In some ways, I am very much the same kind of person as a teacher that I was as a student. My mentality as a student was always to prioritize all the assignments that I had floating around at any given time, and then to go through my list and conquer each step in its proper time frame. Unfortunately, since I use that same approach as a teacher, that means that certain things get left behind for periods of time if there is no hard deadline, and that is why I’m sitting at a computer screen just a shade under three weeks from my last blog post. To be fair, I try to post once a week, so instead of being three weeks late, I am only 12 days late (that didn’t really make me feel any better). I’m sure there will be other times where life and work get in the way for a while, but I’m not planning to give this up any time soon.
I started this post by mentioning how in some ways I am the exact same type of teacher as I was a student. However, the main point of today’s discussion is to talk about how I have found success by having the exact opposite personality as a teacher than I did as a student, even if it means stretching beyond my realm of comfort. I spoke a few weeks ago about meeting students on their turf, so that they felt comfortable and would be willing to meet me halfway, yet, the more I teach, the more I realize that I also have to be a little bit flexible, and venture out of my comfort zone every now and again.
A few weeks ago our school had it’s Homecoming week. For those of you who are too far from school to remember (or whose school didn’t care as much about Homecoming week as schools do today), the week leading up to the big football game and dance is all about school spirit and includes days to dress up along the way. Student Ron would have dismissed these events with an elitist attitude and known that he was above all the foolish chicanery. I don’t know that I owned any “spirit wear” in high school, nor did I ever particularly want any. Mr. Steinschriber, the teacher, gathers that stuff up like candy, finding spirit wear that fits with the teacher dress code, and often going out in public (much to my wife’s chagrin) in a Ritenour basketball or newspaper t-shirt.
Early on in my teaching career I tried to make sure I was projecting a certain image at all times. I wanted to be seen as a consummate professional; someone who had no time for silly parlor games like Homecoming dress up. However, I learned that by loosening up a little bit I could still keep my professionalism, but also play along and endear myself to kids at the same time.
When I first started at my school, I would dress up on the Friday of Spirit Week, which is always Black and Orange Day, usually by wearing a Ritenour polo and khakis. I felt like I was participating, even if I wasn’t going nuts. This year, there were a few days that the leadership class created that really made me step up my game, and forced me to veer way out of my comfort zone. I dressed up for all 5 days of the week, but there was one day that actually won me some acclaim within the school.
Wednesday of Spirit Week was Meme Day, and I had a plan. If you look back at my first post, you can see that my students have already made me into a meme. I actually now collect all the memes that students have made out of me. I’m probably a little self-conscious when they share them with me, if I am being entirely truthful, but I tend to embrace each one. Since they decided I fit into that image, I decided to run with it and make it my own. I got a big post-it note sheet, wrote “Change My Mind” at the bottom, and had a different statement for each hour. I expected a few of my own students to chuckle, most of them to roll their eyes, but for the vast majority of them to just continue walking and ignore me. Boy was I wrong.
I started the morning with an inside joke that I share with my students. I tend to assume most conspiracy theories are nonsense and have fun proving to students why their conspiracy theories are incorrect, but there is one that randomly sits in my brain as a “what if.” I started our first block class with “Tupac is still alive, change my mind.” I’m thinking the fact that I included Tupac in the first one was what started to draw some attention, but I sat at my door (which is in a far distant corner of our school) and had students come up to me who were mostly laughing, some who were trying to argue, and a lot who were just taking pictures. My next-door teacher neighbor came by in her outfit (She was Kermit with a mug of iced tea saying “But that’s none of my business.” It’s a fun hallway!) and we had a coworker take a picture of us. We thought it was funny, and the kids were into it, but we thought nothing more. I had three more signs for the day; “Ranch dressing is disgusting,” “Imos is not real pizza, it is just a cracker with ketchup and fake cheese,” and “The oxford comma should be mandatory.”
It was a fun day, and it solicited a lot of positive responses, but then I got an email the next day. “Congratulations, you have won the school Instagram contest for Meme Day, you win a free pizza lunch.” Our picture got sent to the school’s Instagram account and we got the votes to be one of the contest winners for the day. For a week after Meme Day, I had students coming up to me and talking about my outfit.
The funniest part of all of it was that the night before, as I was making my posters, I was wondering if I should really be doing this. Fear has played a role in my life. Fear of missing out, of being made fun of, of not being correct. I hold back from doing a lot of things because I like to have control, so if there is a situation where I need to go out on a limb and won’t have control, I will usually back out. I put myself out there on this one, and that is something I would have never done as a student. I know that I can take ridicule a lot better now than I could have back then, but in the back of my mind, I did wonder beforehand if this could be turned around on me and I would become a laughing stock online. Maybe I am, and that’s why we got all the votes, or maybe they appreciated a teacher embracing their world (I’m going to choose to believe it is the latter), but pushing through that fear of embarrassment and going out on a limb has definitely brought back positive results. I’m not saying that I am completely transformed, but the more I break out of my comfort zone, the better results I have had with my students.
My participation also won me the above meme!