You Are a Role Model

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Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire

Never forget that the kids watch you constantly. They model themselves after you, and you have to be the person you want them to be. I want my students to be nice and to work hard. That means I had better be the nicest and hardest-working person they have ever met. Don't even think of trying to deceive your kids. They are much too sharp for that.

If you want your kids to trust you, it takes consistent caring and effort on your part. Some of my students laugh bitterly at a teacher they once had. They discuss her in the most unflattering of terms. She often comes to school late. She doesn't even realize it, but she's lost them. Why would the kids listen to her lessons when her constant tardiness tells them they are not that important to her? When she lectures them, they smile and nod their heads. Inside they are thinking, Screw you, lady.

This teacher talks on her cell phone constantly. Even when the kids are being taken somewhere, their fearless leader walks in front of them gabbing on the phone. Of course there are family emergencies and situations in which a teacher legitimately needs to take a call, but this woman is on the phone with her boyfriend. The same teacher thinks she is "secretly" shopping online while the kids do their science assignments. She believes the kids do not know what she is doing. She is very much mistaken.

There are thousands of role-modeling moments during a day of teaching, but a few of them are opportunities waiting to be seized. In my youth, I had days like the young teacher with the child's backpack. My behavior was never that extreme, but I would become angry and frustrated. I was wrong to do this. I hadn't learned that if you become angry over little things, the big issues are never even addressed. As a role model, the students need us to be advocates, not tyrants. I played the dictator enough as a young teacher to understand the futility of the role.

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Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire by Rafe Esquith. Copyright © Rafe Esquith, 2007.

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