Be Sparks

“You can’t go into work like that. It is not professional. That is not a teacher’s haircut.”

Those were the first three sentences out of my wife’s mouth as soon as soon as I got home from my haircut this last week. I shrugged off her professional prudery as paranoia, thinking to myself, I can do whatever the hell I want, but deep down I was a bit worried. Was the mohawk a bit much? Was I pushing too hard?

After a week, I am convinced that not only is the mohawk good for me, but I am here to say that it is good for our school. Hear me out:

Everywhere I go, all week, people smile, pump their fists, and light up when they see me.

“Man, I love that haircut.”

“Really suits you”

“That is just awesome!”

Teachers, principals, students- it doesn’t matter. It is as if everyone is tapping into the sense of freedom one can only feel when one shuns the shroud of conformity and tip-toes along the edge of the preverbal box. You know, the one everyone tells you to think outside of, but choose to sit in comfortably themselves. Schools like all institutions can become stuffy dens of routine. How can they not? With so many procedures, programs, time-tables, curricula, it is almost as if they are designed to bore people to death. Is it any wonder that students and teachers sleepwalk their way through lessons and grumble because they have to write essays, lab reports or report card comments. I can only imagine hospitals, banks, and prisons as places that are more dreary.

But not this week at our school, not for me. Walking through campus with a mohawk seems to have awaken people. It has reminded them that schools were never met to be factories of the status quo. The hair-do is screaming to us all that schools are meant to challenge and excite. There have been times this week that I have been talking seriously about character development with my grade tens and they start cracking up. I mean how absurd right? A 37 year old man with a mohawk spouting off intensely about some ancient novel.

I love the lightness that comes from not taking oneself too seriously. I thrive on the silliness of authenticity and vulnerability. So often we ask students to take risks and express themselves, while we teachers sit behind our walls of adulthood professionalism. If I wanted to be a suit I would have been a banker. I am in the teaching business to be myself, in hopes that kids will see that being yourself, in the face of societal pressure is not that hard to do. We can all be sparks when we are not afraid to get burned. Tell a kid to take a risk…well try it yourself first.

I want my students to realize that adulthood is not some mono-chromatic path to death and professionalism. We are not all mind-numb zombies stressed and chasing bills. We are alive and filled with creativity and passion. I want them to understand that adults come in all shapes and sizes, and our diversity is what makes us such great role models. The way we look, the way we dress, the ink on our arms, the hair on our head is not the only indication of who we are or what we believe. I want my students as well as other teachers, administrators and parents to understand there is no one way teachers should look or act.

It has been a great week. I never thought a haircut would give me such a sense of empowerment. A Swagger. A purpose. Every institution needs a mohawk to remind it not to take itself too seriously. To remind it that life is fun and exciting and that sometimes we need to stand tall and be noticed. I have a challenge for you- what can you do to help ignite a little fire at your school? What can you do to rock the boat a bit; shake things up? Share your ideas below, better yet take some pics of you doing whatever it is you think will enliven your school and add links to the comments below.

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5 thoughts on “Be Sparks

  1. avatarRoderick Vesper
    Twitter: rvesper

    I was trying to figure out if that was a mohawk on your Twitter image. First off, I think it’s awesome that the admin are embracing it. I don’t think that would be the case here. But I have often considered trying to do a fundraiser at my school where the prize would be giving me a mohawk. Maybe I should follow through on it. Maybe there wouldn’t be as much resistance as I think.

    I love the unexpected outcomes of our actions. At least when they are good unexpected outcomes.

    Reply
  2. avatarMark
    Twitter: marklukach

    I have taught with a Mohawk twice in my career.

    The first time, I showed up to the first day of the year with a Mohawk. I had my yearbook photo taken with a Mohawk. I coached water polo with it. In general, the reaction was extremely favorable, from all facets of the community.

    Then two years later I did it again. But things had changed. First off, a student had cut a mohawk, and a really, really big one with daunting spikes, and the admin had asked him to cut it off. He graduated, I forgot about it, but when I showed up with mine, the students were pumped but the admin was not into it at all. Same people in power, totally different reaction.

    It’s almost like the Mohawk became the litmus test for the school. It was fine at first, until it was pushed too far for some people’s comfort, and then the policy changed. I saw similar evolutions in policies as diverse as bringing dogs to campus, to laptop use in the classroom.

    It’s hard to believe that someone could somehow interpret a Mohawk is malicious, but I’ll be curious to see if policy shifts at your school, like it did at mine. Because the strange paradox of leading by example and getting kids to think outside the box is how little control you can maintain….which is the whole point of it, but boy can that make people nervous.

    Keep us updated if things change. I hope not. I hope you keep the haircut for a while, and that kids start to expand their horizons in what it means to act outside the status quo.

    Either way, from one former mohawked teacher to a currently mohawked teacher, I love it and applaud you for not merely doing it for something to do, but because there’s value behind it.

    Reply
  3. avatarKelly Ficarelli
    Twitter: kficarelli

    Kelly Ficarelli here again from EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. I think expressing your individuality is a great way to teach children it is OKAY to be unique. Too often, kids are picked on or bullied for not being different from everyone else. Kids aren’t used to seeing teachers with “swagger.” Your haircut could possibly lead some children to consider a career in the teaching field. It’s too bad some schools frown upon colorful haircuts, tattoos and clothing styles. I think you were brave to do this, and I’m glad you wrote this post about it. Very thought-provoking.

    Reply
  4. avatarJenny Montague
    Twitter: jmontagu

    Loved the Mohawk. How can we teach children to be comfortable in who and what they are if we are cramming ourselves into cookie cutter molds? Speaking for myself, I know it’s not professional to wear Keen shoes and socks to school. What am I? German, a lesbian or from Seattle. I’m from Seattle and this is dressed up! Keens are the new Birkenstocks and they are not cheap! . . . got off track . . . In one of my blogs I wrote about norming in schools. Living overseas, I agree to be “normed” to a certain extent, but I told myself that I would never work in a place that normed me to the extent that I felt I checked my personality at the door. Now, a Mohawk is a bit extreme, but I think that it showed a sense of fun and spirit and individuality that these kids desperately need to see, especially the ones who are most outside the norms.

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  5. avatarMichael-Ann Cerniglia
    Twitter: cerniglia

    I just love this post; it really made me smile. I teach Grade 6 and know how much the kids would love to see a teacher come in with a mohawk. “Every institution needs a mohawk to remind it not to take itself too seriously.” I will keep that in mind.

    Reply

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