I was never much one for “dressing up” for spirit days when I was in high school. Like most teenagers, I was terrified to look silly or wrong, and only participated in spirit days if there was a way that I could look (what I deemed as) somewhat cool in the process. And plain ol’ school pride days? No way. I was above that. School pride was for goons–I strictly held a “sleep tight, ya morons!” mentality à la Holden Caulfield when it came to sporting the burgundy and silver. For one, I was angry that my school had a racist mascot. (I’m still mad about that.) For two, I was… er… too sophisticated?
Call it karma, call it irony, call it what you will, but it’s now part of my job to show my support for school pride by wearing the team colors on a regular basis. I no longer have any problem with that, and even enjoy my Friday green and white staples. Wearing spirit wear does build a sense of togetherness, and it offers me an opportunity to show that I’m proud to be a teacher and leader in my school community. However, up until this past year, I was still uneasy with the idea of dressing up in costume regalia for spirit days. I believe that it’s important to maintain a visual sense of professionalism along with a mental one, to garner students’ respect, and to show my own commitment to my profession as a serious one. Leave me to my own devices, and it’s heels, dress pants, and snappy sweaters all the way. But my colleagues are a very all-or-nothing crowd. So, in the spirit of solidarity, these kinds of things tend to happen during the more spirited weeks of the school year:
So what have I learned, having been forced into a little bit of buffoonery for the sake of the overall, spirited good? Well, the main thing I keep learning is that the department that plays together, stays together. The sense of convivial one-upmanship that comes along with our theme day plans has brought us closer together as colleagues and friends while we delight in one another’s weirdness. Teachers tend to be hilarious people, and it’s nice to see that quality shine amidst the tireless push to provide the best instruction to our students. The students, by the way, are the providers of lesson number two: kids delight in the occasional breach of seriousness from their teachers, as long as the norm is professionalism. Looking back once more to my own high school days, I do remember my respect for my teachers remaining fully intact, and maybe even increasing a little bit when they had the courage to go all out on a spirit day. In particular, I remember a strict, gruff technical education teacher once instructing our Architecture & Design class in a red bunny onesie complete with ears and pinned-on tail. No one dared to acknowledge it and neither did he. Class was simply business as usual, with the sole addition of furtively exchanged glances among us ninth graders, awed and disbelieving, while his back was turned. Thanks for that, Mr. Spencer–I’d like to shake your hand.
High schoolers understand the concept of how clothing reflects community, branding, and allegiance on a deeper level than most. They are often obsessed with using their clothing to create an image, and look carefully to ours. Every once in a while, their image and ours collide, and that can be the greatest compliment; for instance, the day about a month ago when one of my students bounded in to my classroom to show off her new sweatshirt with a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Of course, I asked her where she got it. And I bought one, too:
I still maintain that professional attire needs to be the day-to-day norm for teachers, but my students and colleagues are teaching me that it’s ok to wear my heart on my sleeve… so to speak… every once in a while. And I think that’s pretty wonderful. I look forward to the next round of spirit day mischief, and to broadcasting a hefty dose of school pride throughout my years to come as an educator. If only my sixteen year old self could see me now. I can only hope she’d approve, if for no other reason then her trust in me as someone who cares deeply about ideas, people, and the written word. And, of course, cats.
Now, all I need is a way to work this gem into a spirit day:
Wish me luck.