My favorite movie is The Wizard of Oz, and this week I was thinking about it. Specifically, the scene where Dorothy and her companions get to meet the Wizard, only to see he is actually a con-man. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” It is a sad realization to the characters that Oz, the great and powerful, is just an ordinary guy with a megaphone and some special effects.
This scene in particular came to mind after a particularly charged conversation with a student. They were upset with my teaching style and had a few specific complaints. Myself and my principal had to explain best practices to this student. We explained why I change up our activities and the way information is presented in different modes to meet the needs of different students. I had to explain that it is okay if I call on a student who does not know the answer because I need to make sure all of my students are learning.
Another student this week made an astute observation about my class. We have been working on an essay assignment with The Catcher in the Rye, and he said, “I like how this assignment ties into what we have been talking about with conformity this year.” I loved that he saw that connection, but my response was a lack luster: “It’s almost like I planned for this.” With an added evil laugh. This student saw my planning, my purposeful connection to our theme, so why didn’t I take a bow? Why did I write it off as an accident, or coincidence, rather than what it was– intentional? I hid behind the curtain.
I realized after these conversations that teachers make a million different instructional decisions in a week that our students do not understand or sometimes even see. They do not see the intention behind what we do or how we do it, but it is there. That purpose is what separates the good teachers from the great ones. If we are doing it right, the seams never show; we hide the cracks and put on the perfect magic show day after day.
Would it be less magical if we let our students see us behind the curtain churning the wheel to make the smoke machine work? Would we lose our students’ interests if we peeked out every once-in-a-while to show them the human behind it?
I realized this week that the answer to those questions is no. In a particularly tough day, I cried in front of my high schoolers. Big, ugly tears mixed with uncontrollable sobs as I tried to regain my composure. I couldn’t pull myself together enough to teach, so I had to have a colleague cover my classes.
I don’t get emotional in class (I’ve been jokingly called a robot), and I genuinely thought this might change how the kids saw me the next day—no longer Miss P. the great and powerful. Their reactions surprised me. I came back to empathy and concern, check-ins from teenagers who were worried about me. I pulled back the curtain and showed them me, and they still think I’m pretty wonderful. Maybe I’ll peek out a little more often.
Photo by Nikolay Ivanov from Pexels