Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cowboy Boots vs. Vans Sneakers

It is a life post again, fellow bloggers! Today's post has an education focus, because I'm a teacher who is currently having teaching withdrawals. I hope you aren't getting too bored of my ramblings about nerds and Zumba class. Never fear though, for today is about neither! Today I am going to write about [wait for it]...!

Now just hear me out. I swear this is not some materialistic post about shoe shopping. If I'm being completely honest, I dislike shopping for shoes. I have difficulty finding anything comfy, or cute, or that actually fits my feet without giving me blisters.

So what is this post going to be about then if it's not about shoes, you ask? It's a comparison post. Country teaching (cowboy boots) versus city teaching (vans sneakers). I'm using the shoes comparison to illustrate my point. In keeping up with the format of my blog, I once again present a case study:

A Case Study, or Cowboy Boots vs. Vans Sneakers
I had just graduated from college. My life for the month of May 2011 consisted entirely of job applications. I think by the time I had a job, I had my resume completely memorized. My first teaching job was in a small rural community with a population of under 1,000. Having not grown up in a rural town myself, I was unaccustomed to having students show up late for my 1st teaching period for interesting reasons. One reason for being late? Because (and I quote), "We were pheasant hunting, Ms. E. We bagged several birds this morning," and then proceeded to track mud all over my classroom carpet in their blood-covered field clothes. I wish I was kidding, but I'm not.
In a town where you are 50 miles from the nearest retail mall, the outdoors is a part of rural living. While I didn't grow up in a small town, I did live in the country for many years growing up. I drove an ATV. I went snowmobiling with my dad. I practically lived in the shelterbelt of trees surrounding our expansive yard. Most days I could be found wearing overalls building tree forts. My students did not believe me when I told them this information in an attempt to win them over (what? I needed them to understand I had that outdoors background too so that they would trust me and we could get on with learning Shakespearean drama). They were skeptical that I had ever driven an ATV. They didn't believe I was capable of riding a horse. I dropped the topic.
Enter November 2011, 3 months into my first year of teaching. It was casual Friday, and I couldn't find my shoes I normally wore with my jeans. I decided, What the heck. I'll wear my cowboy boots
Oh, if only I had worn them sooner. My Ariats, a gift from my rancher grandfather, earned me some street cred with my students. I can't count how many conversations I had with my students that day about the different brands of boots, the types of leather, and which were best for doing outdoors work.
Fast forward 2 years. I started a new teaching job this past year (2013) in a large school with a student body of roughly 900 young people. If you're keeping up with the math here, that means my new school has almost the same number of people that my previous teaching town had (the actual population of my new community being over 100x larger). Now I was teaching 13-year-olds in a city setting and wearing my boots on casual Friday seemed a bit silly now that I no longer lived in a town with gravel country roads.
For those of you who aren't teachers, starting over in a new school (regardless of having prior teaching experience) is basically like starting your first year of teaching all over again. New curriculum, new students, new building layout, new people, and a new copy machine (I swear, copy machines hate me). Casual Friday came along again, and I debated what type of comfy shoes to wear with my jeans. I figured, Well, so what if my Vans make me look younger than 24? They will get me through a day of walking back and forth to the library! (Note to self: NEVER, I repeat, NEVER, wear heels on a day you are taking all your class periods walking around the school). And so, I wore my Vans sneakers to school on a Friday in October.
Wow. Talk about a comment explosion for the day. It sounded something like this:
Student 1: Oh my gosh Ms. E, are those Vans?! They're awesome!
Student 2: You wear Vans? They are the BEST and now you are officially the most hip teacher EVER in my book.
Student 3: I LOVE YOUR VANS [squeals].
Student 4: [also wearing Vans that day] MISS E! WE MATCH! [proceeds to put foot next to mine and snap a photo on her phone before I can protest]
And many more comments like that for an entire day. I was flattered. Just like the cowboy boots, I had earned some street cred with my city students.
Looking back, I learned from this experience that sometimes we can't tell people who we are as a person, or that we have only one personality aspect. As people, we are versatile - we can be many things. In my case, both country living and city living. Rather than tell stories to my students about my own growing up years (especially at the risk of sounding like an old schoolmarm), I discovered that a subtle shift in what I do (or in this case, my footwear choice) can make them curious enough to ask me questions about my own life and personality. This is how it is with anyone we meet. And just like that, my lessons that day went 10x more smoothly. As people, we connect with others when we discover they have similar interests or tastes. It makes us more approachable to others, and in the long run, people are more willing to trust who we are as a result.

This doesn't just mean the little things like boots or sneakers. It relates to the bigger life things too, as I'm sure many of you can understand if you think back to times when you gained respect from others. Just as I've had many valuable experiences at both my previous teaching post and my current one, I know that these teaching experiences adhere to other aspects of my life.

One final note today: what kind of shoes do you most like to wear?

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