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The importance of role models who look like us

On Wednesday evening I attended the retirement dinner for a mathematics teacher whom I’ve known and respected for many years.  I will not mention him by name as he’s a very shy and private individual.

This gentleman and his wife migrated to Australia over twenty years ago from Malaysia to work as teachers and to bring up their family here.  In many ways it is the classic migrant success story.  Their children and grandchildren are growing up in the multicultural Australian way that blends diverse cultures.

It was a lovely celebration of a professional life that had a positive impact on many young people.  Many of the attendees stood and recounted their memories of their life with him at the school.

However, one story in particular stood out for me.  A young mathematics teacher stood to tell of his days as a student in classes with this gentleman.  He noted that, apart from being a great maths teacher, this gentleman had inspired him as an example of what a man should aspire to be.

Further, the young teacher noted that when the time came for him to decide upon a career, it was this gentleman who also inspired his decision to become a teacher.

What is interesting about this story is that the young man is an Australian of Asian heritage. And he noted the impact of having a male role model who looked like him – of Asian heritage – in helping him to decide to become a teacher.

This story made me think of all those people who say to me – why do we need role models who are ‘women’ or ‘ethinic’ – i.e. why aren’t white male role models sufficient?

It is very simple. We need to see people who look like us doing things to help us to see the possibilities for us.

In this case a young man looked about to see which role models he could find, and he found a good one.  Now we have one more good role model for young men. And a young man has dedicated his life to teaching our young people as a result.

Now that’s what I call a virtuous cycle :)