The Power of Role Models

In the Youth Service Learning program, TYO works with university students to prepare them to be in classrooms as role models for younger children. Part of their training introduces them to early child development and focuses their attention on the children’s needs at that age. It teaches the volunteers what they can expect from the students as to behavior in the classroom and how to interact with them most effectively, given their developmental stages. In part of the training last week, we asked the youth, “What does it mean for you to be a child, six years old?” We asked them who their role models were when they were six years old. From their stories, it is clear that these 19 and 20-year-old students still feel anger towards some of the teachers they had experiences with when they were children.

They remembered being yelled at, laughed at, stigmatized, or even beaten in classrooms, all in front of the other kids. These bad memories can never be forgotten. Not only this, when they were younger, they learned to link the teacher and the subject that he/she taught. The mean teacher, who terrified the kids in school, permanently affected the subject that he/she taught. “We still have that problem,” several volunteers reported. “We hate history because we hate the teacher.”

Many of the girls said that the English teachers in their early lives didn’t present good models. To this day, they have a huge problem with English. Even if they had a good English teacher in secondary school, by that point, they were terrified of English itself and projected their feelings of fear and anger on the new teacher. They lost their self-confidence and sense of achievement. Now, later in life, they still say, “We don’t think we can do it.

It is crucial for TYO to address child development with the volunteers, giving them a chance to process these feelings and to understand that their behavior towards the kids has a huge impact on their lives. These volunteers know what horrible role models are like. They went through it, so they can see the link between the bad experiences they had as young children and the price they continue to pay for it.

We explain to the volunteers that human development isn’t finished. It’s a continuous, lifelong process. Part of our training explains what the characteristics of 6-8 year olds are. We introduce them to Erikson’s stages of development. He proposed that 6-11 year old children can move out of that developmental stage feeling industrious or inferior. We can’t have high expectations for these children beyond their capacity, because that will create anxiety and a lack of self-confidence. On the contrary, when given appropriate opportunities for their age, six-year-old s are young teachers. They’re curious; their brains are ready to absorb a lot of information. Physically, they can jump, accomplish, explore. They are ready to learn.

From our experience at TYO, we see a lot of kids who aren’t satisfied in this age and lack confidence. There is not enough support surrounding them, little positive feedback, and their parents and teachers talk to them as though they were adults. Most of the children who don’t achieve the tasks set before them do so because of the way we talk to and interact with them. We project our fear on them, and so we block their development. We want them to learn from our experiences, not to explore and learn through their own experiences. Together, it is the critical task of volunteers, parents, and teachers to build confidence in these young children and allow them to achieve.


Suhad Jabi is the Psychosocial Program Manager at TYO.