Since 2018, I haven’t shaved once during a school year. What started as a fun pact with a student has since turned into a tradition that I’ve come to be known for. I’m the teacher the building whose face gradually turns into that of a caveman as the weeks and months pass by.
My Paleolithic look notwithstanding, the abnormal growth of facial hair that I call a beard is symbolic. I view it as a physical representation of the growth my students experience in my class throughout the year. Given that my beard is an unmistakable part of me, it’s also a physical expression of the personal attachment I feel being their teacher. My beard travels with me wherever I go and, as it matures, becomes a more significant part of who I am, just like my students. I often extend individual hairs from my face during class and jokingly comment how they resemble my students. “This long one is Tatiana,” I’ll say while tugging on a hair underneath my chin. “This one that’s growing sideways on my left cheek? That’s Raul.” By the end of the year, many students playfully ask which hair is theirs. I always lose track.
What’s really special about my beard tradition is that I allow students to shave it off in June. They’re leaving me, and so must my beard. Thus, I bring in clippers, sit in the middle of a crowd of brazen teenagers, and get shaved by my students. It’s a pretty vulnerable state to place myself in, but also terribly fun. There’s nothing quite like getting my facial hair removed by young people whose grades I sign off on every six weeks. This unique and unforgettable experience has become known as Shaving Day. It marks the informal end of the school year for me and my students.
For the last two years, because of the ongoing pandemic, Shaving Day has been held remotely. The spirit of the annual event has been there, but the vibe has suffered greatly. Every ounce of anticipation and exuberance that it accomplishes is lost on Zoom.
Thankfully, that changed today. Shaving Day was back in Room 227. So was the crowd.
The return of Shaving Day was the cherry on top of what has been a beautiful school year for me. The return of in-person teaching brought with it real challenges, but these have been subdued by the magic that came with being back together. As a teacher, it’s moments like Shaving Day that I live for. The community and love that arise from students passing around hair clippers, rooting for each other to take off every last hair, is special. It’s important to our collective mental health, our sense of purpose and togetherness, and can only be produced by sharing space in the same room.
In the end, my students did a masterful job cleaning me up. Other than an excited few, their hands were calm and steady. They weren’t as smooth as a barber, but they took care of me.
Looking in the mirror, it’s no doubt refreshing to be able to see my neck again, but also sad that I can no longer extend a hair from my face and give it the name of one of my students. Being back in the classroom added weight to my students’ development this year and made Shaving Day 2022 particularly meaningful. My students’ growth this year was like no other. So was that of my beard.