Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Seven Faces of Dr. Leiken

There is an old Japanese proverb:
Every man has three faces...

One he shows the world.
One he shows his family.
And one only he himself knows.

As a teacher I have many different faces, persona's I adopt to cajole and persuade, educate and sway, discipline or embarrass. Persona's are my instruments, my tools, mechanisms of behavioral engineering. Each persona is tailor made for a specific job, a character invented to create a desired reaction.

Sometimes I am the Joker, the comedian, part stand up humorist, part clown. The joker is used to bring levity, to make light of a bad situation or to deflect potential embarrassment.

"Mr. Leiken," one of the girls flirts, eyes fluttering, "have I told you I love you?"

The class leans in, tongues lapping.

Out pops the Joker.

"I know," I respond cooly, checking my nails. "No need to state the obvious."

The class laughs, the situation is defused. I love the joker.

Other times I'm the Performer. Unlike the joker, he's mostly flash, eager to make an impact and put on a show. I pull out a banana, peeling off strips as I eat it. I explain that in the old days hogs traditionally cleaned the streets, eating all the refuse dropped by people.

I toss bits of banana peel down the central aisle of the classroom.

The class gasps. A second later they start giggling.

I ask rhetorically would would happen if no one picked the bananas up?

"The hogs won't eat them!" someone shouts. "People would slip on them!"

"So how would you solve the problem?" I ask.

The class debates this, finally one brave soul calls out, "Have people throw them in trash cans?"

I nod, picking up a waste basket as I toss in the banana peels. "Correct. The banana was the reason we have laws against littering, and public trash cans."

The class applauds. Ta da! The performer takes a bow.

Other times I am the Fixer, solving the unsolvable with workable solutions. He is a faciliator, a negotiater, resolving conflicts through the art of diplomacy and mediation. The Fixer is calm, cool, and manipulative; the proverbial velvet glove surrounding a fist of steel.

Failing a class? Being bullied? Need to change an elective?

The fixer takes care of it. He doesn't take no, he just finds a new solution.

Occassionally I am the Tyrant. The tyrant can't be bargained with. He can't be reasoned with. He doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And he absolutely will not stop, ever, until he has removed or disciplined his target. The tyrant is a robot dictator, a cold emotionless being with chilly eyes and an icy demeanor.

I don't like him much. The tyrant is a bit of a prick.

At least once a day, I'm the Coach. The coach is part counselor, part motivational speaker, all cheerleader. The coach never gives up, he constantly encourages and pushes his students to succeed. The coach is optimistic, upbeat, and relentlessly positive.

It's not a role I'm used to playing.

"Mister Leiken, I failed English and Math last semester!"
"But you passed Health and P.E! That's a 50% improvement!"
"But I'm not going to graduate on time!"
"That's what summer school is for!"
"But I don't know how to do my multiplication tables."

I pause. I got nothing. I duck the complaint. When you can't massage the truth, you ignore it completely.

"Try harder!" I grin. "You can do it!"

Rarely, I'm the Critic. The critic is the fault finder, the muck racker, the smug narrator that writes the blogs you are reading now. He used to appear often, but he gets in so much trouble that in recent years his cries have been largely silenced. The critic speaks only in truth, and there is nothing more poisonous than truth in the LAUSD school system.

The critic is a mean SOB. He's the one that makes kids cry.
Truth tends to do that.

Finally, I am the Father. He crosses the line between teacher and parent, possesses unshakable integrity, is eternally patient and just. The father promotes all that is good in others, he protects his charges and provides the emotional safety net the students desperately crave.

I have never adopted the personality of the father.
It's a persona that's been projected upon me.

It doesn't matter. Because the Father is the Joker, the Performer, the Fixer, the Tyrant, the Coach and the Critic. The father encompasses them all. Sometimes you choose your faces, but sometimes the faces are chosen for you.

So it goes.

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