Some weeks ago, I was gifted a new T-shirt. Burgundy red with a gold, silver and black owl artistically printed on the front. I mechanically dressed the next morning, put it on under my warm grey sweater and headed off to school. At 8:40, as I stood in front of twelve eager students, wishing them a good morning, I pulled off my sweater and immediately had a very abrupt realization that I had made a mistake with my attire. In unison, 24 eyes traveled from
my face to the front of my shirt and our review-of-the-day conversation was interrupted with comments “ooh! nice shirt, Ms. Wells”, “I like your owl” and “hoot hoot”. The back row followed that up with creating an owl mask with their hands and placing it onto their faces, which was a huge hit for the observing students in the front two rows. It took quite a few minutes to settle down after the jokes and laughs, but the stage was set for the reminder of the day. My owl and I worked twice as hard that day to keep the focus and attention on the tasks at hand!
I’ve been reflecting on my experience since that humourous day, and on our school policies around clothing. As a faculty, we have had many conversations around logos, media characters and various images on clothing, and the effect it has in our classrooms. There seems to be a spectrum of comfort with the images that are popular among children’s clothing, rather than a unanimous consensus among the teachers. However, the distraction caused by visuals on a shirt is acknowledged and agreed upon by all.
These past conversations have come flooding back to me and have become colorful and alive since the day with my owl. I’ve recalled days in the classroom when children have sported Star Wars T-shirts and how many divergent paths arose, carrying the students away from their purposeful work. Seemingly innocent animal images, like owls, is just another layer to sift through to find that place of focus and commitment within a world of stimulation.
Distraction is an obvious reason for encouraging plain clothing in the classrooms, but there are others. There seems to be more pressure than ever to strive for a prescribed appearance, determined primarily by pop culture idols. I, personally feel so grateful that my children spend the majority of their day in a place that attempts to protect a child’s modesty and innocence.
There is tremendous value in providing a child with an environment safe for creating wee folk villages or obstacle courses, rather than a venue for a fashion show. There is ample space for self consciousness in this lifetime and relatively little time when it is not your responsibility.
In our home, we have a ‘school clothes’ drawer and a ‘weekend clothes’ drawer. My owl shirt, albeit artistic and creative, has become my favourite Saturday attire!
~Amy Wells (Class 2/3)