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Empowering Learners, Spring 2005
Extra-Classroom Teaching Handbook

Extra-Classroom Teachers As Role Models

Samantha Martinez

Children…are in need of role models, and take them from all areas that are close at hand, whether mass media, parents, or their teachers. Daniel Rose

I am a pre-service teacher/extra classroom teacher at a large public high school and am working with 9th Grade students on a project to help improve language choice in different settings such as school, home, or work. As a member of a team, I help facilitate discussions in small groups and work to improve communication, writing, and critical thinking skills that raise awareness in the students of the importance of appropriate communication for whatever circumstance they are in. The first afternoon I walked into the classroom and looked out to the sea of students, who did not look like me, I could not help but wonder how I might affect the lives of these 9th graders. Would our project help these students in the real world? Would they find their way into an institution of higher learning and begin the process of leaving the disparaged community in which the school resides? Who are these students’ role models? As a student teacher, an extra classroom aide, how could I or anyone become a role model for these students?

I was a student in a large, urban public high school very similar to my placement and succeeded in graduating because I had been tracked into an honors program and was fortunate to have found role models in teachers and in extra curricular settings. These teachers, neighbors, and after-school program facilitators encouraged my love of words and writing, my intellectual curiosity, and my love of art and photography. Where my parents could not provide direction for me, these people found a way to reach me. Though these people served as my role models and mentors, what I found to be true then was that many students in urban schools, especially those with large concentrations of “minority” students, lacked role models in or out of the classroom.

Those of us in lower socioeconomic strata of society, particularly Latinas and African-Americans, continue to struggle with institutionalized racism and prejudice. Parents and guardians strive to achieve a better life but fight against a world that requires much more than hard work to succeed. Those who find a way up and out quickly leave communities that flounder from lack of education, cultural collateral, and guidance.

Today, the lack of role models is still evident as large numbers of "minority" students continue to struggle within large, urban, school systems. These students attempt to learn in schools that are deemed "failing", with low graduation rates and expectations, and those who make it to college struggle even more. The lack of pre-college preparation means many do not earn their college degree.

Extra classroom teachers, pre-service teachers, and anyone who finds themselves in a position other than traditional teachers to young people are crucial in providing much-needed role models to help students succeed in communities where every bit of encouragement, support, and guidance is appreciated. The classroom I work in has a great teacher though even she acknowledges the need for extra help in the classroom and I believe the presence of pre-service teachers (individuals still in the process of obtaining teaching credentials) benefits the young people.

Who and what exactly does it mean to be a role model? For me, a role model is an individual who acts as a guide; a person who uses their personal experience to inform and help direct the life of others in a positive light. This positive attitude is extremely important for young people and others who may feel that nothing positive happens or will happen in their life and need to hear and see how to achieve and succeed in spite of all that seems at odds in their lives. Role models possess qualities that we would like to have and emulate. They can be younger or older or your same age. As a student, my role models have run the gamut. A White male teacher encouraged and nurtured my love of writing and poetry. A Latina writer instilled in me the need for me to return to school and earn a college degree. My sister serves as a role model because she is a single mother of two children and is an entrepreneur and full-time student.

Young people learn from their environments, and most spend the bulk of their time in school as students. Often extra classroom teachers are there to “provide instructional…support for classroom teachers… [they are] tutors…and help prepare materials for instruction.” (Occupational Handbook) College students, pre-service teachers, and/or volunteers often serve in these positions. There are very simple steps to taking an active part of being a role model, and the following will serve as a guideline to any extra classroom, extra curricular educator working with students.

Daniel Rose (2005) has written on role models in his article “The Potential of Role Model Education.” He examines the role of educators as role models with formal (and informal) education. He stresses that role models can "expose…groups to specific attitudes, lifestyles, and outlooks." (Rose) He also stipulates that children often see teachers (and I will add extra classroom teachers) as important role models on par with parents. As an extra classroom teacher, perhaps you are yourself a student in college. Your experience as a young person might not be far off in your memory and can be extremely useful in relating to your students. Rose spoke of role models as mentors where the younger person not only learns from your experience but also by being inspired by you. (Rose)

When I asked the students in my placement who their role models were, they did not name superstars or sports personalities, but their mothers, aunts, and siblings. Many spoke of their family’s desire for them to finish high school. Only a few spoke of college as a goal. What happens if these student’s role models are not able to advise them on how educational attainment can help them move from their current socioeconomic status? This is where I hope that I, as a woman of color from a very similar socioeconomic background as these students, can be a guide to show these students there is hope and a possibility for all of their dreams.

Good Practices

What are some ways that extra classroom teachers can take an active role in being role models to their students? Some simple steps are:

1-Know your students. What is the surrounding community like? What are the demographics of the student body?

2-Talk to your students. Find out what their interests are and cultivate these interests. Ask them about where they see themselves in the near future. Always ask about dreams. All young people have dreams and you can help in addressing ways to achieve those dreams.

3-Do not assume that your students feel “disenfranchised” by their particular situation. Linda C. Powell describes the difference between the “discourse of deficit” and the “discourse of potential.” (Powell, 4) If you address young people with a discourse of deficit, you state that they are fortunate to be in the position they are in versus a discourse of potential where you highlight success as a possibility because of hard work and talent.

4-Challenge yourself. Students of color are in particular need for role models in and out of the classroom. As a student teacher, extra classroom aide, or volunteer in a class, there are many ways for you to be a role model. If you are a person of color, your presence in front of the classroom has already made an impact on your students. However, you do not have to share your students’ racial/ethnic or economic background to be a positive role model. In my own experience, men and women from vastly different racial, socioeconomic situations have aided me in directing my studies, life choices, and in pursuing my dreams.

5-Encourage your community to become role models for all young people. The classroom is not the only place where young people can utilize strong role models. After school programs, community organizations, and youth groups are places where adults and others can be valuable in providing guidance to a young person.

In fact, organizations have already begun to address the need for role models in educational settings by outlining goals to help underserved students. For example, Washington State University has implemented a program for the Latino community in the state of Washington called “Latina/o Initiative for Development of Educational Renewal” and proclaims the need of its existence “by facilitating creation of a community culture in which people of all ages are psychologically and academically prepared to succeed in the university…” (Tri-Cities Latina/o Outreach) They state through their goals that schools should have educators that represent positive role models of people in their community to help replace existing stereotypes “with a positive construction of Latino identity.”

All people have the ability to provide encouragement, positive reinforcement, and guidelines for success to any student in need. Extra classroom teachers, tutors, teacher’s aides, pre-service teachers all have access to impressionable minds. Although our society focuses on the individual and that person’s success, our society must change to encompass the idea that “it takes a village to raise a child.” Being a role model to a young person who is in desperate need of positive reinforcements will benefit our future society in ways easily imagined. Role models, whether they are educators, community members, or others can be seen as welders melding their experience and education to reinforce life lessons in young people’s lives.

Works Cited:

Rethinking Schools Online. 22 March 2005

Fine, Powell, Wong (1997). Off White: Readings on Race, Power and Society. New York: Routeledge. BMC Bulkpack. Spring 2005

Rose, Daniel. The Potential of Role-Model Education. Infed. 22 March 2005

Washington State University Tri-Cities Latina/o Outreach 5 April 2005

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