By Ken Bradbury
My Dad’s a tie kind of guy. You don’t enter a church without a tie. You don’t attend any sort of important gathering without a tie. I guess I’ve inherited a bit of that tie-ed-ness, even though it’s dwindled in past years.
As a beginning teacher I thought it was important that I wore a tie to school every day. In fact, several male teachers felt this way in the 1970s but as the years rolled by and standards eroded a bit, I found myself the only tie-wearing teacher at Triopia. That was fine with me. The superintendent and principal wore ties and I felt that donning a neckpiece each morning showed my students that my job was important and thus so were they.
The problem is that a large collection of neckties can be expensive but the grace of God struck solidly one morning in Arenzville as a friend from down the street retired from his executive position at Caterpillar in Peoria. When I answered my door that morning I found Ross holding 200 ties. He said, “I’ve worn them all my life and now I’m done with them.” Well, with a treasure trove like this I was set for the next forty years, figuring that Ross’s collection would take me well into retirement and even keep me looking spiffy in some future retirement home.
Then along came Franks. Mr. Franks was a young guy who never should have become a principal but became one anyway … the kind of guy who was much impressed by his own importance and felt that it was our job to serve him first and if we had time to teach then we could try some of that, too. He required that we submit detailed lesson plans a week in advance. Detailed … as in minute-by-minute. This jerk obviously hadn’t taught much and didn’t realize that when you’re teaching middle school, what happens in the classroom on Monday is the main determining factor in the plan of attack for Tuesday. Lack of flexibility is the curse of the poor teacher. Most of us on staff highly doubted that Mr. Franks actually read these things, so to prove the point I submitted my lesson plans including this note for Language Arts, 5th period, Thursday afternoon: “Boil all students in oil.” Surprising, I got a reply in my faculty mailbox saying, “See me about this.” I guess he wanted me to submit a requisition for oil.
Which brings me to the matter of neckties. Each teacher received a yearly evaluation by the principal, a laughable matter where a 24-year-old ex-coach with limited classroom experience sits in the back row of the morning class and evaluates an old pro who’s been doing this all her life and knows more about kids than the young administrator may ever learn. We all put up with it, looked at our evaluation, and then pitched it. Sort of like a yearly rectal exam.
Among the categories on which we were judged was “Appropriateness of Appearance.” I guess this was put in to weed out the tongue rings and butt tattoos, neither of which were much of a factor among the Triopia faculty in 1989. When Franks evaluated my style of dress he gave me the highest possible ranking, adding the notation, “Mr. Bradbury dresses professionally. He is the only member of the faculty who dresses just like me.” Aside from the obvious self-congratulatory remarks, this irked me because it put me in the same category with him. It was at that time that I stopped wearing ties in class. If it made me in anyway resemble this incompetent educator, then I’d opt for a different style.
I’ll admit that I missed them. When I was student teaching at JHS my hero was Roger McClintock. Roger, at least when I watched him cast his spell onto his Jacksonville math classes, always wore a tie and if Roger did it then it must be a good thing. But even Roger’s influence waned over the years and now I have a collection of ties in my closet that would rival a closeout sale at J.C. Penney’s. My Lincoln Land classes often involve my rolling on the floor with theatre students, a practice that might lead to strangulation if encumbered by a necktie. I still see an occasional tie entering the LLCC facility in Jacksonville and crossing the quad at I.C. and Mac and admire these fellows. In fact, I’ve often thought about stopping and offering them 300 ties.
I’ve never worn a girdle, but when a man takes off his final tie upon retirement then it must be akin to the relief our grandmothers felt at the end of a long, hot and confining day inside those lady straps. Sometimes a death or a wedding may necessitate me fingering my way through the curtain of ties in my closet, but other than that … just call me Grandma’s girdle.