Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Teachers as Performers

My students often refuse to believe me when I describe myself as shy and rather introverted. Obviously, the classroom persona seems to defy any possibility of reserve or anxiety - in the classroom, I am extremely enthusiastic and energetic and, yes, very loud and outgoing. However, I explain, that persona is, in many ways, a show. It's a performance. It's the Mazenko Show - and it's on five shows a day, five days a week for ten months of the year. That's excluding test days - though even the handing out of the test has some entertainment value.

Interestingly, this is something people in "the real world" will never truly understand. Often, friends and acquaintances will talk about a "big presentation" they have coming up at work. And, I think, "so do I. All day. Everyday." To be on stage as much as teachers are, we really have to be performers. Yet, it's never a problem for effective teachers because they, in the words of Bob Dylan "know your song well before you start singing." Outside of the classroom is something altogether different. Outgoing teachers are often rather reserved in public and at social functions. They often get nervous giving presentations to their colleagues. They are often quiet when away from the classroom.

Marlo Thomas, who is doing interviews for her new book, recently spoke of a similar situation for entertainers. Comedians, for example, are often troubled by the expectation that they be funny all the time. And they're not. The show takes a lot of work, and it's not always so easy. In fact, in most interviews with comedians, they will reveal that they were not the class clowns or the life of the party. They were, instead, the observers. They watched very carefully what was happening, and that understanding of humanity is what drives their art.

This issue tends to come up regularly as I talk to student about the task of figuring out who they are. As teachers, these kinds of conversations are important to have. Even as we project confidence and knowledge in the classroom, we are still human, and it takes a lot of effort to put on the show each day.

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