Toddling around the living room, the two younger ones, cousins age 16 and 21 months, followed Austyn Grace like little ducks being patterned to swim off into the pond. At age four, AG recognized enough letters in names to deliver the gifts to all nine of us. None of the girls minded being dressed alike.
Turning back the clock, I remember teaching where the school dress code called for students to wear uniforms. For girls, the uniform choices included a plaid kilt worn at the knees or navy blue slacks, either kilt or slacks worn with a light blue or white Oxford blouse. As add-ons, the girls could wear a navy blazer, navy sweater, or school emblem sweatshirt. The guys’ choices included navy slacks with light blue or white Oxford shirts, along with a navy blazer, sweater, or sweatshirt.
For the most part, the uniforms functioned well at school and at home. Let me explain. As the mother of two sons, I appreciated the fact that we didn’t have clothing battles each morning, unless, of course, it was “picture day,” that nasty day of choices, but that’s a future blog! With uniforms life was simple; “Guys, pick a white or a blue Oxford and put on your navy slacks”. The wealthier kids still stood out because their blue Oxfords had that small Ralph Lauren logo at the top.
But the school board actually inaugurated uniforms years before there was a high school. In the early 70s, the school met in a church, and elementary children arrived for classes dressed in their Sunday best! Five year olds worried about messing up their clothes on the playground or when working with paints, water, or clay.With the coming of uniforms, children acted like fun-loving, life-exploring kids!
As a high school teacher and guidance director, I saw compliance about the uniform code in the vast majority of the students. The only repeated problems came from girls who liked to hike up the kilts or wear rather form-fitting slacks or try non-Oxford blouses with a few buttons left unbuttoned. I still remember faculty meetings devoted to the uniform code and the consistent enforcing of it. Not my happiest memories of teaching! Nonetheless, we would go out of the meeting like a bunch of athletes ready to take on a rival team.
Any new plan to aid in student compliance ultimately failed because some teachers looked the other way, or, and I didn’t like this one, came to me to deal with the problem. “You know her well, Flo. Will you speak to Broom Hilda; it’s about her short skirt again!” Students are also very smart; they knew they could roll the skirt up when they had classes upstairs and unroll it when downstairs. Guess where teachers who tried to be fair and consistent taught? I think some teachers valued the camaraderie they had with students; others didn’t see the infractions or simply didn’t care.
Consistency, whether teaching a new skill or maintaining a uniform code, is a matter of the heart. Do I, as a teacher, love that student enough to address the issue once more or find yet another approach to the material? Or will I just move on and not think about those who can’t keep up, or ignore the tight slacks and make judgmental thoughts about the student’s character?
One specific day, almost 20 years ago, still stands out in my mind. Another teacher stuck her head into the guidance office and told me she’d seen this student and her skirt was “way too short. Will you speak to her when you see her?” Mind you, the teacher reporting this to me had already seen this student, but had said nothing to her. Anyway, not long after, the student passed my office and stood talking close to my open door. She seldom dressed within guidelines, and when corrected, usually maintained that teachers had it out for her. This was not a confrontation I wanted first thing that day! I stopped those thoughts and prayed for the Lord to give me enough love for her to get up and ask her into my office. Walking out into the hall, I asked if she’d come inside my office when the bell rang. She rolled her eyes at me, but then came in with a “What now?” opener. I began to talk to her about incidentals. The entire time I kept listening to her and praying for the love, the right words, and the consistency that seemed to be lacking in what she was telling me about the rest of her life. Did that discussion remedy her resistance to uniforms and authority in general? No, that’s the stuff of syrupy Christian novels, but not real life. But I learned an important lesson that day about consistency and love, a most crucial teacher secret.