Teacher Role Models: How to Help Students Who Need It Most


Teacher encourages young female student using a microscope.

Being a teacher is the best job in the world but also very difficult. Each day brings new challenges, and each year brings new students. Getting to be a role model for these students has always been something I don’t take lightly.

I teach at a district where students don’t always have the best role models at home, and the eight hours they spend with me each day means so much. Teaching students how to treat others and how to react in situations and conflict is something I try and do each and every day.

There will always be students who don’t like school, and the last thing they want to do is sit there and learn. It is our job as educators to show them that learning is fun, and it can take you to amazing places in your future. Showing students how important education is can be hard when they don’t have those role models in their lives outside of school.

Lastly, as an educator I try and teach my students to be leaders.

Being a Role Model for Students in Need

While teachers are role models for all their students, it can be most important for those who have a rough home life. For the past two years, I’ve worked in districts that have 100% of students on free and reduced breakfast and lunch. A lot of them live in a small, run-down apartment or house with more than five children. Some live with grandparents or spend most of their time with them because their parents are working or not capable of caring for them.

One way to start the year off right and make students feel safe and comfortable in your classroom is to make it feel like a home. Show the students you put time into making your classroom for them! When I set my classroom up each August, I like to make it as homey and inviting as possible. This year, I went with a farmhouse and light blue theme, probably my favorite yet.

I love turning corners of my room into places where students can cuddle up on a beanbag chair with a good book. I want students to know how much I care about their learning environment when they walk in my classroom. Students notice the time you put in, and it helps you start to build that relationship with them from the first day of school.

The next step to building that relationship is to make each student feel like an important part of your class. Getting to know what they like, what sports they play, how many siblings they have, their hobbies and more. There are two easy things I would suggest to any teacher to really connect with their students. The first is I like to show my students I want to know more about them by inviting them to eat lunch with me in the room. I’ll pick two students who are friends and bring them up to the room. They love it. It gives them time to talk your ear off for 30 minutes without being interrupted by anyone or anything else. If you like your lunch quiet to work, then you can use this same concept but instead keep two helpers back during specials. They love to help in the room, and you can chat while doing it.

The second thing is show up to their events. If they play football, go to their games. If they sing in the school choir, go to the concert. If they are in a play, go watch the performance. The look on their face when they see you after will make it worth the time it takes up on your Saturday morning. Whenever I go to my students’ events, it is always the first thing they want to share with the class the next day during circle time. Even the kids who act too cool to say hi after their games will come up to you and say, “Miss Curtis, remember when you came to my football game?” during the last week of school. This shows them that you care about their lives outside of learning in your classroom.

Being a Role Model in Education

One day in class, I asked my students to raise their hand if their parents went to college. Most of them didn’t even know. Being a role model for students can mean many things, and talking about the importance of education is something you can do the first day of school.

Something as simple as hanging a flag of the college you attended by your desk can start the conversation very easily. Students always want to know more about college because, for most of them, it isn’t something talked about at home. I like to share stories about the classes I took in college to become a teacher or the fun things, like making new friends and going to sporting events, to get them thinking about college.

Grow Your Teaching Skills and Career

The fully online teaching degrees at CU cover a wide variety of topics, from associate level to master’s and certificates. As a student in these programs, you’ll learn to become a role model from leaders in the field.

Explore Degrees

I don’t just try to be a role model for my students; I also like to give students good examples of role models in other career options. It is easy to take a topic you are doing and change it into a career. One I use each year is construction. I decorate the room with construction signs and cones, and I have a friend who is a project manager come in and talk to the students about how he uses math in his architecture drawings every day. The students are always so interested when you bring other people in to talk about what they do.

Another easy theme is a restaurant. You can introduce students to all the different career options such as a chef, a manager or talk about opening your own business. When you do this with older students, you can do things like market day and have students create their own service or product to sell. The more options we talk about for their future, the more students are going to see themselves in one of those positions.

Teaching Students to be Leaders

Building a classroom community can be tough, but it challenges students to be a leader, a team player, patient with others and so much more. One thing I wish I learned more about in my undergrad classes was how to teach students to take ownership of their learning.

To work on that, every day I do a morning circle. Students are asked a question of the day and are able to share. Sometimes, I do a simple getting-to-know-you question, but sometimes, it’s more difficult, such as, “What does it mean to respect others?”

Showing each student that their opinion matters helps them come out of their shell and feel more comfortable sharing. In my classroom, we also do project-based learning where students are work in groups. This is one of my favorite ways to see who steps up to lead.

Group work is not easy for students; it’s always where the most conflict occurs. Students need it to be modeled before they jump in. Teaching students to listen to each other and try ideas that are different from their own is something I try to do often. Giving students roles in group work has been a game changer.

For example, someone is the project manager, and they make sure everyone in the group is doing their job and being heard. Someone is the recorder, and they write down everything that happens for the project. Someone gets to be the person who asks the teacher any questions, which is a huge help so you aren’t having a stampede of questions. Depending on the project, you could implement many more jobs.

Become a Role Model for Students

I have a quote by Nicholas A. Ferroni hanging on the bulletin board by my desk that says, “Students who are loved at home come to school to learn. Students who aren’t loved at home come to school to be loved.”

I keep this quote in mind daily. One of my favorite educators, Kim Bearden, talks about how there is always something going on with our students that we don’t know about. If we as teachers can show them we are here for them and listen to them, it will be one of the greatest examples of a role model they get to see.

I try to come to work every day expecting that it won’t be perfect but that I’ll grow through all the challenges. I try to remember there are always 40 little eyes watching me, and they’ll remember the role I play in their education.

The question is, what are they going to say they remember about you?

Our goal as teachers should always be to empower and inspire our students, and that’s exactly what Campbellsville University believes. Their online teaching degrees cover a wide variety of topics, from associate level to master’s and certificates. As a student in these programs, you’ll learn to become a role model from leaders in the field. The fully online programs were developed by practicing teachers, counselors and principals, ensuring that you receive the best possible education in the field.

This blog post was written by guest contributor Courtney Curtis of Miss Curtis Classroom. Courtney is a third-grade math and science teacher in Cincinnati, Ohio. You can follow her on her on Instagram @misscurtisclassroom.