Here’s an image. A man wearing shorts, black and orange sneakers, and a very loud Hawaiian shirt strolls down the hall. In his left hand he holds an ipad, a journal and a cellophane bag filled with candy. On his right shoulder rests a shiny golf club, a putter. He shrugs sheepishly as he waves to several of his former colleagues. He pushes through the exit doors and heads for his Subaru. It’s 3:00, and he’s heading home. I know what you’re thinking: Sounds like a jerk. I know, and by the way, that guy is me.
I’ll explain. I retired (in June) and unretired (in August). I shed my old job of classroom teacher and replaced it with a new job as a paraprofessional in that same school. It’s weird, and not just for me. I think it’s strange for other teachers, and I know it’s strange for parents and kids. “I thought he retired. What’s he still doing here?”
Today we had “Meet the Teacher” sessions, but for the most part, it was a teacher day. I wasn’t sure what the typical paraprofessional should wear on such a day. My wife had a ready answer.
“Perfect day for the Hawaiian shirt.” She and my daughter Sarah had given me this loud and very bright shirt at my retirement party. As a bonus, they had found shorts with a matching pattern. I threatened to wear the full outfit when we dropped Sarah off at school last week. This was not met with enthusiasm.
I decided Nancy was right. This was probably the day to go with the loud shirt. I arrived at school, and of course, the other teachers were all dressed very professionally. They needed to look the part, since they’d be meeting their new students as well as the parents of those students. For the first time in 36 years, I was not playing that role.
I got some curious looks from other teachers. “Wow, that’s a lot of shirt,” one said. Others took the my-mouth-says-one-thing-but-my-eyes-say-something-else approach. “Nice shirt,” their mouths said. Their eyes countered with, “Did you lose a bet?” Still others recognized the threads from the June party. “Oh, you’re actually wearing it.” “Where are the matching shorts?”
When I got dressed this morning, I hadn’t realized that I’d be seeing the superintendent. He gave his annual welcome talk, not to the entire assembled district, as in most years. This year he visited each individual school. Much more intimate. “Nice shirt,” said his mouth.
I also hadn’t realized that I’d be outside holding a sign for one of the fifth grade teachers so that I could escort the students to their class. “You look different,” said one of the students.
I hadn’t realized that 20 minutes later I’d be outside again, holding the same sign so that all of the parents from that class could assemble near me as they waited for their children to exit the building. “Hey, welcome back. You’re looking…relaxed.”
It hadn’t occurred to me that this might not be the best outfit for a trip to the police station to get my fingerprinting done. “Really? You’re a teacher? Nice shirt.”
So, when the teacher who now occupies my old room, handed me the putter that she’d found in the closet, I tried to explain. “Well, I used to have this automatic ball returner. We used it during indoor recess, until one of the kids broke the automatic ball returner. Then it became a little less fun.”
“So, do you want your putter back?” She clearly did not see it as a useful inheritance.
“I guess so.” I shrugged. And that’s why, at the end of my workday, I grabbed my journal, iPad, and hefty supply of candy from the end-of-the-day treat for teachers, flipped the putter over my shoulder, and strolled casually out of the school, looking very retired and very unprofessional.
Tomorrow I will be in uniform.