When I was a little girl my sister and I used to play “school.” Being the little sister I always played the role of “student.” I was never allowed to be the “teacher.” It was fun playing with my sister and learning from her. I idolized my sister and wanted to be exactly like her. She was my role model. Eventually, my sister became tired of this game and I was finally allowed to be the “teacher.” Each afternoon I planned my lessons and then taught my dolls and teddy bears about the alphabet, reading, and counting. It was then I decided to become a teacher when I grew up so I could help real children learn to read and count.
I fulfilled that dream and began my career in a classroom filled with eager three- and four-year-olds. I was quite naive when I began my career and I must admit I made many mistakes. But as I gained experience I became more confident in my abilities. I learned the importance of scanning my classroom to get a sense of the activities occurring around me. I learned to tune into certain conversations between children to watch intently to gather knowledge on the students’ abilities. I soon discovered that watching and listening would also teach me about myself and my teaching style. I learned I had become a role model for not only my students but also their parents.
One day during free-choice time I had the pleasure of observing a young student of mine. She sat in my chair and directed her students to sit crisscross applesauce. She chose a book and proceeded to read it. She smiled, encouraged her students to read along with the story and re-directed a child when he moved into another child’s space. As the “teacher” continued, I could hear my words coming from her mouth; I could see my facial expressions flying across her face. I saw myself reading the story aloud. I was stunned speechless. I never realized how intently the children watched me and picked up on my mannerisms and talked like me. It was both humbling and a bit scary. I began to fully understand and feel the responsibility of being a role model.
As the school year continued I was more aware of what I said, how I said it, and to whom I talked. I noticed my students and even their parents watching and listening as I redirected children toward appropriate activities, as I provided the language to help solve conflicts, as I praised positive behavior instead of correcting the negative. As a role model I was concerned with how each interaction would be interpreted. I wanted to be certain I always showed a balance of firmness with kindness, consistency with flexibility, and love for my job.
It is so easy to forget that even though we spend our days within a classroom in our own world that others really are watching. It is easy to forget that little eyes and ears are absorbing our every word and action. It’s easy to forget that parents look to us when handling difficult situations with children. As providers, we are role models and it is our responsibility to help children and other adults in becoming role models for generations to come. We have the power to influence our ever-changing world. Let’s use our power for the good of all.