Monday, January 22, 2018

Painted Nails

I like painting my nails. Sometimes blue, sometimes green, rarely black, though I admit that would fit my idiom. I didn't think hard about what impact this might have on my classroom the first time I did it. I was bored, there was nail polish, and suddenly I had colorful fingernails (and cuticles and fingertips and knuckles right down at the end of the finger [hey, painting with my left hand is hard]). Then I went to school.

Minds were blown all over the classroom.

"What happened to your nails!" "Mr. Robertson, did you know your nails are painted?" What happened to them? I have no idea. *pretends to notice* Oh my gosh! What happened! I had no idea! They look nice though, don't they?

Smaller students passing me in the hallway got in on the SHOCK too. "You're a boy! Why are your nails painted?" Ahhh, now we're getting somewhere. I'm not going to pretend I did it the first time planning to blow kids' minds and expand their worlds, but that's part of why I do it now.

"Only girls can have painted nails?"


"Just like only girls can have long hair, right?"

"Yeah..."*notices my long hair* "Wait..."

This is normally the end of the exchange. First, it's happening in the halls or in my classroom, so neither of us have the time for a long conversation. Second, if I'm talking with a kindergartner or first grader, and while I know they're more capable of a detailed conversation than the average person might be, I'm not trying to get deep into their psyche. I'm not going to pull out my phone and start googling pictures of The Cure and Dave Navarro and Marilyn Manson (Pro Top- NEVER google pictures of Marilyn Manson at school). I'm trying to plant a seed, drop a pebble into the pond, turn a preconception on its head. These micro-mind trips add up. Kids are sharp and they start making connections without them being spelled out. Same goes for my older kids. We can have a longer conversation, and I can connect it to whatever I need to justify it, but that's not how I want these interactions to work. I want a quick match under the subconscious stereotype, then walk away to let it cook. We will see this information again.

Painting my nails paid off in spades for a kindergartner earlier this year. Another teacher came and found me after school one day and pulled me into his room. There was a bummed out little dude sitting in there. "He asked his mom to paint his nails red because he loves The Flash and some of the kids in his class were making fun of him," the teacher explained to me. Then he called the kid over. "Hey, check out Mr. Robertson's hands." The kid sulked over (small human sulk-walking is both sad and adorable at the same time) and I displayed my hands like a professional hand model. He had that wonderful long take that kids pull off better than any actor ever.

Sullen glance.

Slow registration that something is amiss.

Longer look.

Sunrise expression.

"Hey! You painted your nails too! Mine are red! Because I like The Flash!"

"Dude, I love The Flash. Your nails are way cool. Mine are blue because I like blue."

"I know. Your hair is blue."

"Oh yeah."

Completely made the kid's day. I'm not the coolest person in the world, but five year olds seem to think I'm alright. So if Mr. Robertson paints his nails that means it's ok for him to, and that means his friends can suck eggs. He didn't say that last part, I'm projecting.

I want to be clear that I'm not trying to make this a "Look at me, doing anything for The Kids" story. I didn't do it For The Kids. I did it because it's fun, sometimes I forget that I did it and then I get a little dose of happy when I catch a flash of color out of the corner of my eye, and it might lead to quick conversations that might lead to bigger conversations. We never know what might help a kid out or start changing a kid's mind. It might be right at the tips of our fingers.


"Right at the tips of our fingers." I mean, come on. What a great closing that was. Seriously. It was right there and BAM, I nailed it.


...nailed it. heh. Admit it, that was cuticle. Ok, it's time to polish this post off and put it to bed.

When I edit this I'll probably have to clip all that. Scratch that. It looks good stuck on, even if it does artificially lengthen the whole thing.

Now I have gone too far. Time to break it off.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird TeacherTHE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher


  1. So called "normal" people are, sir, are definitely NOT boring! Love it!

  2. You had me tearing up at first then lolling. Thank you. Sometimes the best things that happen just happen because they happen. Life is so weird. OMG that just happened too!