I never thought I’d see myself working with children taller than I am. At merely 5 feet tall, this would seem a ballsy assertion, but I never thought I’d make it out of elementary school as a speech pathologist.  Most speech-language therapy targets this younger set, with an increased focus on early intervention before kiddos even walk through the kindergarten doors.  While decent-sized elementary schools may employ 2 or 3 SLPs, middle and high schools have starkly shrunken caseloads that often mean an SLP is running among all the high schools in the district to comprise a full caseload.  Intervention in the upper grades, too, has a different focus.  More and more, these are kids who will be needing lifelong strategies.  I include in this group both kids on the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum, as well as kids in learning support.  These are no longer issues than can be “fixed” with some intensive articulation therapy or flashcard drills with verb tenses. 

I never saw myself working with an adolescent population because I really liked preschoolers.  I never thought I’d be taken seriously by a gaggle of 6th graders taller than me.  I never thought I’d be back in middle/high school dressing up for Spirit Week, either, but here I am. 

Yes, they’re taller than I am.  But one-on-one, which is how I usually see kids, middle and high schoolers can be quite rewarding to work with.  I don’t have to deal with classroom management, grading tests, or running parent-teacher conferences.  And I no longer have to sit on itty-bitty chairs and worry about boogers in the play-dough.  I miss the play-dough, but not the boogers. 

Still, I am now working in a middle/high school, and, as this week is Spirit Week, there is sprit run amuck.  On Monday, I was too tired and mopey to participate in Clash Day, which I’d ordinarily embrace whole-heartedly.  My closet is overflowing with garishly colored stripes, plaids, polka-dots, madras, and floral prints.  At 6:00 Monday morning, I just wasn’t feeling it.  I was also unsure how fully the student and faculty body embraced their spirit.  For 4 years in high school, I tentatively tried to participate in such themed days and holidays.  I was disheartened to note that few kids dressed up for Halloween, but I tried to keep the spirit by wearing an orange shirt. 

Now that I’m back in school, so to speak, I’m still feeling it out, still waiting to see what the other teachers do, so I don’t stick out too much one way or another.  For Halloween, I chose a pink tutu, something I have worn out in public in a non-costumed outfit, and something which is appearing on racks as apparel outside of the dance studio.  That way, if all the teachers were in costume, I’d totally be like, “Hey!   Me, too!” and if no one dressed up, I’d be all cool, like, “Yeah, I totally wear this any day, not just because it’s Halloween.”  Totally.  At my high school we had, in addition to Spirit Day, which always were safely celebrated by wearing a school t-shirt, Twin Day, PJ Day, and some others I can’t recall.  Since graphic novels and comic books have started entering the main stream (and cinemas), superheroes now rule.  We had Superhero Day at the request of the student body.  Since I’d pussied out of Monday’s Clash Day, I needed to redeem myself after seeing colorfully festooned students and adults alike. 

After school on Monday, I went home and worked on my transformation from mild-mannered speech teacher, into Wawa Warrior.  I had at home a large promotional t-shirt I probably picked up for $1 at a thrift store, emblazoned with the Wawa logo and some coffee/sandwich deal advertised on the back.  For future crafting purposes, of course, just waiting to be transformed.  Last night, I cut away the front around the neckline to fashion a cape.  The front (with logo) I cut into a strip and tied around my forehead à la Rambo.  Then, I got out the duct tape.  After a quick trip to Wawa for some half-caff for Mr. Apron, I had all I needed for my gear belt.  I taped sugar packets for flair, and holstered the coffee cups into my belt for some quick mock-dispensing action.  I was good to go.

It was a big hit.  I had achieved the perfect costumed combination of regional recognizability, comfort, and panache. 

Today was Crazy Hair day, so of course I tied my ever-growing locks up into tightly wound buns at four points on my head, and embellished them with various ribbons: red ball fringe, autumnal stripes, flimsy organza, and rubber ducks. 

Tomorrow is School Spirit Day.  I have no idea what I’m going to do, but I know I’ll do something.  I hope these kids aren’t the paint-the-face and tattoo-the-chest types. 

Back in high school, I tentatively tried to navigate the unspoken rules of social acceptability.  Though I was probably never in the right, and definitely never popular, I still cared how I appeared to others.   I wish I could have been like Jerry Spinelli’s “Star Girl,” mysterious and magical in the ways that made me different, instead of awkward and self-doubting.  While this is my first year, I’m still feeling out how things are done here – how much people socialize outside of work, what kind of clothing constitutes the adult dress code, whether adults dress up for Halloween.  I’m still testing, still comparing, still making sure I don’t stick out too much.  It seems like conformity, at least a smidgen of it, is a protective mechanism in high school.  As we work with kids who clearly don’t fit in, and are uncomfortable about socializing, it helps to remember that not everyone can be a “Star Girl”, with a devil-may-care attitude about our rainbow mohawks or our pop-tab chain maille or our pink army fatigues.  Some of us try to keep our differences hidden just a bit, so we can feel that much more at ease in new surroundings.

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