On Being a Role Model

Monday, January 20, 2014

Mrs. Bowser in her classroom

I came to a frightening revelation the other day -- I am a role model.

I never set out to be, but if you are a teacher you are a role model, whether you like it or not.

Chances are, you're a role model too -- whether it's to your colleagues, your children, or even your neighbors.

Instead of shirking this responsibility as so many celebrities attempt to do, I have decided to embrace it -- even though the thought of doing so is terrifying.

This weekend I spent some time thinking about how to be a better role model to my students in hopes of offering suggestions of how you can be a better role model to the people in your sphere of influence too.

Don't pretend to be perfect. I am vulnerable with my students and while some may consider this a weakness, I do not. I admit when I mess up. I ask my students for help (especially when some piece of technology in the classroom is, once again, not working). And I don't pretend to have all the answers. If I don't know something, I say so. Being a role model doesn't mean having it all figured it out. No one has it all figured out. My students need to see that it's possible to be confident and successful without being perfect. The people you're influencing need to see that too.

Listen. In my class I do not stand up and lecture every day or even most days. Instead, my English classes involve a lot of discussion of the literature that we study. I sit down with my students and we talk about the literature -- the symbolism, the implied stories, the historical context, and the relevance to current culture. I listen to what my students think about the works we're studying and I respect their opinions even if they have some really wacky theories about what really happened at the end of The Turn of the Screw. Listen to the ideas of others. You'll help them feel empowered and you'll probably learn something too.

Listening and being vulnerable are two things I believe I do well. But there is always room for improvement. There are some things at which I need to be better.

Keep reaching out. It's natural for a teacher to be closer to some students than others. Some students only talk to me about literature and essay writing while others cry on my shoulder after breaking up with a boyfriend or having a fight with their parents. I never let such relationships influence my grading, but I do need to get better about striving to build meaningful relationships with the students who are all business too. I need to have more conversations with them between classes about the books they love to read, their favorite subjects in school, and their plans for college. I need to make sure they know they're important to me. Likewise, keep reaching out to the people around you -- even the people with whom you don't feel you have much in common. Make sure everyone around you knows you respect and honor them for who they are. I believe that will encourage them to respect and honor others too.

End negative self talk. The student population at my school is predominantly female, so I am a especially mindful of the kind of example I'm setting for the girls in my classes. I need to be sure that I never say negative things about my weight or my looks in front of them. I would never want the young women in my classes to take negative things I say about myself and repeat those phrases to the mirror. So please make sure you're promoting positive self talk around the girls in your life too.

What tips do you have to offer on being a positive role model? 


  1. Great post! I've embraced the idea of being a role model as well. It also comes from my classroom experiences. The students that attend the junior college where I work need to see someone like me. I represent for many of them what is possible after they're done with college. That means a lot to me.

  2. I also think it's very important to reach out to all people within your sphere of influence instead appearing clique-ish. Sometimes we do this without realizing it or intending to do so. But I also think its important to show the girls we are role models for that we all have body image problems.