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Dressing down 

I just had a confrontation with a student who idolizes Britney. If you say "Britney who?" you don't know anyone between the ages of 8 and 21.

This was another young girl who wore the Britney uniform to school, and just could not believe there was a problem with that. The outfit consisted of a pair of shorts that we old people would call bathing suit bottoms; a short-sleeved blouse that was unbuttoned down to her black sports bra, and was a tad too small to tuck into the shorts, the better to show off her pierced belly-button; a pair of high-heeled clogs; and enough chunky jewelry to rival my cousin-Blanche-you-know-the-one-who-married-the-doctor.

She was breaking the dress code rules in any number of ways, and it was my duty to nip it. I told her that she needed to bring a sweatshirt every day, if she was going to continue these wardrobe preferences. A large one, preferably, so that it would cover not only her whole top, but hopefully her bottom. She answered, triumphantly, that she didn't own such a thing. I smiled, and replied that luckily I happened to keep a selection of my own old sweatshirts for just such an emergency. Since she was the most popular size and weight for a 14-year-old girl--about 93 pounds--I knew that any of my old sweatshirts would provide an almost nun-like coverage.

She watched in horrified silence as I offered her some old favorites of mine: the yellow Tweety Bird, the pink one with a lace collar and cuffs attached, the red "E.T. Phone Home," the one with a picture of me when I was nine months pregnant, and the purple one that says, "Teachers Rule!"

"But, Ms. Wentz," she finally whispered, "you're just kidding, right?"

"Well, no, honey, but ... well, I guess if your mom's OK with you wearing this outfit?" I suggested innocently. "Oh, sure, Ms. Wentz, she thinks it's fine, she really does." She is all wide-eyed sincerity.

"Excellent, why don't you just call her on my phone here, and if she tells me she knows what you're wearing and it's fine with her, then hey, no problem," I smile again. (Chapel Hill parents are ... uh ... delightfully open-minded, but I'm not an idiot.)

She gulps, "I'll take the Tweety Bird," and bows her head in defeat.

Final score: Prehistoric Teacher, 1; Teenager, 0.

What is up with kids and clothes these days? If I had a nickel for every time I've told a boy to "pull your dadgum pants up!" why, I'd have ... almost a year of teacher pay! Are you parents aware that what your child leaves home wearing is not necessarily what he or she has on an hour later? Haven't you wondered why her backpack is bulging? Did you simply assume she was lugging around more books to study, the little angel/genius?

But, this clothing issue is one of the rare opportunities we teachers get to laugh. We enjoy our own little standup routines, like, "Girl, if that skirt were any shorter, it would be a belt!" or, "Honey, if you fall off those shoes, I am not calling the nurse again." Mostly I just crack myself up, but hey, keeping their teacher happy is my number one concern.

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