Affective Teaching & The Mustache

That's not a dead mouse.

Sometimes, the silliest things become big and define moments for students in ways we can’t possibly anticipate. Take, for instance, my mustache. After a month of rallying my colleagues to grow beards in order to raise money for prostate cancer research – and we raised roughly $700 in internet and cash donations – we had a beard auction for the student body, in which they could choose a teacher, make a bid, and determine how that teacher would shave for the last day of September. We had spirals, mutton chops, handlebars, a particularly epic swirl, and the letters X-C for the cross-country coach. I got the sweet, sweet mustache.

I approached the mustache with humor, shaved most of my hair to accentuate the Sargent Slaughter-esque nature of my visage, and went into the day with a new-found energy. Kids laughed. Kids tried not to laugh, and I fixed them with a steely gaze until they laughed. We had fun.At one point, I relieved a teacher who was giving a test for a few moments of bathroom reprieve, and I said “My mustache is watching you punks,” as they huddled over graphing calculators. A girl replied, “We’re watching your mustache.”

At the end of the day, as I prepared to leave for home, I ran down to the PE office for my clippers and saw the cross country team returning from practice. They actually crowded around, chatting and joking about the stache. I told them to drink it in, as it was the mustache’s last moments on Earth. A few kids went “awww.” I trimmed, shaved in the bike commuting locker room, and returned my clippers to the coach for the aforementioned X-C shaving. When the kids saw me, a roar of disappointment rose from them. They actually mourned the mustache. It was really amazing. And hilarious. What their collective groan at my shaving told me was that they appreciated the break from routine, the connection with their teachers in a silly way, and the leveling effect of a goofy act on the part of the teacher.

I am not an affective teacher, preferring to stick to the business at hand, having fun, but maintaining a certain distance that allows for a mutually respectful relationship with kids. This month of shared silliness has not necessarily brought students closer to me, but it has brought me closer to them, which may help me bridge gaps that would have existed or been perceived by certain kids. I think I’m a little more human today in their eyes, and I think that’s a mutual victory. I guess I’ve learned something that this guy knew all along, and I’m better for it.

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