02/26/2013 12:43 pm ET Updated Apr 28, 2013

Separate the Real Role Models From the Fake

Finding a good mentor is a smart way to stay on track as your pursue your goals in life. And just as important, having a good role model will keep you inspired through your toughest challenges.

Although some athletes are excellent role models, I look for qualities beyond the ability to dribble a basketball or throw a football. I admire athletes who finish their college degree instead of taking the cash that comes with a pro contract.

I'd be much more inclined to view the athlete who drops out as a role model if he or she went back to school during the off-season. Either way, if they set the example of getting an education, I can live with them being paid 100 times more than what a public school teacher makes in a year. After all, they're pursuing their passion, they give children who look up to them some sense of responsibility and they are making a good living at what they do.

Mike Haynes is an athlete I believe we all can admire. Haynes, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and one of the best defensive backs to ever play the game, was drafted in the first round by the New England Patriots in 1976.

He dropped out of college, but finished his degree in 1980. Haynes worked every off-season for 14 years to prepare for life after football. Both on the field and off, Haynes set goals and objectives for himself. Haynes is now an executive with the Callaway Golf Company.

Regardless of our ethnicity or racial background, there are role models for all of us.

Role Models in Our Schools

More often than not, the real role models are in our schools, not on the football field, up on the movie screen, or singing at concerts.

In my mind, schoolteachers are the true stars of our society. The late Jaime Escalante is a magnificent role model and has been called the best teacher in America.

I admired Escalante long before I met him. When Escalante taught at Garfield High School, drug dealers were the role models for some of his students.

The people selling drugs had money and power, and this was what the students respected. Escalante sent the message that education is the far better route to success.

Thousands of people have fond memories of Marva Collins, whose passion is educating children. She believes strongly in staying true to the Latin meaning of "teacher," which is to lead and draw out. Collins is determined to never lose one child. She has trained over 30,000 teachers and touched the lives of millions of children.

Teachers like Marva Collins help children to find new direction. A kind word of encouragement can motivate children to do more than they might have ever dreamed was possible. Teachers can open up a world of possibilities for a child.

David M. Shribman interviewed people from all walks of life. Everyone he talked with had an anecdote about a teacher who played an important role in his or her life. Whether the person was a good student or a bad one, and no matter what occupation they were in, all of them had a teacher who made a big difference in who they are today.

In the preface to his bookI Remember My Teacher, Shribman said, "Those who can, do. Those who teach, do more."

The best role models aren't usually athletes, TV icons, rock stars or supermodels. The best role models are around us and in front of us every day. They are parents and teachers.

Role models should also be individuals who demonstrate qualities that contribute to good character development, who have a strong sense of integrity, and who believe that success is more than just what is in your bank account, that what matters is what is inside you as a person.