"If Peddie were a person..."

English teacher Matt Roach reflects on denim as it relates to performance and the Peddie culture.

It's fitting that Sandy Tattersall’s last week at Peddie has been draped in denim. Thanks to the generosity and strategic brilliance of the Spears family, we’ve been blessed with four jeans days this week, each more decadently casual than the last.

Which is great, of course. I love jeans days.

I can’t prove this, but I have a hunch that I’m a better teacher in jeans. I’m more agile, and quick-witted. I can leap around the room in comfort, and my attitude says, “Who cares—it’s only fashion.”

I wear no tie on jeans days, so there’s nothing cutting off circulation to my brain. I get dressed in half the time, which means I have a full extra minute of thinking. It's a big advantage.

A tribute to denim during the 2011 Crusader's Cup
Some might say that jeans days are unprofessional. Indeed, sideways looks abound from the tweedy Mr. McMann, and others of the traditionalist set. We, as a faculty, affirmed that the dress code is a sacred thing. We want students and teachers to dress for work, and by work, we mean work that can be done in corduroys and a vest. And a blazer. Preferably with elbow pads.

However.

There’s no more professional look these days than jeans. Mark Zuckerburg just sold Facebook for $100 billion dollars, and he wears a sweatshirt and jeans to work every day. So do the guys at Google. And Apple. And Trader Joe’s.

I know what you’re thinking: “Roach, you are no Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. You can wear jeans to work when you’ve invented the iPhone.”

And to that, I say: You’re right-- I'm not those dudes, and thank goodness; I do not invade people’s privacy like Zuck, or treat my coworkers like cattle in the manner of Jobs. If that's what it takes to be comfortable at work, no thank you.

But I also say: How can I be expected to do great things if I’m uncomfortable? If my students are uncomfortable? Give us enough casual days, and we will learn and achieve more than ever before: You think my students know the Great Gatsby now? In jeans, they'll reach such an acute limited excellence at 16 that everything afterward will savor of anti-climax.

I am not, of course, advocating a wholesale return to barbarity. Several residents of Coleman forsook all clothing this afternoon to sit together in a small plastic pool that was definitely clean. This, I think, is perhaps not conducive to excellence, although it is conducive to bromanticism at its finest, so it has that advantage, at least...

But so anyway, as I watched the pre-Prom festivities, I was, as always, impressed by the degree of difficulty involved. People done up, dates matching. The word “cummerbund” suddenly in everyone’s vocabulary. You all looked great out there.

Amidst all the glamour, though, I also noticed Sandy Tattersall, comfortably attired, casually taking it all in as usual.

And I remembered: When I first visited Peddie, I immediately sensed how wonderfully relaxed people are here, and how they don’t take themselves too seriously. 

Especially compared to the stuffiness of my previous employer in New England, and my Episcopalian home in Delaware, Peddie is a school of grounded, human, no-pretense kindness.

To put it another way:  In my mind (to borrow a recent phrase of Harry Gensemer’s), if Peddie were a person, it’d be T.

So even as he moves on, and this excellent and truly Peddie senior class moves on, I think we all would do well to remember who we are. And to stay comfortable with each other and kind to others, whether we’re in corduroy or cummerbund or heels--or, (donor-willing) denim.

Comments