More Than a T-shirt

photo (31)Our staff shirts arrived on Hanukkah, just five months after they’d been ordered. Getting t-shirts for my teachers and classified staff had been a first week priority when I came back from Summer Break. My hope was to have them for everyone on their first morning on campus. With a dozen new faces at Diegueño, I thought it would be great for everyone to have a way to celebrate being part of our school family.

A mix up in Purchasing slowed the order. The first week of school came and went, and my staff shirts remained a good idea, but not a reality for the first Friday with the kids.

Staff shirts are pretty standard at schools, something to show solidarity in a comfortable cotton sort of way. More than a tradition, however, I think that at their best they can be a legitimate demonstration of pride in the place we work, a visual symbol of our belonging to a cause greater than ourselves.

Sometimes departments, caught up in the pride of collegiality and love for their particular subject, create their own shirts. I’ve seen great examples, from a math department’s “π-rates” to a simian Advanced Placement Environmental Science shirt: “APES.”

photo (32)Occasionally things go sideways, like the clever English Department shirt that went with a minimalist celebration of the old saw: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” A former English teacher myself, I was given a shirt and wore it proudly, even after a student misread the slogan and asked why English teachers were all wearing shirts that referred to male genitalia.


September passed, with Back to School Night, and Spirit Week, and opportunities missed to wear our Cougar shirts as a staff.

By Halloween my math department came up with a fun departmental shirt of their own that played on geometric shapes and threw in a Pac Man reference. I wore my “omnomnomagon” shirt with a smile, and loved the twinkle in my math teachers’ eyes when they all wore their shirts to Family Math Night in November.

math shirtThanksgiving arrived, but not our Diegueño staff shirts. The long strange story of purchase orders and billing cycles continued, each day my blue Cougar shirts feeling more and more like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

As December came I almost lost hope. The kids on the Surf Team gave me a Diegueño sweatshirt, but it wasn’t a staff shirt. It wasn’t that symbol of community that I’d imagined in July.

And then, in a season famous for miracles, two boxes arrived. My assistant radioed me across campus with the news. Her smile as I walked into my office and tore through the packing tape might have been a response to the end of the long wait, or might simply have been amusement with my excitement.

The next day happened to be School Colors Day, part of our Winter Spirit Week. One or two teachers thought I’d planned it.

I’m blaming fate for the timing; I was just giddy to see everyone in their blue Cougar shirts.

And as we greeted each other on School Colors Day, smiles on so many faces, I like to believe that we all felt just a little closer.

Call me corny, I’ll accept it. Call me corny while you’re wearing a Diegueño staff shirt and I’ll call you family.

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