In the first part of this piece, I talk about masks we wear as teachers, focusing solely on the individual. In this piece, I discuss masks we wear as a whole staff, and how these not only affect our relationships, but also the environment as a whole.
POISON IN THE PREP ROOM
Advice to new teachers: There is poison everywhere.
Go toward the people holding the elixirs and the anecdotes.
I have worked in many different schools with many different types of people over my decade of teaching. The one thing that is true in all schools is that there is ‘poison in the prep room’. Now what I mean by that is there is always something negative to be found or heard while standing around in places of staff gathering. There is gossip to be heard or distractions to be had.
Basically, in a school: if you choose to stand around and waste time talking about other people, there will be others to do that with.
On the other hand (much like our students) if you choose to align with those doing the right thing, and more importantly those with a good attitude, you will also mimic the same behaviors and outlook.
Happy people spend time with happy people just like teachers who are happy in the job tend to gravitate towards each other.
The thing is: we become what we are around, and so it’s our choice to decide who we want to be in deciding who we are around.
It isn’t invalid to allow people to complain and vent through issues sporadically in a school just like any other workplace. However, when complaints become an overall dislike of the job and or the totality of the time there, it becomes easy for those feelings to permeate our own psyche.
SAME TEAM SAME MASK
First off, it’s never right to out another adult to kids. It is our right to wear these masks as we choose to protect the kids or even ourselves. It is always our decision what we want to show to the world and outing another coworker for anything they desire to stay private is just wrong.
As adults we often choose to show to children the best sides of ourselves to set the best example possible. This of course is appropriate by age. You don’t tell a group of first graders pushing each other that “Yea I have been in fights, too!” You help them figure out how to handle differences at a first grade level.
Now when a high schooler is having issues, maybe it is more appropriate to say “I get it; I fought with my friends in high school, too. This is how I handled it…”
Or maybe it is in your nature to keep your own private life separate. One can help students with content I suppose, without giving away pieces of themselves.
We are all different in what we choose to show other people whether they be coworkers, students, strangers, etc. I am not going to lie: choosing what masks we wear in what settings is complicated! It really is.
ADULTS DON’T FIGHT
Often the biggest mask we wear when we’re talking about children is the mask that relationships are easy. Adults don’t fight. Hide your war mask; adults live in peace.
We often try to pretend that working with other people is not hard and it is always easy to be “on the same team” per say.
The thing is children need to know that even adults don’t always agree.
In fact, we often disagree just as much as they do.
For example, rules made for the masses can be difficult. As a special education teacher for about a decade, I’ve often found that rules made across the board, maybe NY State, do not always work for all of my students. And so I am left to partake in some sort of activity or testing I loathe, (or at least don’t want to do,) just as much as the students don’t. I mean does anyone really like watching students like a hawk during state exams? No, but we do it. At that moment, I can’t show that disconnect, or disagreement. I have no choice but to act and play the part to encourage the students to partake.
Once the decision is made, I have to follow through to the best of my ability. I think that is true in all careers. To be a team player is to work for the good of the group, even if it isn’t the way you wanted to do it.
Often educators don’t agree with how things should be done in the classroom, or other student spaces. Some of these disagreements can happen in the moment; in which case a decision needs to be made immediately and followed through with. For more long term decisions, these choices should be discussed at a later time.
Now, like mom and dad, you have to be able to take disagreements to a different space where it’s appropriate to disagree and figure out a solution. The decision needs to be made outside of the realm of student knowledge or input.
I never agree with showing children the specifics of when there are disagreements among adults, again like mom and dad trying to make decisions without children’s input.
I instead agree with figuring out a solution in private, but with student knowledge of such conversation.
It’s appropriate to go and tell the students, “You know what: the adults need to figure this out later. We will let you know when we figure it out.” Instead of pretending that agreeing on everything is easy; show students how to work together and reach an understanding.
Model that this is what’s important, not just solely working with people who agree with us. Group projects in academia are not easy, as working on tasks as similar sized adult groupings are not easy. Agreement takes work and effective collaboration takes into consideration all sides.
Accept that every piece of input is valuable.
Include the students in the thought process. Tell the students that it’s not always easy to agree on things or agree on a plan. Instead of pretending that that’s what’s happening, tell them you’re gonna go and have a conversation later in private.
Show them that you respect them the same way that you respect the coworkers you have.
If you think about it, that’s what teachers do with students to keep their business private. You pull them in the hallway to have a conversation and hope that it helps. You also hope that by showing the respect of bringing that student elsewhere, that they can be themselves and say what they want and mean.
Having the same respect for your coworkers only makes sense and also shows that you practice what you preach.
And remember no one wants to be attacked in front of the crowd, not even adults.
It is our own decision what we decide to unmask and bringing sensitive discussions up in public or outing any conversation someone would rather have in public is just rude and frankly sucks, so don’t do it.
PATTERNS OF DISAGREEMENT
It’s true when they say that high school never ends, because the relationship dynamics at work mimic the relationship dynamics of high school students. Our natural instinct is to tear down people around us who are different, to bring ourselves or our own group up, to get our way(s), or merely to get our point(s) across. It’s human nature to want to win.
We need to fight that urge. We need to fight the urge to wear the mask of superiority. We need to fight the urge to put others down, and instead focus on our own growth.
There are some principles I preach to my students, that we often need to be reminded of as adults– reminders to fight those bad urges.
THE THREE PRINCIPLES OF FOCUSING ON YOURSELF
1. Someone doing well doesn’t mean you aren’t doing well or that you can’t do well simultaneously. Focus on how you are doing well and how you can be even better.
2. Someone doing something differently doesn’t make the way they do it wrong, just like it doesn’t make the way you do it wrong. Things can be done in multiple ways and be right. Focus on what you are doing well and how you can be even better.
3. Someone focusing on you is not focusing on their own growth, which is distracting and taking away from their own growth. Doing the same will only bring your focus in the wrong direction, too. Focus on your own growth overall. Focusing on yourself will ensure you stay focused on what you actually have power over.
CHAMPIONS CHEER FOR COMPETITORS
Recently my rugby coach ran a drill, where everyone picked a partner to play the game rock, paper, scissors. You played best 2 out of 3 and if you are the loser, the rules change for you. When you lose, you become the cheerleader for the person who beat you and your role is to follow them around while they go for the next competitor. You are to follow them until they lose, in which case you would both become the cheerleaders for the next winner and so on and so on.
The point of this game is so much more than the competition or the mere enjoyment of sports yelling (MY FAVORITE!) The point of the game is to remind you not to be a sore loser, and instead to leave it on the field.
The point of the game is showing that just because you lose doesn’t mean you put on a sour face and try to ruin everyone else’s day. This just means it isn’t your day. It reminds you that you can still have a great day anyway.
You can choose to be miserable, or you can put on a smile and enjoy whoever’s day it is knowing yours will come– and when yours comes, you are going to want everyone to celebrate with you, too.
When we celebrate other people, we build relationships and trust. With relationships and trust, we feel free to be ourselves and to unmask.
This unmasking leads to growth in ourselves, growth in the people around us, and growth in the relationships we create.
Giving someone the space and allowing them to be their unmasked self is a gift and a blessing and I thank my lucky stars I’ve found the people that let me be myself and unmask in my own time– while also providing hooks to preserve those masks, knowing sometimes I still have to wear them.
As always, I say it’s important to find your community, the one that lets you unmask, but never forces you to– for it should always be our decision who we reveal ourselves to.
I thank you, dear reader, for allowing me to be brave and unmask here by speaking my truth; and I hope you all find spaces to do the same.