhaps he did need to find some new friends…
At the end of the period, as the students filed out of the classroom, James Glover received the most rewarding compliment of his teaching career when Damon paused at the door and said, “That thing with the sponges was pretty cool Mr G.”


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