Models of Imperfection
The real problem with teaching character is that, in
order to teach it, you have
to have it. Students may
or may not study your lessons,
but they certainly study you. And
here’s the rub: if you’re human,
you will fail from time to time.
You will blow it, make the wrong
call, slip off the horse, and fall from
grace. Well, maybe not fall from
grace, but you get the idea.
It’s About Process
While one of the central issues in
Character Education seems to be
the teacher’s willingness to take
on the responsibility of modeling
the lifestyle he or she is teaching,
perfection is beyond our condition.
We’re critters that get stressed out
and weary, we get headaches, we
snap and bark, and sometimes lose
control of our classrooms and sometimes of ourselves. That’s life.
Maybe that’s what we need to
model: not perfection, but process.
Sometimes we try so hard to hide
our shortcomings that all we show
our students is the false
picture of perfection that
they can never live up to.
So, when failure comes to
them, as it certainly will,
they may feel devastated
and lose the belief that
they can ever succeed. By
living honestly in front of
our students, we provide them with
a better model, a model of imperfection; a model of people in the process of living and growing toward a
comings with our students.
We live in a society of
vastly conflicting images,
ideas, and values. While
many of our finest athletes
and entertainers thrive on
our attention and devotion
to their physical attributes
and professional talents,
they frequently reject the
notion that they are role
models of behavior.
It’s your classroom, it’s
your fifty minutes, you’ve
got the students lined up
in their little desks, focusing their eyes and minds on
your subject and that subject is what? Art? Of course.
Don’t tell me we don’t
have time to teach both.
Because that is what we have
always done. Our students may
be drawing still lifes, but they’re
also watching us and learning how
adults handle the little disasters and
pressures that arise in everyday life.
What do grown-ups do when chil-
according to the Character Education movement, that’s okay. We
have the right not only to expect
these things from our students,
but also to teach them through our
words in the form of direct instruc-
tion, and perhaps more impor-
By living honestly in front of our tantly, through our actions.
students, we provide them with a We are role models for our stu-
dents, not perfect, just human.
better model, a model of imperfection; Let us attempt to live honestly
a model of people in the process of living before our students, loving
and growing toward a better character. that which is good, striving
daily to move deeper toward
that good. And when we fail,
let’s smile and show our students
that even adults have lessons to
learn, work to do, and room to grow.
dren spill paint? How is it different
when someone intentionally splatters that paint? How do grown-ups
react when a student talks rudely to
Model the Real You
So, let’s be models of imperfection
in our artrooms. While striving to
be good, we must be courageous
enough to share some of our short-
Teach Through Words & Actions
When is anger justifiable? What
does just anger look like? What
about compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and common courtesy?
We teach these every day and,
Kevin Sullivan taught art in Ketchikan,
Alaska for twenty-two years before retiring. He is now continuing his education
at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus Ohio. ksullivan@trinitylutheransemi-