Suits and Jordans

Last Friday after work, I had to go to the grocery store to get a few things for my youngest daughter’s birthday party. While there, I overheard a young girl say to her mom there is that funny-looking man again, (her mom said something to her that I did not quite hear, but then I heard the girl again), but he is all dressed up and in tennis shoes. I am not sure how the mom responded to that. So, I just kept shopping and, before long, made my way to the checkout lanes. However, as I was waiting in line to scan my items in the self-check lane (which I have always preferred self-checkout at stores), I was starting to let these words get to me and affect my mood. Then as I was finishing my purchase, another shopper walked past me and said I like your kicks (aka shoes). Those complimentary words from the other shopper pulled me away from the spiraling negativity in my head. Instead, they brought me back to reflections I had been having earlier in the day.

Before I bring up those reflective thoughts, I should pause to explain a couple of things. First, I am a sneakerhead. My teenage years coincided with the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls dynasty era, and like so many during that time, I was obsessed with the superstar’s signature shoes. However, I must confess that I never owned a pair of Jordans during middle or high school; instead, I had Reebok pumps and, after that, Nike Air Maxes. In fact, I did not own a pair of Air Jordans until my 40s, and now there is at least one pair of the retro shoes on my wish list for most birthdays and Christmases. I think an underlying reason for my obsession with shoes is due to having to wear prescription shoes until I was in upper elementary school because of being born with a rather severe case of club foot. I vividly remember being around 5 or 6 years old, shopping in a shoe store with my family, and watching my older sister get a pair of cowboy boots. I remember tears running down my face as my parents told me no, I could not have the cowboy boots and that I would have to get another pair of the corrective shoes instead. I think it is reasonably easy to see why shoes are a sizable part of my outward projecting identity as an adult. The second thing to share here is that I wear a suit and tie three to four days a week. I fully believe teachers can be effective without dressing to the nines every day. I just so happen to like dressing up and choose to do so often. So, most days of the week, I am found in my classroom wearing a suit and a pair of Jordans.

Now back to those reflections as mentioned above. Wearing suits and Jordans has definitely become my signature look. I described the personal reasons for this choice in style in the preceding paragraph. This signature look, though, is beneficial to my teaching practice. I remember the first time I wore my green Retro Jordan 5’s at a previous school (whose colors were green and white). Countless students were running to see them. I quickly became the talk of the school that week. This initial reaction to my foray into combining a suit with retro Jordans motivated me to keep going with the look. Fast forward to this school year at a new school site and school district, and I have quickly become known as the teacher with the good shoes. Quite frequently, I have random students ask to take pictures of my outfit, and more often than not, my shoes are the focus of the picture. My signature style has become a way for me to connect with students. It has allowed me to build credibility quickly, leading to deepening relationships with students.

I share all this not to paint myself as a model to emulate or to garner praise from others. I wear suits and retro Jordans because I am comfortable in my skin and ok with just being me. I think it is this authenticity and vulnerability that creates the relationship with kids more than the novelty of my choice of shoes. I share this to encourage all educators to embrace being themselves around their students. Be authentic, be open, and be yourself.