Hair  by Carolyn Elliot, Tech Teacher 1963-1987

        In the late 1960’s the “hair police” began finding culprits at Tech High.  No one seemed to notice or care that the guys in Memphis City Schools who were letting their hair creep closer and closer to their shoulders were often among the most talented and creative students and least likely troublemakers.  Some of them played in garage bands at night and were too sleepy to cause problems.  Administrators, however, equated them with the protesters at colleges across the nation.  Probably fearing some kind of eventual demonstration, Mr. Bourne determined to root out the rebels.  Faculty members were told to be vigilant in reporting offenders.  Two cases involved me personally, and I look back on them with a chuckle to this day. 

        I’ll call him Jim.  He walked rapidly down the hall toward my classroom, hoping I could help him.  “They’re after me!  They’re after me!” he yelped, running inside my door.  “They say my hair’s too long in front, and I’m going to be suspended.”

        The identity of “they” was no secret.  Some of the coaches and other male teachers were forced to perform inspections, and obviously Jim had failed.  What to do, I wondered, nervously watching the door. 

        “Go up to the cosmetology lab and get one of the girls to trim it,” I suggested, but he rejected the idea of a “man” going into the beauty lab.  Years later, it would be a commonplace, but at that time males and females normally did not share hair-cutting establishments.

        “Can you cut it?” he begged, grabbing my scissors from the desk.  “I don’t care how it looks, just do it quick.”

        Although never having cut anyone’s hair before, I decided to help.  Brandishing the scissors, I began to chop away, and soon blond hairs littered my classroom floor.  To even the bangs, I kept cutting and cutting, finally stopping when I realized they were only an inch long.  The rest of his head looked as if it had been attacked with a chainsaw.

        Jim was pathetically grateful as he entered the hall as classes were changing.  Gratitude became dismay, as his friends began grinning and snickering.  I was told that he actually cried when he ran to the mirror in the restroom and saw the damage, and I cried too, when I heard of it, because of my clumsiness. But he was magnanimous enough to come back at the end of the day and thank me for saving him from suspension. 

        “I thought you would know how to cut hair,” he said, “but I guess you know more about English than barbering.  Don’t feel bad; it’ll grow out in a couple weeks.”  It did.

        Then there was Mike.  Mike was a good deal shorter in tenth grade than he was to become in later years, and the rumor was that he had successfully evaded the P. E. teacher’s notice by hiding behind taller students at roll call, then disappearing into the depths of the gym.  Mike was one of those who played in a band on weekends, and long hair was part of the life. 

        Mike also came to my room for help.  I happened to have a class of thirty seniors, feasting on Tennyson that day.  They were a mixed group of hip and straight, and some of them surely supported the hair ban, but to their great credit, they never ratted on me for the action I took. I probably could have been fired, certainly severely reprimanded.

        Like Jim, Mike was being pursued by a coach, waving a suspension form.  When Mike burst into my room, I looked for a place he could hide.  The only likely spot was a locked cupboard with shelves on one side to store textbooks, record players, and other valuables, and a small coat closet on the other side.  Quickly, without thinking, I beckoned to Mike, took off the combination lock, pushed him into the tiny coat closet, and locked him in.  The class stared in amazement.

        The coach appeared in the door, looking at each of the thirty faces.  Not recognizing Mike, he demanded, “Have you seen a kid with long blond hair?  Did he come in here?”

        Not wanting to lie, I smiled and asked, “Do you see him?  Could he have kept going to the stairwell?”

        The coach wavered.  The hallway was long and dark in places, but he correctly believed he had seen Mike enter my classroom.  He looked at the seniors for support.

        “Did any of you see anything?” he snapped.  The seniors looked at me, then back to the coach.  No one said a word.  Some shook their heads, and the coach seemed to feel this was a denial.  He turned and raced toward the stairs.  The students waited until they heard his footsteps ascending before bursting into guffaws.

        I released Mike, told him which direction not to go, and he fled. Somehow, he made it to the end of the day without being given the suspension.  Since it was near the end of the school term, it seemed that persecution of the hirsute was lessening in the final days.  Mike successfully completed his sophomore year.

        A few years later, Mike and his brother Wayne, also a Tech grad, formed a dynamic band featuring Wayne’s talented wife.  I often went to their gigs, and once met Mike’s teenaged son, who asked, “Were you the teacher that hid my dad in the closet to keep him from being suspended?  That was cool.”

        I took that as a high compliment.  How often did English teachers who were also middle-aged grandmothers earn the appellation “cool” from a teenager?

-  Carolyn Elliott