I take my job as an educator very seriously. Even though it’s halfway through the summer, I was talking to Ed tonight about an idea I had for a project for my Environmental Science class. (It’s very cool… I’m thinking about having kids design their own eco-dream house… I’m still in the beginning thought process…) Whether my students realize it or not, I am a role model to them, although they’d probably name their parents and athletes or celebrities as role models before they’d name me. However, I spend a lot of time with my students, and I know that as teenagers they’re very observant. The see what I wear, how I behave, and what I do both in and out of the classroom. If I go to a football game, it’s a guarantee that at least a quarter of my 100+ students will tell me they saw me there. If I go to a restaurant in their town, I see students working or parents having a night out. If I go to the movies, I see students.
When I first started teaching five years ago, I wanted to be a good role model. A lot of that was just in being myself. I value education. I have respect for everyone. I’m patient and kind. I realize that as an educator, I’m held to a higher standard than the general public. Because of that and because of my own ethics, I do not drink, I have never smoked or done drugs, I don’t go out to party, I wear my seatbelt, I’m pretty much a goodie-two-shoes. Which is who I am, but I make an extra effort to be someone that I think is a good role model, because I know that I am a role model to my students.
When it comes to living sustainably, I have realized that actions can speak louder than words. My students see me carrying around my SIGG water bottle. They like to pick it up, ask what it’s made of, ask me why I carry it. My students see that I hand out CD’s that contain the important documents for the year, and that I use my website to link to articles instead of xeroxing them. My students see that I don’t have piles of paper as big as other teachers have. They see that I encourage recycling. They see that I carry reusable bags instead of plastic bags. They hear me encourage them to respect nature, and then they see me model how to respect nature when we go outdoors.
Some of my biggest achievements as a teacher come from seeing changes in students’ behavior. Many of my students now carry refillable water bottles, instead of buying a new bottle at the cafe every time they’re thirsty. The CD idea actually came from students a few years ago, when we brainstormed on how to conserve paper. The Environmental Club decided to order 100% organic cotton T-shirts. Students encourage other students to recycle, making posters and announcements. I see students beaming with excitement when they take home cucumber and tomato plants to transplant into their parents’ or grandparents’ gardens.
Then I wonder, Am I a good enough role model? Students ask about my energy use. Yes, I have opted for the 100% clean electricity option. But what do I use for heat? (I’m embarrased to answer: oil, with supplements from a wood stove). No, I don’t drive in a way that will cause me to burn excess gasoline. But what do I drive? (Embarrassment again: 1997 Ford Explorer). I could be so much better.
The imperfection is part of what makes me a good role model for my students. I’m not afraid to admit that there are areas that I’m still working on. There are questions that I still don’t know the answers to. I’m not perfect, and I don’t expect them to be perfect. The self-reflection that it takes to realize I have faults and what it will take to improve upon them is one of the most important lessons that I can teach my students. We can be proud of what we do well, but be humble enough to realize there’s still more work to be done.