Why Teachers Are Role Models

“I want to eat healthier, Miss,” my student said. “I eat too much fast food.”


“Go to the farmer’s market, or to the store. Don’t buy Pop Tarts.” Our farmer’s markets aren’t what they used to be. They used to be a few stalls with carrots and broccoli. Now, they’re everything from the basic organic foods to things that’d keep a foodie busy for a month.

“I don’t know what to buy.” She needed ideas.

“Asparagus is in season–”

“No! That’s gross. It’s slimy.”

“Only if it’s canned,” I told her. “Cooked it fresh with some garlic and…”

“No!” This was going to be a tough sell.

“How about some green beans with–”

“Eewww…I don’t eat green beans.” A crowd was gathering to see who would win The Battle of the Veggies. I’d need to think quick and come up with a good suggestion. I never lose.

“Oh, I got one,” I said. “How about some Doritos with a side of french fries?”

Game, point, match. Victory for me.

“Healthy living is a lifestyle,” I told the group forming. “It’s not because I live in the forest. I used to live under the airport. I choose to be this way.”

I choose to be this way…Teachers are role models.


Teachers, like famous athletes or rock stars, don’t sign on to be role models. We sign up to teach. Role model is the default, though. People get nervous about this. I’ve known many teachers who lived well outside their teaching communities so they could “have some space.” Now that we’re digital, the line between public and private has blurred further.

I think of all the teachers I looked up to–in some cases venerated. As an adult, I know no person’s a saint. I know some of my teachers probably used the “f” word in their lifetime and weren’t immune to a tirade or a social gathering of the Roman style once in a while.

Students wonder about these things. My students are in high school. They watch what I do carefully. We live in a transparent society. Being a role model is important to me. Things like healthy living, digital citizenship, and continual learning are the things I choose to promote to them because I think they’re important elements of success. I try to practice what I preach. Here are some of the questions I often get about being somewhat public and having students who may or may not be watching. We live in an age teachers and students have personal brands. If they watch closely, they’ll figure mine out. I have to be on my toes.

You’re a History Teacher -Why Talk About Healthy Sustainable Living?

Living sustainably is important for the planet. Why waste? My students know I’m a “food freak.” They see me bring in homemade foods like bread, cheese, iced tea. They know I avoid processed sugar and that my entire goal is to get rid of food that comes in boxes and bags. They poke around my lunches wrapped furoshiki-style and ask questions about the food in mason jars and cloths.

What began as a conversation I call “Bread Doesn’t Grow at the Grocery Store,” turned into weeks of discussion of sustainable living, how to read food labels, food sourcing, recycling, and making food themselves rather than buying pre-made foods. Since I teach history and I’m supposed to be talking about dead people, I discussed the pioneers, homesteaders, malnutrition in history, the development of the industrial food complex. We broke bread together, ate yogurt, yogurt cheese, fresh-grown veggies, and apple butter. Some were foods students hadn’t experienced or didn’t know they had the power to make.

Showing students my passion for clean eating and sustainability gives them ideas for saving money, eating well, and treating the planet with respect

Teachers aren’t balanced. How do you teach balance?

There’s a saying that says that we teach things we need to learn. Teachers have the number one burnout rates in the nation. Balance isn’t generally in our dictionaries. This is a conversation I have with upperclassmen, especially, indicting myself when necessary. We all need to treat ourselves well–students and teachers alike. We need to get a good night’s sleep, exercise, and keep good circles of people around us. When we live healthy, balanced lifestyles, we’re all ready for success. I’m honest with students–I constantly strive to better myself in this category.

I’m early to bed, early to rise, I eliminate negative influences, and I give myself permission to leave papers on my desk after working a reasonable amount. Balance is important. Students must learn to work hard set reasonable goals and expectations, working steadily along the way.  We must model this as well.

Can Teachers Use Social Media?

This is one of my favorite questions, and one of the reasons I took to social media and blogging in the first place. Everyone told me “You’re a teacher, you can’t be on social media. Kids’ll see it.” Even though my Facebook is private, I have to assume that a curious student knows someone’s cousin’s sister’s boyfriend’s mom’s friend who knows me–it’s Rhode Island.

I teach digital citizenship every year. “If you’re looking for an objectionable picture of me, where would you find it?” I ask them. They start by saying Facebook. I tell them no.

“Um, Instagram?”



“No…Nowhere. It doesn’t exist.” I tell them how critical it is to keep their digital media clean. “You’re getting jobs soon,” I tell them. “This stuff catches up to you.” I can’t just tell them, I have to show them, too. Every once in a while, students comment on my personal blog or retweet my real-person-not-school Twitter account. I feel secure that my material is appropriate. Every time, though they aren’t the intended audience. Even when my sense of humor gets the best of me.


Promoting Positive Technological Environments

Bullying is a necessary discussion these days. Believe it or not, kids aren’t the only “bullies” out there. They often learn it from adults, at home, sadly in schools, or in the community. When we, as adults, live our value systems and refuse to engage in negativity, it gets easier to show students, who come to us to solve problems, how to do the same.

I’ve realized that being an adult is no different than being a high school kid. There’s drama. There are kind people, mean people, and cliques. Showing students how to transcend negativity and bad influence starts with my being able to walk in the door with a smile on my face, maintain friends who are positive at my level, and let them know that we as a community work together the make the climate amazing.

Sure, I’m a role model, but I’m only one small piece of the giant puzzle that is our school. Students are role models to me, often. I am inspired by their actions, courage, hard work, and thoughtfulness on a daily basis. So, while I’m thinking about how I must be a rolemodel for my students, I suddenly realize, that they are often one for me.