Life’s changed. I notice the amount of shoes my students have.

In my day, we only had one pair of shoes unless we were athletes of some worth. I was not an athlete of some worth. When I played basketball in high school they’d say, “Man, you’re funnier than The Cosby Show.”  In those days, that was about as funny as it got.

They had to invent a trophy for me—“The Coach’s Award.” It meant I couldn’t play, but I tried hard all four years.

I imagined the conversation, “Hey, I got a kid who really sucks this year…but she shows up three hours early to practice. Thank God the ball’s gotta fall somewhere, she got two baskets…got an award for that?”

In my day, shoes were for the sport, and we had one pair for normal life, which we’d wear until it got a hole. These days, shoes make the man. They have a shoe for every outfit and day. You can’t wear a shoe with a scuff. A hole–unthinkable.

I tell my students how we only had one pair of shoes. They act like I had one pair of underwear. “One…pair…of…shoes?!”  It’s true. I have yearbook photos to prove it.

To teach well, an urban educator must own shoes. I not only own them, I wear them correctly. “You can’t wear them like that,” said one senior the first time I wore Jordans. He pulled me aside and retied them for me. “There. That’s better.” There’s a lot to learn–lacing, matching… one doesn’t just match the shoe color to the outfit, but the brands must work as well.

I got my first pair of good shoes by accident. I learned they had magical powers in the classroom.

I needed a new pair of basketball shoes after coming back from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. The old shoes had bad luck.

Sneaker Guy fitted me with the ugliest blue and white shoes I’d ever seen. He was the expert, though. I didn’t know it yet, but Sneaker Guys hold the same respect as a minor Roman Catholic saints or a lesser Greek gods. He had that air about him. I trusted him immediately.

He treated me with respect, saying they didn’t really make a “classic high top” anymore.  Those died in the 80’s along with bad hair.  “Try these. They just came out—they’ll be good for you.”

I wore them to school. The hallway stopped. Complete silence. There is never silence in the urban school. These were the new 12’s. The day after release. Completely sold out for the average student.  Release day for Jordans is like a holiday–so important the company got wind of truancy issues and changed their releases from Tuesdays to Saturdays out of respect for education. I’d trumped every kid in the building. Sneaker guy had done something big for me–kicked off my teaching career with status.

Every year on a big Jordan release day, I light a candle for Sneaker Guy at the shrine of greatness.

The reason I’d bought the basketball shoes was–for basketball. I had a game scheduled for later in the day.

“Miss, you can’t play in those shoes… they’ll get creased!” I played. They cried the way adults do when kids play with collectible toys. I scored a couple points while they were crying. It was dirty pool, but my only shot to win.

I bought a second pair–I have small feet, I can pay for a larger kids’ size. I became cooler. “This is ridiculous,” I thought. I’m fairly low-maintenance. Excessive consumerism drives me nuts. Moms cried because their kids “needed” new shoes. Kids harassed their already stressed moms.

Kids who couldn’t clean a dish in the sink would stop life and clean off a scuff off a shoe immediately, with great attention to detail.

One enterprising kid explained to me these things aren’t just shoes, they’re investments. “Save the box! You can resell them for a lot,” He’d buy and sell shoes like a Wall Street day trader. He was right. He saw the opportunity. He made a killing. These are the opportunities I show my students now–recognize opportunities. Execute.

It’s been a long time.  I pull out the well-preserved boxes of Jordan’s when my street-cred needs a touchup, but fashion’s expanded in the high school world now. My bad 80’s fashion and music makes me retro-cool and I’m just as likely to get points for knowing my Ozzy and old-school hop hop, “My Dad loves Ozzy,” than having the “French blue OGs.”

My cool transcends the shoe.