“Fake it ‘til you feel It” or “Fake it ‘til you make it.”
Have you heard this sage advice?
Me, too. In fact, I’ve given that advice, or something very near to it, many times in my life as a teacher, school principal, mentor, and college professor.
You see, when I was a new teacher myself back in the ’80s, it wasn’t “safe” to admit to my administrator that I was struggling. Teaching was hard! I loved my kids and worked diligently every single day to do my very best for them. But it wasn’t like my experiences as a student teacher when I could develop a wonderfully creative and interactive unit that was always a big hit with the kids.
The supervising teacher was there to make sure the children behaved well for me so I could focus on instruction. My professors encouraged my efforts to engage students in self-expressive drama or writing activities. My determination to create a personalized experience for every single student seemed to be greatly appreciated. I was a good student and my teachers did nothing to discourage my exuberance.
Reality set in when I had a classroom of 33 fourth graders all on my own, each with their own needs and personalities and me with an eager heart, but only two sets of eyes, ears, and hands. Eight daily subjects were a lot to prepare for in the days when we taught, not only all the reading, writing, math, social studies, health, and science, but also physical education and art. Thankfully, there was a dedicated specialist who took the kids for music twice a week. I did what I could do well and pretended to be competent in the rest.
I very much needed practical strategies for managing the students while maintaining my naturally sunny disposition. I knew I couldn’t get it from my principal. He’d been an “Ag” teacher and coach in high school and, as far as I could tell, had no real understanding of the needs of young children or the elementary curriculum, much less how to support and encourage a beginning teacher on the verge of a breakdown.
Mary Poppins to the Rescue!
It was my teacher-colleagues down the hall who saved me. I was carried through by the good humor and goodwill of other teachers who let me cry on their shoulders and gave me ideas about how to better structure my classroom to keep the kids in line and my head above water. Thankfully, I survived those years and went on to a successful 35-year career as an educator. But even years later, as a college professor teaching elementary education and supervising interns in the field, I repeatedly gave that piece of advice I now deeply regret. Remembering the survival skills, I had to develop as an early teacher, I gave my student teachers various excerpts from the “Fake it ‘til you feel it” book of wisdom.
My rendition and favorite version of this mantra was to “find your inner Mary Poppins.” I love Mary Poppins’s way of ordering kids around with confidence and certainty while smiling widely, dancing, singing, and making every bit of “medicine” go down with a “spoon full of sugar.” It’s a great strategy that works well with kids under the age of 10 until they suddenly call you out on your overly buoyant enthusiasm for fractions.
Competence Builds Confidence
That’s a much healthier mantra. I still believe it’s true that there are times when we really must “put our shoulders back, our heads up and our happy faces on” (or “your big girl panties”, if you prefer). No matter who your audience or your students are, it can come in handy to be able to pretend you’ve “got this” when all eyes are upon you hoping for certainty, confidence, and leadership in uncertain times.
More recently though, I’ve come to understand the power and importance of being transparent with my vulnerability. Thanks to the work of Brene Brown, the world has started to wake up to the fact that we share a pervasive feeling of shame and uncertainty that is epidemic and toxic to our wellbeing and our relationships. Our partners, children, coworkers, students, clients, and audiences can, in fact, handle us not knowing it all. The truth is that when we take off our masks and are courageous enough to admit our insecurities, we make healthier homes, classrooms, and communities.
When we stop faking it, we find that we are capable of the genuineness and authenticity that are the foundation of all relationships. Relationships are key to all collaborative efforts and collaboration is essential to solving the world’s most pressing issues. We simply cannot do it alone.
We also don’t build true competence as solitary actors in an uncertain world.
Instead of Fake it ‘til you Feel It, just feel it. I now advise myself and others with the following:
- Prepare as well as possible so you don’t have to fake it.
- Trust others so you can ask for help and support whenever you need it.
- If you don’t get it, ask someone. Everyone hasn’t yet gotten the message that vulnerability is a superpower.
- If the “powers that be” don’t allow you to be vulnerable, you need to find a place with better leaders.
Mary Poppins notwithstanding, it’s time to feel it together so we don’t have to fake it alone.
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