You Are a Role Model: Teaching Advice

Learn how to be a good role model in this excerpt from Rafe Esquith's Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire.
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Updated on: May 11, 2007
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But that's the beauty of the job: You can learn from your mistakes. You can get better. In the process you may even stumble upon precious moments that can allow your students to soar higher than they ever thought possible. I had such a moment just recently. Lisa was a very nice little girl in my class who struggled with all her work. She was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and she had a father who got angry when I wrote on her papers that I felt she could do better.

One day I was walking around the room collecting a homework assignment. The children were supposed to have finished a simple crossword puzzle about Chief Crazy Horse, but Lisa could not find hers. It was early in the year and she desperately wanted to do well. I watched as she furiously searched several folders in her desk. Knowing I was behind her, she continued her desperate hunt for the missing page.

Rafe: Lisa?

Lisa: Rafe, give me just a second. I have it. I did it. Please--

Rafe: (Gently) Lisa?

Lisa: Pleeease, Rafe. I really did it (still frantically looking).

Rafe: (Practically singing) Leeeesa?

Lisa: (Stops the futile quest and looks up) Yes?

Rafe: I believe you.

Lisa: (Silence—a quizzical stare)

Rafe: I believe you.

Lisa: You do?

Rafe: (Gently, with a smile) Of course I do, Lisa. I believe you did the assignment. But you know what?

Lisa: What?

Rafe: I think we have a bigger problem here.

Lisa: (Meekly, after a long pause) I'm not organized?

Rafe: Exactly! You need to be better organized. That's exactly right. Now, how about picking two friends here whom you trust.

Lisa: Lucy and Joyce.

Rafe: Okay. Today after lunch, how about having your friends help you reorganize your folders? Would that be all right?

Lisa: (Relieved) Okay...

These are the opportunities to seize upon. Of course you're frustrated, but you can take potentially bad moments and turn them into good ones. In the course of a few minutes, I went from Lisa's potential nemesis to her trusted teacher and friend. The class, watching my every move, saw me as a person who was reasonable. These are the moments when you build trust.

Lisa never missed a homework assignment for the rest of the year.

It's harder to follow this path. Hey, you can point a rifle at the kids and they will listen to you, but is that all you want? These days I know better. By creating a firm but friendly refuge, the kids have the opportunity to grow into confident, happy human beings. It's not easy, and not all the children will ever earn such faith. Some will betray your confidence. Yet if we ask great things of our children, we must show them we believe great things are possible. Make every effort to remove fear from your classroom. Be fair. Be reasonable. You will grow as a teacher, and your students will amaze both you and themselves as they flourish in the safe haven you have built.

Trust me.

Read more of Rafe's advice!
Fire in the Classroom
Gimme Some Truth
Replace Fear with Trust
Children Depend on Us, So Be Dependable
Discipline Must Be Logical
More Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire Resources

Excerpted from

Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire
Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire
Rafe Esquith
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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