As a high school teacher, I get to relive many other people’s “glory days” year after year. The biggest of those days culminate the week of Homecoming. The entire week is dedicated to creating school spirit and getting the student body excited about the first home game. On “dress up” day, I look forward to watching kids dress up by class, whether it be freshmen as “hippies,” sophomores as “nerds,” juniors as “rock stars,” or seniors as “senior citizens.” After reading the announcements to my 2nd hour class, I am supposed to tally up how many students did the dress up that day and then pass out a “tootie fruity” candy to each one. (Like the candy addict I am, I always save a small handful back and snack on those during breaks.) Homecoming week is also an excuse for me to dress casually and wear my “spirit gear” (e.g., school t-shirts, jerseys, sweatshirts, etc.) and pair it with jeans or khakis. The week ends with the Homecoming Assembly where students participate in games on the gym floor. There are dance routines performed by cheerleaders and other clubs, and teachers and assistant principals get a pie in the face as a way to boost student morale and raise money for charity.
Oh, and then there’s “Sliders.”
“Sliders” is a tradition that goes way back. The concept is for kids (and teachers) to do a dance routine to popular songs, and at the change of each song, they slide into formation to spell out the school’s name: WEST. Ok, I understand the appeal when it gets paired with the homecoming’s theme like this year’s “superheroes,” and the entertainment comes with each participating group’s spin on that theme. Oh, and it is also exciting to watch the male teachers do their “Sliders” routine because there is something inherently funny in watching grown men dress up in costumes (most of the time one is at least dressed like an ugly woman) and try to perform an organized and cohesive routine. They always knock it out of the park as far as humor and creativity go.
The female teachers’ sliders team is great as well. They’re clever, organized, energetic, and well, really good. I always enjoyed watching the sliders from the sidelines. It’s fun to listen to the roar and cheer of 2,000+ students cheering on their teachers and peers. But, as far as participating in the event, I’ve gone “under the radar” for 12 years now. I’ve always lived by the phrase, “I teach high school, I’m not in high school.” Until this year.
I won’t get into the specifics on why I chose to do the routine this year (peer pressure); but I finally said “yes,” simply because our new administration has given our school and our teachers a much needed boost in morale. I figured in the end, why not contribute back to this place that has given me so much? Oh, and did I mention “peer pressure”? 😉
Anyway, at our first morning practice before the beginning of the school day, I decided to go for a good first slide and ended up getting two bad floor burns on my forearms. I laughed it off when inside I was in some serious pain. It didn’t help when I took a shower later that evening and felt the sting and burn all over again. But, I survived and showed up every day at practice with enthusiasm. I also enjoyed the camaraderie with my fellow science, math, English, German, French, art, and Learning Strategies teachers. They’re great women, and it was refreshing to get to know them better all for the sake of having fun and wanting to make memories for our students. The routine was easy too. I just had to show up and practice my sliding. Everything else was well-organized and under control by two well-organized, calm, yet energetic women.
On the morning of today’s assembly, I started to get “pre-game jitters”. “What if I mess up?” I thought. But it was all under control after a half hour practice at 7:45 a.m. and 10 run-throughs of the routine that left us all sweaty, hot, and stinky. As soon as practice was over, I rushed across the school, ran up 3 flights of stairs while lugging my satchel and other miscellaneous items, and arrived at my locked classroom door at the end of the 2nd bell. 26 students were piled up outside of my classroom asking me where I’ve been. “Sliders,” I said breathlessly as I tried to balance my large load while fishing my keys out of my pocket as my students stood by in annoyance. “Ms. H, you’re bleeding,” one girl said.
“What? Huh?” I mumbled while balancing my bag on one shoulder, my sweatshirt and jacket in one arm, keys in the other hand, and papers in my mouth. Once we were inside and everyone took their seat (and I had tossed everything haphazardly onto my desk), I looked at my arms and saw blood trickling down. “Oh, gross,” I thought, and grabbed a Kleenex and wiped myself off right before I handed out the papers for the day.
I played the “sympathy” card the rest of the shortened schedule day and begged my students to cheer me at the assembly. For whatever reason, maybe because I was going to be up in front of a large crowd of hormonally challenged teenagers later that day, I began reminiscing about my “glory days”. I was not a popular kid. I was a middle-of-the-road band geek who had crushes on boys that didn’t know I existed. I played basketball for the majority of my high school years, but sat most of the time on the bench. I wore braces for my first 2 years and a retainer for my last two. (After a late night of “cruising,” I once retrieved my retainer from a McDonald’s trash can after having taken it out to eat my quintessential teenage meal of cheeseburger, fries and a Coke. But, I digress.)
I went to assemblies and played in the pep band. I marched at football games and went to dances. And, though there were happy times interspersed in those 4 years, the majority of the time I worried. A lot. I felt like a big microscope was on me, and I feared that everyone would notice every single mistake I would make, and then later judge me for it. I worried about my looks, my clothes, my grades, my homework, cute boys, and mean girls; and I worried about where I would sit in the cafeteria, and with whom I would be sitting. I thought I was abnormal because I was having more of these “worry days” than I was “carefree, glory days.”
Now that I’m a high school teacher, I see the reality of high school and teenagers. Even the popular kids, the bully, the mean girl, the freakishly quiet kid in the corner, the jocks, the band nerd, and the drifter worry about the same things I did. Back in my day, I was searching for my true identity. I thought it existed in how I decorated my locker, how I styled my hair, what catchy words and phrases I used, and with whom I decided to spend a majority of my time. I questioned why I was feeling lonely, melancholy, crucified, mortified, embarrassed, awkward, angry, or confused one minute, and giddy, happy, confident, pretty and smart the next. And though there were happy moments and fun times in my life as a high school kid, and though I enjoyed a majority of my classes, teachers, and classmates, there was that nagging feeling that I was waiting for my “real life” to start. I didn’t know that it had already begun.
As I was recounting my “war wounds” to my senior writing students this morning, I saw myself in their faces. An odd thing happened to me too: I got “school spirit” and I wanted to let them know that today is a good time in their lives. Tomorrow or Monday, or three weeks or a year from now might not be, but today is because they have a chance to cheer, to act silly, to dress funny, to laugh, to take pictures, and to enjoy a fleeting moment of a fading childhood.