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I often hear the claim that teachers must be good role models. If we don’t model the behavior and dispositions we expect from students, they’ll see us as hypocrites and we lose credibility.

But how valid is the claim or the implication? The very term “role model” troubles me. Don’t actors play roles? Isn’t a model a mere replica? Did Gandhi say, “Be a model of change you want to see?”

Here’s an alternative: All teachers authentically exemplify something that students and colleagues perceive in spite of any role we play. I hope my students and colleagues say that I exemplify a highly skilled teacher who is always prepared and always fair.

Read these examples. What would you say that Ms. A, Mr. F, and I authentically exemplify?

Double standards?

The tardy bell rings. As usual, the door is locked. As usual, Ms. A comes around the corner a minute later with a fresh cup of coffee. Once everyone is seated, she begins the lesson. Your friend shows up late, and Ms. A stops everything to angrily give him a lecture and detention. Next, you go to Mr. F’s class in the Tech Building. The door is unlocked, but following procedure, the class waits for him to come out and welcome everyone. The tardy bell rings. A minute passes, and you think maybe he’s absent. Then you see him hurrying across the patio. “Hi!” he says, and lets the class in. After the lesson begins, a classmate comes in tardy. Mr. F makes a joke about it, checks his grade book, and reminds the student that this is his second tardy; one more means detention.

Finally, you come to my class. The door is unlocked. You peek in and ask if the class should come in. “Not yet,” I reply, and put some materials out. I go out the door and say, “Just a minute,” and head for the lounge next door. Shortly after the bell, I come out of the lounge and signal the class to go in. A couple of minutes later, a tardy student enters and goes quietly to her seat. When I get a chance, I ask if the tardy should be excused. She says, “No, but it’s my first!” I mark it in the grade book.

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