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Bow Tie Guy

June 7, 2016

How did I become the Bow Tie Guy? Good question – it took awhile.

My transformation into the BTG began 20 years ago when I first started as a teacher. Always one to get a ton of catalogs in the mail, my mom made it her mission to create a tie collection to help me making it easier to connect with my students while avoiding wearing the same boring tie over and over again.  Over the course of my first five years in the classroom, my mother stocked my closet with more than 100 different ties.  There were ties with ice cream cones, M&Ms, and strips of bacon.  Einstein, Lincoln, Grant, Bush Sr, and Barack Obama adorned others.   The ones my students loved most sported Scrabble tiles, horses, or sporting logos.  I even had ties that connected to my content, including a tie capturing the action at the Battle of Antietam.  One of my favorites was a blue tie with Life Savers, which was the first tie she bought me.  

My students loved my ties and would often rush to find me in the mornings to see what tie I was wearing.  Thanks to the excitement, I received a lot of ties during the holidays and at the end of the school year.  Pretty soon, thanks to my mom and my students, my collection numbered more than 200 ties.  The more varied my collection, the more interested many of my students seemed to become.  I discovered that I never had students late for homeroom thanks to their rushing to my class to check out my tie for the day.  I started to think about ways I could use the ties to teach my students something important. 

My first venture into a “tie contest” was simple.  Students could guess which tie I would wear next.  There were no awards – just the pride in guessing correctly.  That early contest led to another where students competed to see if they could be the first to notice if I had worn a tie before.  At first, students would win a chocolate bar if they were the first to guess.  But then kids started coming up to me 24/7 and asking if I had worn a tie before.  They were so into it that it actually made it hard to teach.  To try to end the problem, I stipulated that students had to buy me a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup if they were wrong.  While that slowed the questions, I wasn’t a big fan of handing out candy, so I started wondering if I could use my tie collection to teach my students some useful skills and rewarding them with something tangible.

Now that I had more ties than school days, I come up with a formalized contest where I would specifically repeat a tie to see if a student noticed.  To help student’s “win”, I taught them note-taking techniques where they would write down a description of the tie that I had worn that day.  Doing this forced students to accurately and fully describe my tie to give them the best chance of noticing a repeated tie.  One student, Jo Ellen, was so adept at writing descriptions that she won the tie contest three months in a row.  She later went on to become the Student Body President;  I won’t say there was a connection but I know that she improved her note taking skills.   Additionally, I used visualization and verbalization techniques to improve my students descriptive skills.  I also taught them how they could use index cards to keep track of my ties almost like the tie competition was a vocabulary test.  I would urge students to review these cards (twenty per month) so they could be ready to pounce if they noticed a repeated tie.  Students saw the value in this so when I taught them how to study vocabulary for spelling or vocabulary tests, they used this technique.  Since I only repeated a tie once per month, this necessitated changes to the way that I stored my ties.  To pull this off and make sure I didn’t make a mistake, I organized my ties in boxes by month so I wouldn’t wear a tie twice by mistake.  When I took a tie off, I put it in a special box that I would pull from when I decided to re-wear a tie.

I took the tie contest to a new level when I started working at Hillside, and all-boys school, which had a dress code where students were required to wear ties and sport coats every day.   Inspired by one of the teachers there, Peter Wagner, a bow tie guy in his own right, I decided to make my contest about this new type of tie.  A friend of mine, a principal from Cleveland, had started a Bow Tie Wednesday, and I stole this idea and encouraged students to wear bow ties at midweek in honor of the day and Peter Wagner.  Since many students didn’t own bow ties, I made a new bow tie the reward for “catching me” wearing a repeat tie.  Since I was working in the learning labs, my tie contest lead to all sorts of ways for me to teach new skills to students.  I was also teaching 7th grade English, so I decided to use the contests to help students learn new vocabulary words.  If they were wrong – they received a “gift” of a new vocabulary word to learn I kept these words, such as profusely and consternation on slips of paper in my George Costanza-like wallet that was big and fat, but I always enjoyed giving students a new vocabulary word to learn when they thought that I had worn a tie before and hadn’t. What amazed me was the number of students who would come up to me and ask me if I had worn a tie before knowing it was new just to get a vocabulary word.  Perhaps even more impressive, I heard from a couple of 8th and 9th graders that they had seen some of my words on the SSAT and had gotten them right because of my contest.

So clearly, there is a lot of academic benefits from being the Bow Tie Guy, but the best part of the bow tie and the tie competition has always been that it has helped me to make better connections with the students I am fortunate enough to teach.  Thanks to the fact I had to teach the students how to tie a bowtie, I was able to use the time to forge bonds and relationships with them that would have been more difficult without the tie competition.  Each Wednesday morning, students came in early, and I would teach them how to tie bow ties before school started.  Each week, there were usually two or three students who would go out and buy their own bow ties and want to wear them that day.  Standing in front of a mirror provided the perfect vehicle for some face to face time that allowed me to foster a relationship because learning how to tie a bow tie is not something that takes 2 or 3 minutes.  Many students came in for a couple of weeks before they got the technique down and in that time I got to know them better which not only meant I had better connections with my students both inside and outside of class.  Finally, I knew what I was doing was interesting for the boys because a quarter to a third of the students donned bow ties for Bow Tie Wednesday.

I wonder what my next tie competition will look like a my next School.  I wonder what skills I’ll be able to teach using it and what relationships I will be able to cultivate that will lead to greater success in the classroom.

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From → Passion

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