“I Didn’t Want the Janitor to Lose His Job”


The primary responsibility for instilling good values and building character is with parents. This doesn’t mean, however, that teachers and coaches don’t have a critically important role.

The unfortunate fact is that far too many kids are raised in morally impoverished settings that foster lying, cheating, and violence. If we don’t give these children moral instruction, many of them will become predators. And I know it works because of Jesse, a young man I met in Tulare County, California.

Jesse was in an alternative school because he had serious behavioral problems. About a month after his school incorporated character-development strategies into the curriculum, Jesse found the janitor’s keys. To a kid with a history of theft, this was a mighty temptation. When he voluntarily turned them in, people were shocked. When I asked him why, he surprised me with his answer. He didn’t say anything about a new commitment to honesty. He said simply, “I didn’t want the janitor to lose his job.”

It’s likely Jesse would not have thought about the janitor weeks before. What changed was he had been given a simple thinking tool that helped him see the way his choices could affect other people. Jesse was taught to identify “stakeholders” – all the people likely to be affected by a choice – and to think about how they might be affected.

Despite Jesse’s flaws, he had decent instincts and didn’t want to do something that would hurt the janitor. His teachers didn’t teach him to care about others, but they gave him a way of thinking that unleashed the caring part of his nature.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.


Michael Josephson is an influential and internationally renowned champion of character education for youth and ethical conduct in business, government, policing, journalism, sports, healthcare and law.   His website:   What will Matter has Quotes, insights and images about a life that matters.

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Teachers and Tornadoes

Once I got past the awe of witnessing Mother Nature’s astonishing power to wreak devastation in Oklahoma, I was awed by something more positive and uplifting: the instinctive capacity of our species to care about, come to the aid of, and — for those caught in the middle of the calamity — to even sacrifice their own lives for others.

Every day we are surrounded by examples of the dark side of human nature — selfishness, greed, dishonesty and cruelty — which make it hard to resist cynicism. It’s a pity that it often takes a disaster and the heroic actions it evokes to provide compelling contrary evidence, to remind us of the best in human nature.

How can one resist tears hearing of the teachers in Oklahoma who put themselves at risk by shielding children with their own bodies? 

I suspect lots of other adults would have reacted in a similar fashion, but I think teachers really are special.

With the current focus on competence and accountability in education, we tend to undervalue one of the most important qualities of most teachers: their genuine sense of responsibility and affection for the children they teach.

Over and over we’ve seen the powerful instinct of teachers to protect children in school shootings and, more recently, in the horrific tornadoes.

Teachers willingly and without hesitation treated children as their own and put themselves at risk to protect them.

It should be a comfort to parents to know how much teachers really care.

Henry Adams once said, “Teachers affect all eternity. You never know where their influence stops.” He was referring to the way they shape lives by transmitting information and learning skills, but teachers often do so much more. Though only rarely called upon to risk their lives, they regularly touch the lives of students with their commitment and love.

It’s been said that kids don’t care what you know unless they know that you care. Let’s do all we can to commend, congratulate and celebrate teachers who show how much they care.

Remember, character counts.

Michael Josephson