“We can wear what we want…” That was another commonly created rule that my students established for themselves. For a school where uniforms are required and spontaneously checked, I expected such a student-created rule to surface. Anticipating that rule, I responded, “You can wear the clothes that you want; however, you do so at your own risk. I don’t care about your clothes. To me, your clothes have nothing to do with your learning; I’m content as long as you are wearing clothes.”
At first, students giggled and cheered with glee. But after further pondering, they understood: the principal and his assistant randomly check, class-by-class, for uniforms and mark whoever is not dressed according to school law. That mark affects their grades. Students quickly understood two aspects of rules: one, school rules trump classroom rules; and two, they have the freedom of choice, but consequence blossoms from choice—depending on the seed, the stem could grow thorns.
That maxim even applies to teachers. Yes, it’s true: as the school symbolizes community and the administrators, custodians, secretaries and teachers are the forefront representatives, their cohesiveness directly affects the education of the students. So, before allowing the students to create a rule that could uproot the rich fundamentals—the very foundation—of learning, it is important to discuss and get an approval of such a radical pedagogical technique from other teachers and, most importantly, the principal. (Seriously, it is important to openly discuss your ideas.) Remember to let the teachers and the principal know that the school policy will still be upheld; however, the students’ awareness and understanding of it will be heightened.
My students occasionally wear a different color sweatshirt or sweater (according to school law, only green is permitted) and once in a great while a bold student will put on a hat in my class. When the student puts the hat on, the student consciously looks around, as if a S.W.A.T. team were going to break through the windows at any moment. Once the student realizes that the S.W.A.T. team is not on standby, and that I have continued teaching the lesson, without interruption, the student relaxes and focuses on the work.
I’ve also witnessed learning occurring in both sweatpants and khakis; it’s not as unsettling as one might think. Again, as long as students have clothes on, I’m happy. “So,” one of my students said, “we can wear whatever we want?”
“Of course you can,” I said. “But, when the principal walks in and marks you up for disturbing the peace by dressing recklessly, don’t turn to me because I’m going to say ‘I warned you.’”
“So what’s the point of even having this rule if we’re still going to get in trouble?”
“But we’ve always had that freedom.”
“Yes. But were you aware of it?”
Currently taped to my classroom wall on a sheet of construction paper headed “Rules”, in fat-lined blue ink penned by students, reads, “We can wear what we want but at our own risk.”
- Learning can occur equally in sweatpants as in khakis
- Discuss ideas with principal
- Students dress at their own risk