Tonight, I accompanied Eileen and her relatives to the Monona Terrace for something called Dane Dances, a rooftop concert social event that goes on every Friday or so. Later in the evening, I ran into a few parents of rowers I coached about 7 years ago. My first conversation, with Steve Schaefer, was pleasant. We touched upon reverse culture shock, my teaching in Ecuador, his experiences teaching adults vs. undergraduates, and my trepidation over the fast-approaching school year.
Steve then took me over to the rest of the group he came with so that I could briefly say hi. The first person to greet me said, ï¿½well you finally got a grown-up haircut!ï¿½
I would like to just take a moment to analyze that statement a little, since itï¿½s been irking me ever since she uttered it. First off, and most obviously, the observation implies that I wasnï¿½t grown up before, and that now I at least have the appearance of being more adult. Of course, I might not actually be a mature adult; and this particular parent clarified that she doesnï¿½t really believe Iï¿½m grown up when she commented on how I might be mistaken for a student at the high school where I teach.
But whatï¿½s more interesting are the implications about respectability in her remark. The military and Republican party would tend to agree with her: short hair is the mark of a more respectable person. Short hair implies a sense of conformity, a sense of abiding by the rules. And for this particular parent ï¿½ I very well know ï¿½ the rules are important.
Back when I was her daughterï¿½s coach, I was apparently a too-young (and therefore foolish) adolescent dangerously close to breaking the rules. Now, I may not be any better, but at least I ï¿½finallyï¿½ have a respectable appearance. I look like I might be a more mature, rule-following, conformist. And that, in her mind, is a good thing.
What the statement quickly brought back to mind was just how unpleasant my experience was as a high school rowing coach 7 years ago, since her statement really did more to invoke the past than it did to comment on the present.
Incidentally, I should mention that Steve had told me earlier about how, in talking with the current rowing teamï¿½s high school students about ï¿½Mr. Storm,ï¿½ he had ascertained that I was ï¿½cool,ï¿½ and ï¿½definitely on the A team.ï¿½ I wish I could have walked away from the evening with Steveï¿½s words of encouragement. Unfortunately, Iï¿½m usually more affected by the criticisms than I am by the compliments. And so, the rowing momï¿½s comments five minutes later about my haircut were the ones I took home with me to mull over for the rest of the night.
I was not a bad rowing coach. In fact, I still keep in touch with this particular motherï¿½s daughter, who is a very warm-hearted person. And yet, in one thoughtless comment, this parent implied very clearly that she really doesnï¿½t, or at least didnï¿½t, respect me.
Her comment illustrates precisely why I am so filled with fear at the prospect of returning to high school teaching. I will be living and teaching in a place that doesnï¿½t respect what I do. And at West High School, I will be hearing from those disgruntled parents who mistakenly think that my job is one that is not that difficult and one that I must not be capable of if their child isnï¿½t getting an A. And in fact, the more heart and soul I pour into the profession, the more it will hurt when, years down the line, some parent condescendingly comments on how ï¿½grown upï¿½ I seem.