Over the past 30 years, numerous articles have been written about the importance of student teacher relationships. The National Education Association, NEA, offers advice for beginning teachers that includes establishing the classroom climate, conducting class efficiently, and reaching all students.1 When teachers effectively connect to their students, discipline problems decrease and student engagement increases.2 3 4
Teachers develop innovative ways to make connections and cultivate relationships. Some teachers’ writing assignments have students put themselves in the mindset of a character in a book or a historical figure. Other teachers spend hours decorating their classrooms to resemble Hogwarts or a Dr. Seuss book. Personally, I use my wardrobe.
My collection of nerdy science shirts started innocently enough; my mother asked what I wanted for Chanukah, and I said that I wanted the “Heavy Metal” t-shirt from www.ThinkGeek.com. I could not have predicted that seven years later I would have accumulated a collection of about 60 nerdy science shirts. I also could not have predicted these silly nerdy science shirts would have become a part of my identity as a high school chemistry teacher.
Like many teachers, I have a standard routine I use in my classroom. I begin with an opener, some sort of class activity, and try to conclude with a ticket to leave. On Fridays, however, I add an additional element into the class. After we discuss the opener, we always discuss my outfit. Why? Because every Friday I observe Nerdy Science Shirt Friday.
What is Nerdy Science Shirt Friday? It is a holiday of my own invention where every Friday I wear a different nerdy shirt. My collection is large enough that I go through the entire school year without repeating a shirt. ]I try to match the t-shirt to something relevant to the students. Sometimes these shirts relate to the unit we are studying, other times, it relates to the school or secular calendar. For the first Friday of the school year, I often wear shirt from the XKCD comic: “Stand Back: I’m going to try science.” I choose this one because of the message it sends. Science is fun. Chemistry is fun. Science will not always be easy, but we are going to try and we are going to learn together. This shirt sets the tone to my students about how I am going to relate to them and how I am going to relate to chemistry. While I treat my students’ learning with great seriousness and care, we can laugh while we learn.
Some of these shirts are terrible puns, as one student recently said “these are worse than dad jokes.” Others use the elements on the periodic table to spell words. Some have images of molecules or famous scientists. On the Friday my students practiced naming ionic compounds, I wore my shirt with iron(II) ions in a circle - a Ferrous Wheel. Mole Day is celebrated at work with the appropriate Mole shirt; but do not worry, when we get to the concept of the mole in class I have another one to wear. I proclaim the role of women in science with my shirts of Dr. Rosalind Franklin and Marie Curie. My ACS Green Chemistry shirt was the only appropriate shirt to wear for “Going Green” at Norfolk County Agricultural High School. While some teachers wear ugly holiday shirts in December, I choose one that says “Obey Gravity, It’s the Law” because Sir Isaac Newton was born on December 25. We rock on with a “heavy metals” shirt and “Le(a)d Zepplin.” We honor the “noble gases” and save the day with the “Chemical Avengers” On the Friday before the New England Patriots improbably won the Super Bowl, I, of course, had to wear my periodic table Boston shirt. When several of my students from the school where I previously taught asked me to come to their graduation and to hand them their diplomas, I wore a “graduated cylinder” shirt for them. They would not have had it any other way.
These nerdy shirts enable me to bond with students, colleagues, and friends. One student, Trevor Ragas, wore his own geeky or nerdy science shirt almost every Friday we had class. Some students interrupt class to question me about my shirt if I had forgotten to explain it. Students, even those I did not teach, have reached out to me to let me know they loved and looked forward my shirts.
Andrea Keith: “Your nerdy science shirts were the highlight of my Fridays! They always made me think, laugh, and contemplate buying my own if it was a really good one.”
Macayla Paiva: “I LOVED your nerdy science shirts it made me look forward to having your class on Fridays and made me sad whenever our class skipped on Friday! They always made me laugh and realize just how many science puns can be made!”
Shayla Shedin: “A lot of times they made us think about real world applications of the science we were learning in your class. It was great.”
Meagan Audlee: “It was a good way to integrate learning and fun. It was something to look forward to each Friday. Each shirt would somehow connect with what we were learning.”
Darya Musatova: “Science and learning can be fun! It was something to look forward to and a great conversation starter. All knowledge and education starts with curiosity.”
Though I have been observing Nerdy Science Shirt Friday in my classroom for several years, last year I expanded to celebrating it on social media by posting selfies on Facebook and tweeting them out. In doing so, I have started a trend. A business teacher and former colleague shares selfies of her geeky shirts every Friday. Recently graduated students commented “Finally nerdy shirt Friday” for the first Nerdy Shirt Friday of the school year and lamented how much they missed seeing my shirts in person on my Facebook page. Last April, a woman approached me in synagogue on a holiday and commented I was not appropriately dressed because it was Friday and I was supposed to be wearing a nerdy science shirt. Other chemistry teachers I only know through social media have begun sharing theirs as well. Friends often share with me shirts they think I should add to my collection, even if they are not school appropriate. Students have made me shirts I happily add to my collection.
My collection of nerdy science shirts have helped build lasting relationships with students, friends, and colleagues. Join me and others in observing #nerdytshirtfriday. And in case you don’t know where to start getting your shirts, I have found many at conference, museum shops and local stores, but I have also purchased shirts from the following places:
Editor’s Note: This post was submitted for the 2017 ChemEd X Call for Contributions: Creating a Classroom Culture.
- Zauber, K. Management Tips for New Teachers: Bringing Order to the Classroom (2003) Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/tools/management-tips-for-new- teachers.html
- Boynton, M and Christine Boynton (2005) Educator's Guide to Preventing and Solving Discipline Problems . Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/105124.aspx
- Davis, H. A. (2003). Conceptualizing the Role and Influence of Student-Teacher Relationships on Childrens Social and Cognitive Development. Educational Psychologist,38(4), 207-234. doi:10.1207/s15326985ep3804_2
- Sears, N. Building Relationships with Students. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/tools/29469.htm
Jacqueline Prester: Who challenged me to starting posting my Nerdy Science Shirts on Facebook and on Twitter.
To all my colleagues, friends, current and former students who have encouraged my observance of Nerdy Science Shirt Friday and have enabled my addiction by posting shirts that they think I should acquire.