The Fighter: A Lesson in Character Traits

A lesson in character traits…

The realistic fiction writing unit is always one of my favorites. It gives students a chance to develop a complex character and always provides insight into students’ lives. We write ours with characters having a problem and trying two solutions to solve it. The stories are often powerful (the one about a character walking in to find her brother shaking her pet rabbit to death) or funny (the one about the girl who ripped her pants at the knee and tried stapling and taping them so her mom wouldn’t notice).

What makes these stories so wonderful to read is that they are born not from imagination, but from students’ actual experiences.

This year, we have pretty much completed the character planning process. On Friday we sat with a list of internal traits and students chose five that a) describe them and b) might make sense for the problem they are planning for their character to have.

I was fascinated by the authenticity of students’ choices. They truly were thinking about themselves and picking words that described them. Perhaps projecting the traits onto a character made them easier to honestly acknowledge as their own, but it was clear that there was some serious thought and reflection happening.

Of course, some students were erroneously choosing external traits off our list and confusing them for internal traits. When I pointed this out to them, most simply chose a different internal trait and moved on.

One student, however, became very upset with himself and stormed away from where we were working. He is someone who thinks making mistakes is criminal and equates mistakes with a lack of intelligence. I have learned not to go after him when he is in this mode, so I continued working with other students before returning to him.

When I got to him, he said “I keep making mistakes. I give up!” Well, I wasn’t having any of this from him, because in reality, this young man is quite the opposite.

His mother passed away when he was very young, and sadly, this tragedy has defined much of his childhood.

I looked at him and said, “You think you give up? You never give up.”

He swallowed hard.

“I know how hard things have been for you in your life, but you have still never given up. You keep fighting and you keep going. And you do the same thing in school. You always do your best and you need to keep doing your best, because you’re a fighter. You don’t give up, ever. You never give up.”

“I never give up,” he confirmed, with moist eyes and a trembling chin. “I’m a fighter.”

“Yes, you are,” I told him. “And you inspire me everyday and I’m very proud of you.”

“I’m not going to give up,” he said.

And I know when he says it, he says it because it’s true.

A lesson in character traits…


3 responses to “The Fighter: A Lesson in Character Traits

  1. This post brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing this story.

  2. I think this is great but I do want to share one thing. When I was 10, my grandfather died and I was devastated. Depressed. I developed a nervous twitch and became a very angry child. I happened to also be at a new school because a teacher at my old school had singled me out for cruel treatment. I apparently went to therapy as a result of all this. I say apparently because I can’t recall a single moment other than what my mon reminds me of. So, while its important to remind kids they are strong and such, we also have to let them forget why if they want. I wish I had never been reminded of the cruel teacher, or the twitching, etc., because it’s not how I remember myself usually.

    • Wow, never knew this. I wonder how that’s impacted the way you interact with your students. I just don’t understand this: “So, while its important to remind kids they are strong and such, we also have to let them forget why if they want.” Why what?

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