“You need to dope up your wardrobe,” Sam said, raising an eyebrow at my green, cable knit sweater.
“We thought about buying you some wooden apple jewelry,” said Colin, “but we figured you already had some.” As the youngest teacher at my school, I had been spending my meager paychecks building up my teaching wardrobe: slacks, blouses that didn’t gape at the bust or show my back when I bent over, comfortable shoes.
Teacher shoes, more or less. I had pairs in brown and black—with excellent arch support. They weren’t going to win me any beauty pageants, but I was young and trying to look an older part. I thanked my brothers and put on the Sauconys with hot pink stripes. I wore them all Christmas break, feeling like a student on holiday instead of Miss Eddings, the Spanish teacher.
Like many new teachers, I was absorbed in my work. Most of my friends had moved away, and I was in a long distance relationship. There wasn’t anyone to remind me who I was before I became a teacher, so I toiled into the evenings and on weekends to make seventh grade Spanish feel as much like kindergarten as I could, mixing playing and learning with the target language.
We played hot potato using a beach ball for verb conjugation drills. We made atole on Bunsen burners borrowed from science labs. When I taught commands and directions students paired up to lead each other through obstacle courses in blindfolded relay races.
I even gave iced cookie pop quizzes when we learned Spanish clothing and colors, prebaking gingerbread men and women and handing each student some icing and a card describing what the cookie should look like in Spanish.
After all of the gingerbread was graded, Jordan licked his icing-coated lips and said, “That was the best quiz ever! I wish I could eat all my quizzes.” I smiled, but during lunch that day I crawled under my desk and took a nap, placing my head on the corporate mauve carpet. I never wanted to bake cookies again, much less one hundred and eighty of them.
Baking cookies at midnight was not going to work long term.
The next morning I rolled out of bed late, threw on the pair of black twill slacks on my floor, the Sauconys, and headed to class.
“Oooh, Miss!” squealed Alicia, shimmying her shoulders. “I like those.”
“Cool shoes,” said Fernando, gelled hair shining.
“Ah, Miss Eddings!” said Jordan, “I didn’t know you wore Sauconys.” Seven periods passed with kids from each class remarking on my shoes.
I experimented with a pair of brown Pumas and got a great response. Maybe it was just the good cheer I felt from all the compliments, but I swear, my students seemed more at ease when I wore the cool shoes than when I wore the black or brown arch supports. In a good way: their heads were nodding, and their spirits stayed high through a long listening activity. “Where did you get those?” “Pumas are better than Sauconys.” “Me gustan los zapatos.”
“Are you kidding me?” I asked myself. “It’s this easy?” I felt more like myself, and I felt more comfortable. I never gave a gingerbread cookie quiz again. Instead we did paper doll quizzes copied on the copy machine. I didn’t give up entirely on the interactive lessons, of course: with my cool new shoes, my relay race times were better than ever.
Jessica Eddings-Roeser is a writer with several years experience teaching under-privileged students in the Texas public school system. She’s taught English, Language Arts, ESOL, Creative Writing, College Reading, and Spanish levels 1-4AP at both the middle and high school levels. She founded and ran an adult ESOL program for her church, and contributes to the AVID program at her former high school. Currently she is at home with her baby and writing during naptime, but dreams of volunteering to teach creative writing in the Texas juvenile prison system. Maybe she’s crazy… she has an MFA in fiction.