bought a dress when I started teaching. Sea foam green, high collar, shoulder
pads, flaps in the front. And the defining characteristic: a gigantic silver
belt buckle. A very fashionable dress—in 1991. I got compliments every time I
passes. The dress goes to the back of the closet. Ten years later, I bring it
out again and wear it to school, ready to receive all those compliments. The possibility
that the dress is no longer fashionable does not enter my mind.
am teaching a class of juniors. The school is small; the students all know one
another and have been learning and growing together all their lives. They are
very comfortable with one another and very comfortable sharing. This works well
while exploring mathematical ideas but can extend to other arenas. I hear a lot
of chatter and giggles. “What is so funny?” I ask. “Nothing. Sorry. Go on.”
probe further. Why? Wanting to bring some levity to class? Knowing that the
students can be clever and wanting to be in on the joke? Hoping to defuse the
distraction by bringing it to light? When I encourage him, J.B. relents with an
explanation: “We were just wondering if that belt buckle fell off whether it
would break your toe.” Muffled laughter, talk about airplanes landing on the
shoulder pads. As we all enjoy the witty repartee, I counter with an abashed “I
might have to go home, cut up this dress, and make napkins.” And then R.K., the
quiet sophomore who has not volunteered a word all year, says. “But then you
would just have a set of ugly napkins.”
humiliation? Yes, definitely, but also an opportunity to honor student voice.
At my invitation, my students have declared the green dress to be a laughingstock.
I can accept their appraisal with embarrassment and retire the dress. If I had
a shred of dignity, I probably would take this path. But I choose to embrace
their declaration. The green dress is a source of amusement. I see their bet. I
raise them. I am all in.
next day, just for their class, I wear the green dress. They smile bemusedly.
Wednesday, again wearing the dress. Slight laughter, many eye rolls, some
groaning. Green dress on Thursday. Concerned silence. No green dress on Friday.
The students are relieved: “We were starting to get really worried about you.”
I smile appreciatively. Partway through class I decide the room is a bit hot
and remove my sweater—to reveal the green dress!
next Monday, the students reminisce about how fun the week of the green dress
was. They are smiling as they leave class, headed to chemistry with Mrs.
Baldwin, who is wearing … the green dress!
the school year progresses, the green dress appears in unexpected places. On
the skeleton in the anatomy classroom, on the principal when she visits for an
observation, on the Spanish teacher, who adds his own matching parasol. On the
day of a math test, I hand out candies in green dress fabric. Did I really cut up
the dress? No, the next morning it hangs in the school display cabinet amid the
sports trophies. The students steal the dress to impersonate me in the talent
show. I steal it back for the waiter to wear at a restaurant on a class field
Internet was just emerging at the time, and I ask one day, “I wonder what would
happen if you typed greendress.com? R.K., go to the computer [one computer in
the classroom was the norm at the time] and see what comes up.” He does and
then groans as he shares the news that I have bought the domain name, which is now
our class website.
dress still makes an appearance from time to time. Every few years I have a
student who reluctantly says, “My brother/sister/cousin told me to ask you
about the green dress.” Last year I dusted off the faded frock for Throwback
Thursday during Spirit Week.
say that this story is an example of community building. Those who know me well
see a stunning display of the depths of my stubbornness. My principal—bless her
vision—recognized the green dress as a celebration honoring student voice, of acknowledging
students and valuing their ideas, no matter the personal pain.
future posts will relate more to honoring student voice in academic topics, but
the green dress chronicle remains one of the most enduring and entertaining stories
from my teaching.
Kathy Erickson, firstname.lastname@example.org,
teaches mathematics at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great
Barrington, Massachusetts. She is chair of the editorial panel for NCTM’s Student Explorations
in Mathematics and is Rock, Paper, Scissors commissioner for her school. She
finds inspiration every day in the mathematical questions, insights, and joys
of her students and colleagues