Recently I have begun a Netflix binge, the kind that lasts for weeks at a time– the kind that ensures whenever you turn the TV on, you know where you will press. Even your ROKU knows where you are going and suggests so immediately. For me, this recent show has been Ozark.
I won’t go into much about the show except that Ozark brought up the idea of the masks we wear, especially the masks we, adults, wear for our children.
Why do we mask ourselves from our children? At what age is it appropriate for them to see the real us?
Now I do not have any children of my own yet, but I am writing from the perspective of being a teacher for a decade as well as thinking of the young children in my own family. I think often I naturally throw figurative masks on without even being aware of such things. The baby turns into an infant so we know to stop with those F bombs, since the repetition is real. We stop talking trash when our nieces come in hoping they don’t mimic us with their friends. We know to put these masks on and appear in some way, better than we are.
We wear these masks because we don’t want them to see the bad parts of us, or sometimes just the real parts of us. Sometimes this is forever, and sometimes this is just for now.
Mom doesn’t speed in the car. Dad doesn’t lie when his boss asks why he is late. Your aunt has never drank alcohol or stayed out late with her friends. Your uncle says, “What is weed?” when questioned.
To children, adults are infallible examples, the models in their lives. They assume the best. They assume the TV examples are their parents and we’re friends with the D.A.R.E. lion living our best, most angelic lives. Just when does the veil get lifted? This has been up to debates for all of time, I suppose.
KEEP THEM IN THE DARK TO YOUR DARK
When I was in graduate school, I learned to keep a lot of things to myself when it came to working in education. I learned in training and classes that kids can ‘use things against you; they can turn on you. You can’t let them know too much.’
This is something instilled early. You need to put on the best show. Be the best version of yourself that you can on paper. Be perfect on paper. Don’t show the parts of you that would be considered anything less than professional.
Do NOT go on social media.
Do not present yourself in public or on the internet in any way that you would not want your principal to see.
We are taught and trained to maintain a safe distance from all the things that make us seem non-teacherly. All the things that may make someone uncomfortable are much forbidden in the teaching realm.
CONNECTION IS KEY
All of this talk about strict boundaries continues throughout your schooling in education and yet another huge lesson is driven home. In education, it is said that relationship building is one of the most important indicators for student success.
In my brain, those two idealities don’t make sense with each other, because how can you build a relationship based on the masks we wear, based on lies? Is it a relationship if you’re building it with a false person, someone made up to please society’s version of a model, tidy, maybe timid teacher?
WHEN IT’S REAL
Building real, genuine relationships feels a lot different than connecting with student’s over a false sense of self.
My last group of students are really special to me because they witnessed and knew the absolute real me.
For one, they witnessed the magic of me falling in love. There’s no hiding love. I came in glowing and love is something to be RAVED about. The girls could make me giggle by asking about my ‘boyyyyfriend’. They told me to ‘get that ringgg.’ The silliest things but honestly they were so funny and they showed they cared. They did so naturally. They told me about their boy drama and some of the boys even made some innocent comments about the girls they were going after. It was just different, a different kind of vibe.
I was absolutely, totally, utterly myself. I certainly had my teacher lady in there, but I let my Michie Smash show a bit more than in the past. A little less ‘oh my goodness’ and a little more ‘goonies never die.’
I was very loving as usual to my kiddos but I didn’t wear a lot of masks. I didn’t feel I needed to. I came in raving about my rugby team and our chance at Championships. I moped into work when we made it, but lost. I asked about their trips, their sick family members, and told them it was shitty how their friends were acting, but also that people mess up sometimes.
THE GROWTH IN UN-MASKING
I think we all grew this year in that room. Leaving was hard. I think there’s lessons in that itself.
However I feel it and have felt it in the universe since I made the decision, that it was right.
I hope there is a teacher out there dying to teach my kids, waiting for her/his shot. Things will shift and be made whole again. The timing in life is never perfect and can’t be forced, but things find a way to figure themselves out.
I am wonderful, but I am no more special than another boss ass teacher out there looking to teach the best kids around.
Now getting back to masks; we know that these masks are natural and habit forming. However, they can be absolutely burdensome. Releasing them has been a whole new place for me. I’m so confident in my own self and I truly love who I am and am now and who I know I am becoming.
THE CLEARING OF THE PATH
There’s this sense of clarity to me after working with these students, a sense of why I was here and where I’m going.
Teenagers are often thought of as the ones making bad choices. Now I get that– their brains aren’t fully developed yet. We have to give them a break for that one.
However the special thing about teenagers is that they’re so insanely REAL. They have this lack of filter, which can bring clarity to anyone.
Teenagers tell it like it is… whether you like it or not.
I like to think I’m more self aware from the days I spent listening. There were the days that they said I was awesome for this and that, but there were also the days that they said I was being a bitch. Oh, and kids curse. I think it’s fair to ask them not to in front of us, but sometimes they forget their figurative masks, too. Anyway on those days, I remembered that we shouldn’t take the bad things out on other people we love. I also remember that apologizing is important.
Letting kids see the bad parts of us sometimes shows them what the future can be and shows how we can work on those bad parts loving ourselves throughout.