Before I began my teaching career, I would have said that I had a strong grasp of what character was and how it could be applied. It was not until I began teaching that I gained a true realization of what it meant to exemplify strength of character. 

My first year teaching full time was in a fourth-grade classroom, and I was overwhelmed by my continually lengthening to-do list and by the pressure and expectations I placed upon myself to succeed in my new role. While I was learning to grapple with my newfound teaching role, many of the students in my class were grappling with their own challenges. One student in particular, who I will call Sadia, was in the midst of experiencing significant personal challenges. Before the school year began, I was informed that this student had lost both of her parents and her older sister in a house fire several months earlier. This type of loss would be challenging to come to terms with as an adult, and I wasn’t able to fully comprehend how my student would be able to cope with this profound loss at the mere age of 10. 

As we began the school year, I approached my relationship with Sadia tentatively, unsure of how this loss would manifest itself in her behavior at school and with peers. As I came to know Sadia, however, she quickly flipped my expectation of her on its head. Sadia was the kindest student in our class, going out of her way to be helpful both to me and her classmates. Sadia acted as a shining example of service, academics, friendship, and character to her peers. Sadia had a deep connection to her Islamic faith and often talked of her relationship with her family as one that continued beyond the grave. She also spoke about Allah watching over her and wanting to live her life in a way that would allow her to one day be with her family in paradise. 

Sadia’s connection to her faith and her strong moral character acted as a profound example to me personally. Without knowing the recent tragedy that Sadia had experienced in the 
months before school began, I would never have guessed she was struggling with such an overwhelming loss based on the way she carried herself. It would have been easy for Sadia to disengage with those around her or place blame. Instead, she made the choice to act as a shining exemplar of Christlike behavior and strength of character.

As I progress in my own career, I hope to take the lessons I learned about character from this 10-year-old girl and implement them in my own practice. There may be times in the future when I feel overwhelmed by what is going on in both my professional and personal lives. When this is the case, I hope to remember Sadia’s eternal perspective and the courage she had to persevere and excel despite her challenges.