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From Behind the Mask

Published in Ayeka by Jeff Amshalem, Ayeka Senior Educator
Posted on March 13, 2019

Megillat Esther is about hiding in plain sight. Hadassah becomes Esther — “I will hide” — hiding her true self until the dramatic scene in chapter 7, in which she also unmasks the villain who has been hiding in plain sight all along, right under the king’s nose. The masks we wear on Purim and the commandment of ad delo yada give us a chance to hide in plain sight and explore being something different, which just might turn out to be some true part of us.

One of the beautiful things that Ayeka does by bringing soulful education into the classroom is it enables teachers to reach students who are hiding in plain sight, in all kinds of ways, some obvious, some less so. We can easily spot the kids who hide behind screens or other distractions, but what about the students who hide behind a stereotype or some role they’ve been handed and yet feel like they have to live up to, leaving a real part of themselves behind? Some even hide, counterintuitively, behind the role of star student, focusing on grades and content mastery to avoid being fully present in their relationships with teachers and peers.

And who can blame them? School can be a scary place for a budding (pre)adolescent self. Even though I was a model student for most of my childhood, I’d say most days I brought about 10% of myself to school. Thinking back to how many hours that was (really years if you add them up), that’s an astounding amount of time to spend disconnected from the other 90% of myself.

Through building a classroom culture of trust and support, and then offering the students a variety of ways to reflect and personally engage with the learning, Ayeka can offer all kinds of students who are “hiding in plain sight” the chance to emerge, even if only to themselves, and say something real. And very often they choose to share what they say with someone else. I’ve heard from teachers I work with that the simple introduction of journaling, supported by the right student-teacher relationship, has brought out ideas, self-reflection, and peer engagement in a way they had never seen before, especially from those kids they never heard from. Not only was this rewarding for the teachers,  but the students themselves wrote (in evaluations and meta-reflections on the class) how grateful they were for the time and space to reflect on the learning and to hear what they themselves had to say about it. The “smart kids” weren’t afraid of giving the wrong answer, the “good kids” had a place to ask tough questions, and the introverts had a way to express themselves away from the bright lights of group discussion, where most classroom meaning-making happens.

By creating such a classroom environment, students and teachers can each give each other the gift of a way to emerge, even a bit, from behind the masks we wear every day.