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Trusting that parents are a child’s first role model, I am struck by just how many children look up to celebrities and professional athletes as the most important models of what it means to be successful, smart, physically fit, and happy. The question of what it means to be a good role model came up for me recently after reading a Sports Illustrated (SI) cover story, The Last Days of A Rod. The article resonated with me because, as an educator, I believe it is my job to help young children uncover their innate talents so that they can use them in ways that benefit them and others. The article also resonated with me because the stories of Adam Rodriguez’s troubles bring to light questions of integrity and honor (qualities that we work with parents to teach every day inside the classroom). I do not know what is true about his involvement with banned substances (and I do not intend to judge him whatever the outcome); however, I would like to use his cautionary tale of overwhelming success and now what seems to be utter failure to send a message to my students — be careful when choosing a role model.
My first message to my students when choosing role models: remember that your role model is human and that the first rule of choosing a role model is remembering they are not perfect. If the allegations against A Rod prove to be true, his biggest failure will be losing sight of what is for me a golden rule: doing your best is more important than winning at all cost. Coach John Wooden said it best when he said “real success is not winning at all cost but it is the peace of mind one attains only through the knowledge that he or she has done his or her very best.” It is the understanding that you have given it your all and feel good and can live with this knowledge that truly counts.
My second message to my students when choosing role models: remember to choose people who push you to be your best but understand that with our best comes setbacks and failure. For me, this is an essential element in identifying role models because good role models are people who can see you for who you are and still work with you to help make you a better person. They are also people who use any setbacks or failures in their lives to help others.
Finally, I want my students to choose role models who aspire to do good for others instead of only obtaining greatness for themselves. The easiest way to achieve this goal is to look to folks who look like you. The new standard for being a role model should not be how much you make but how your actions inspire others. I would like to encourage my students to look for role models who are just like them or people who are just like folks in their neighborhoods and communities. I do not want every person that my students aspire to be to shoot hoops, run or act in movies. I want my students to also look to those role models who work 9-5, raise families, and coach little league. If every student that I have worked with becomes a teacher, business entrepreneur, engineer, nurse, bus drive, nurse, construction worker, or scientist as long as they have lived a life of integrity and purpose (and they had given their very best) that is good enough for me. Being a role model is perhaps the toughest job you can have. It is also the most important one particularly when working with children. In the wake of the A Rod scandal, I can only hope that more public figures remember what they do matters even if they do not accept the responsibility.