By Joel Trigger, Educator

Last night we went to a basketball game at Spring City middle school. We spent three weeks there earlier this year teaching 6th – 8th grade. We had a ton of fun getting to know the students outside class by eating with them during lunch and playing dodge ball with them in the gym in between classes. Apparently the students had a good time too because a lot of them recognized us and were yelling to us, waving at us, coming over to give us high fives… yeah, we were kind of a big deal.  Too bad this stuff never happened to me when I was actually in middle school – that would’ve showed those kids who always made fun of me what was up.

Anyway, I’d like to think that the reason the students love us isn’t just because we’re hilarious, and fun, and awesome at dodge ball (though we’re definitely all of those things); but more importantly because we take the time to talk to them outside of class – to get to know them and show that we care. I hope that our students look up to us because they see in us something that they feel is worth emulating. We aren’t like some of the other adults in their lives that are often too busy to take the time to really listen to them and get to know their personalities. We also aren’t like the typical role models that youth see in the mainstream media.

Take, for example, hit rapper Lil Wayne.

In an interview with Katie Couric before the Grammy awards, Lil Wayne summed himself up by saying, “I’m a gangster Miss Katie.” When asked what that meant he said, “I don’t take nothin’ from nobody. I do what I wanna do. And I’m gonna do that until the day I die and if I can’t do that then I’ll just die.” I meet a lot of young guys who think that’s awesome – that life is about looking out for number one. When asked if he ever wonders if he’s a good example for people, Lil Wayne said, “I’m not an example for people on how to live their lives and never in my life would I ever set out to be an example for people on how to live their lives. If you need an example for how to live, then you just shouldn’t have been born.”

Boys aren’t the only ones with role models like this. One of the top female artists right now is Ke$ha.

Yeah, that’s not a typo that’s a dollar sign – she spells her stage name with a dollar sign. The lyric that Ke$ha is probably best known for is from her hit single Tik Tok where she says “before I leave, brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack (Jack Daniel’s Whiskey) ‘cause when I leave for the night I ain’t comin’ back.” The majority of Ke$ha’s hit songs and her overall style are all about being the crazy party girl. In her song Blah Blah Blah she says “just meet me in the back with the jack at the jukebox […] cause I know you don’t care what my middle name is”. Ke$ha is proud that in her music she talks about guys the same way that male stars like Lil Wayne have objectified women for years. I don’t think sinking to their level was the right move.

I don’t buy into Lil Wayne and Ke$ha’s life philosophy and this is why I’m so glad that we get to hang out with students not just in class but in the lunch room, at basketball games, etc. It gives us a way to share not just information but the example of our own lives. I don’t go around doing whatever I want to do like Lil Wayne and Ke$ha because I want to be a responsible husband, a good father some day, even just a good friend; and all of those things require doing some things I don’t want to do because I care about other people’s feelings too. And I hope that my life inspires people to do the same.