What is a role model? The definition of a role model according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is: A person whose behavior in a particular role is imitated by others. Teachers definitely fit the definition of a role model for their students whether they like it or not. It is something teachers must accept when they choose the profession, and if they do not accept being a role model, it may be time to change professions or retire.
For many students the teacher is the role model in their life, so every teacher needs to take this into account as they go about their duties as a classroom teacher. This definition is not only for the homeroom teacher; it is for every teacher in the building. Students are aware of your presence and every move you make, positive, negative or otherwise. It is why it is important for teachers to be mindful of their words and actions throughout the school day. You never know when you are being watched, critiqued, and more importantly, imitated.
What can teachers do to be good role models? Besides being conscious of hundreds of eyes watching you each day, there are best practices you can follow to become the best role model possible for your students. Of course, all teachers are human too, so if you slip up occasionally, accept your humanness and move on. Unless you have done something that becomes a cause for dismissal, your students will be very forgiving.
One way to become a good role model is to show the students you are a person just like them. They need to know you can make mistakes, and you learn from them. The “teacher makes no mistakes” attitude only sets you up for more criticism when you do fail in the eyes of your class. For example, misspelling a word on the board may lead to a criticizing comment by a student, but your reaction can go a long way in showing your humanness. No need to argue or get on the kid who points it out, simply thank her, accept the error and move on. The response shows other students making mistakes is okay, and accepting criticism is not the end of the world and can be helpful.
Next, be careful with the personal remarks you make about a student in front of other students. It can often be easy to do especially in the heat of the moment, or when you are having a conflict with a particular child in the class. Students will pick up on this immediately and see that it is okay to be condescending or mean to their fellow classmates. They may think, “If a teacher can talk about him or her, why not me?” There are many instances in the field when teachers have contributed, unknowingly, to the bullying of a student. If the teacher cannot accept students on a personal level, the unpopular students are further placed at a disadvantage. In fact, without leading them into become a “teacher’s pet”, embrace the unpopular student along with the popular kids, even when the particular student does seem to make it difficult for you. This behavior models tolerance for others regardless of differences.
Furthermore, the conversations you have with your peers are not for the students’ ears, and special care should be taken to prevent this from occurring. Again, students hear and see everything, and some will gravitate to a conversation between two adults when they hear their friend’s or another student’s name being spoken aloud. It is often necessary to speak to another teacher about a student, but be careful to do it privately. If necessary, respond to the student who is eavesdropping and tell him this is a private conversation. The behavior you demonstrate shows students that everything they hear or see does not always concern them, and models respect for others, both students and adults.
Finally, and this is one that sometimes is difficult to accept, your personal life is usually not a secret. Whether you like it or not, and especially if you live in the same community of the school, a teacher’s personal life is magnified by students and their parents. It would be nice if this were not so, but it is inevitable and there is not much you can do about it, except live a life you want young children to imitate.
Remember again, many of the kids you teach look up to you as the main influential adult in their lives. It cannot be avoided. Of course, there are times when you may need to speak to the class as a whole, or to individual students, about something occurring in your personal life, and that is okay. It goes back to showing them you are human, and you have a life of your own, and are asking them to respect it as you respect theirs. Sharing some of your personal life will also encourage students to come forward with the personal issues or problems they may be facing. They will feel safe.
There are many more ways to be a good role model to your students, but treating your students with respect and dignity will certainly help them to do the same thing with people in their lives.