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Looking Behind the Mask

My kids love dressing up. Spencer is really into the superheroes - I mean REALLY into superheroes. We actually have a small trunk of capes and masks that he puts on from time to time: he runs through the house, as himself, to the trunk and then flies through the house in his secret identity (or is Spencer his secret identity??).

My daughter is the exact same way. Ever since she was born, to this very day, dressing up has been part of her daily process. Aside from the multiple princess costumes she has littered throughout the house, and her joining with her brother as a superhero from time to time (yes hero - not heroine...she doesn't really know the difference, and I'm not going to teach it to her!), I actually think my 7 year old dancer of a daughter goes through a "costuming" process daily.

Sometimes we play along...

In the morning, before she goes to school she thinks about her day and what it will bring. She chooses clothes that fit the occasion. Then, she thinks about how she feels, and adorns herself with the requisite fake jewelry and, sometimes cat and sometimes unicorn headband, just to accentuate the fact that she WILL be different this day from the previous and next days. Likewise, as she goes to bed, she's either a panda, or an Incredible, or her doll's twin...she's whatever or whoever she desires to be....all the while, beneath those costumes, and sometimes masks, she's still Madeline.

And that's the reality isn't it? Even the most confident of us are like that; we want people to see who we want to project - we want to sell an image. This is the most true for those in a highly socialized context such as a school. Kids want to sell each other, and their teachers, a created picture of themselves. No matter what their internal selves are actually feeling, or what they are going through in their private lives - what they are portraying to the general public is how they want to be seen. Sometimes it's a true indicator of who they actually are and what they're feeling; sometimes not so much.

As teachers, and educators, I think it's incumbent upon us to reach for those X-ray glasses (look for it in a cereal box or order from the back of an Archie comic) and peer behind the costumes and masks of our students so we can see their true selves. It is easy, in a class of 18 or 22, and especially 30 to just carry on with an amazing lesson, to have surface conversations, to engage with those who are engrossed in the lesson, to smile and wave goodbye after the bell, and carry on for the rest of our day. That's the easy way.

The more difficult - yet the most mutually life changing way - is to look past the facade of who our students want us to see them as, and to peer deep into their inner selves to see who they really are. This takes time. This takes energy. This takes effort. This is worth it.

I believe that you will only truly be able to 'teach" them when you do this. Information is easy to disseminate - but true life lessons are harder to impart on those whom you don't truly know. Looking behind the mask can stressful, painful, and draining, but - done with the right intentions, it can also be edifying, enlightening and invigorating:

for you and for your students.

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