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Teachers: Wear Your Mask!

This is a guest blog post from John Hoflandartachieve.com

It’s an actor’s key to success, its a seasoned teacher’s key to success, and it’s a key that may have eluded homeschoolers.
What’s the key? A mask.
Successful teachers and actors wear a mask.

Greek actors, for whom wearing a physical mask was a requirement, would spend hours finding elements of themselves that they could use to express the personality of their mask. The combination of mask and person drew the audience’s attention and made the actor bigger than life.

Modern actors also wear a mask. In my first acting role at the Dallas Theatre Center, I was simply the narrator of a story that was being enacted around me. I needed a way to grab the audience’s attention, so I used a clay pipe for my “mask.” (I don’t smoke, so it took me some time to make this “mask” work!)

  • I puffed the pipe slowly to show I was “thinking.”
  • I grabbed the bowl to point to important things I was talking about.
  • I pulled the pipe out of my mouth before I spoke – my way of showing the audience that it was time to pay attention to me, not the other actors.

Seasoned teachers know they need to wear a mask: their teacher persona is something different from their regular self. Their mask is anything that

  • Draws attention,
  • Establishes authority,
  • Emphasizes the difference between teacher and student, and
  • Helps teachers connect with their audience.

Homeschoolers would do well to adopt a mask for themselves for the same reasons:

  • It makes children pay attention.
  • It gives you authority, suggesting, “My role right now is special, so pay attention.”)
  • It’s a tool for interacting with your children, who must now take on the role/mask of student.

How do you put on a teaching mask? Here are some techniques.

Use Quirks and Props.

Some teachers like to use props. As a classroom teacher, I carried a yardstick as my personal extension. I could point with it, tap the floor with it for emphasis, point to students with it, and tap on their desks to commend them as I led a discussion. I also used a quirk. I liked to sit on the rim of the large metal garbage can that stood beside my disk. It was my “let’s think together” position.

Wear Special Clothes.

We live in the Washington state, where dress is casual. However, when I teach a class at our church, I’m sure to wear a jacket and tie. Why? It draws attention, suggests that I have made special preparation for teaching, and sets me apart from my audience.

Deny Equality.

Teachers have to give grades, so while they should seem friendly, they cannot be friends with their students. A friendly teacher will have a hard time giving a grade, so it’s best to find a way to set yourself apart from your children during class time. My yardstick had this effect. It gave me a goofiness that students loved, but its tapping sound was also a noisy symbol of authority.
Use Special Mannerisms.

Some teachers like to develop special mannerisms as part of the persona. As a university professor, I made sure to present my material with an over-abundance of energy. Some of this was mere nervous energy, but I directed to my teaching mask. Students read my exuberant animation as enthusiasm. Using a special mannerism while teaching helps set class time apart from ordinary family life.

Establish Expectations Early. Part of establishing your teaching persona is establishing your expectations and routines early on. Know ahead of time what your expectations and consequences will be, and let your students/children know. Then be consistent in following the plan.

What does a persona do for teachers and homeschoolers?

It sets up an environment for learning.
It signals that class time is special.
It sets you in the special position of authority.

Develop your persona, and set yourself up for success!

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