I am not a role model. In today’s classroom, I am much, much more than that.
I’m only 23 years old, but when I stepped into my first classroom to observe, I suddenly became 32. Why? The answer is really quite simple. As soon as I had 20 pairs of inquisitive eyes giving me the once-over, I knew it was time to lead by example. My responsibility was too great to do otherwise.
Research abounds about teachers’ influence in the classroom, and because the majority of teachers are females, well, the results of the positive work of female teachers are easier to find. This is not to say the work of male teachers in the classroom is overlooked, but there are simply fewer examples.
Even harder to find are the stories of successful young men in the classroom (those age 21–25, especially), because, again, there are so few of us. A lot of us venture off into more lucrative career fields, where we settle for monetary gains rather than intrinsic rewards. Some of these young men hit the jackpot and find a career field that allows for both. But, for those brave few who chart the high seas of young adolescent education, you must recognize that you have more power in your hands right now than any CEO in any Fortune 500 company. Are you ready for the responsibility?
In today’s world, young adolescents need someone to look up to, someone to admire. Who could be a better role model than their teacher? As men in our mid-20s, we tend to get a free pass from society to do as we wish. “That’s just boys being boys” is a common explanation for our inexcusable behavior.
We are not boys. We are men. The moment we are handed our degrees, our responsibility triples, and we must focus our attention on being consummate professionals. We have an obligation to our students to put forth the best image possible. We need to be emulated. Students must see our commitment to them, our career, and ourselves. We owe them that as professionals.
This is not to say that the kid in us can’t come out during class. But students are observant. If your students emulate the over-hyped celebrity from television, they can surely emulate the man with whom they spend the majority of their day. You don’t have to be Superteacher, either. It’s all in the way you handle yourself.
So how do we make that transition from college to the working world? How do we lead by example in the classroom when we’ve just been thrown out into the real world, rear-end skidding across the concrete?
There are no simple answers, but after some careful consideration, I’ve come up with some tips to help put you on the right track to becoming that gentleman that your colleagues will respect and your students will emulate.
Dress for success. Employers have dress codes, as do schools, and we must abide by them, as teachers. The trick is to go that extra mile with your appearance. Sure, it’s a lot of extra work, but if you take the time in the morning to put a little styling product in your hair, put on a blazer or a nice shirt and tie, and slap on a little cologne or aftershave, you’ll be surprised at the positive responses in your classroom.
Kids may be kids, but they still respond positively to someone who takes pride in his appearance, and as a young man, you set the standard. No matter what your size or body type, you can always find a way to look good.
Have manners. Here is your homework assignment, fellow men: Study the leading men from Hollywood’s yesteryear. Men like Marlon Brando, Cary Grant, Sean Connery, and Fred Astaire set the standard for gentlemanly behavior.
Okay, so maybe that’s a bit of a lofty expectation, but do go out of your way to practice good manners. Do all the stereotypical things: open doors, help those with heavy loads, smile and make friendly conversation—these are small things that could make your work environment a thousand times better. And, your young male students may catch on and start opening doors for their female classmates.
People respect a man who respects himself, and what better way to show how much you respect yourself than by respecting others?
Keep your head. Don’t ever lose your cool in the classroom. Men may tend to be more aggressive than women, especially hot-headed, aggressive young bucks. We’re more apt to yell when something truly irks us. The best thing you can do in any situation that makes you angry is show a cool head.
Remember that some students could be in a hostile environment at home, where yelling is like breathing, and school is their only escape. Why would they want to go right back into that? If you’re the father figure to some of your students, how do you think they would feel if their father were screaming at them for petty mistakes?
Even in the most extreme circumstances, handle things by procedure as best you can. If you are calm and collected, then, more than likely, your students will see how you handled the situation and apply that method to how they handle their hostile situations.
You could help prevent violence outside your classroom simply by showing your students the proper way to carry themselves in a dispute. Grown men need not throw childish temper tantrums.
Don’t be afraid to love your students. This is the most important tip of all, and it may be the most difficult for men. Sometimes it’s hard for us to get excited about getting “warm and fuzzy.” However, to be a truly great teacher, you must treat your students as if they are part of one big extended family.
They may disobey you or yell at you, but when you love them, they’ll love you, too. Show them the respect you show for yourself. Don’t talk down to them. Accept and give compliments. Show them how much you care by expecting their best behavior.
Even if you have terrible fashion sense, awful manners, and a hot head, care about your students and their future. Excitement is contagious—if you’re excited about what you can do for them to make their lives better, they’re going to be excited about what they can do to make your job easier.
Remember your great responsibility as you enter the world of education, my fellow young men. Remember how many of your students lack true father figures. Most of all, remember what a big difference you can make in the lives of your students if you take the time to take pride in yourself.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.” You can spare five extra minutes, can’t you?
Previously published in Middle Ground magazine, April 2009