My granddaughters are already psyched for this week’s school picture day. Ensembles are selected. Alarms will go off early. Hair will be styled. This baffles me. Photos are not a novelty anymore. With special events in short supply these days, perhaps picture day itself inspires them to look their best. In today’s world this is the photo op, a chance to shine in the spotlight. Just in time for the holidays, the final prints will be ready for frames or sent to the relatives. Picture day endures despite the pandemic.
As an elementary teacher it was my experience that school went awry on picture day. If you are a non-educator, I do not expect you to understand how school pictures disrupted the educational process. Let me explain.
The photography company sent posters to hype the event. They hung above every drinking fountain, outside the office, and in the multipurpose room. A color brochure of immaculate smiling young models showed the purchase options, combinations of wallet-size, 3×5, 5×7, 8×10, photo key chains and similar trinkets. A subtle psychology worked to influence choices. Did your child deserve the Basic, the Standard, or the Deluxe package?
Classroom teachers distributed packets to students who carried them home to the parents and guardians. The children were relied upon to return the envelopes, selections clearly marked, with cash or check by the scheduled day for pictures. Balancing the books must have been crazy. The cash did not always match the package price. Checks were made out to the company, to the school, the PTO, and even to me. This process had more pitfalls than mail-in voting ever could.
Every morning, from the time the order-forms were sent home, I would request the returned envelopes be handed to me for safe-keeping in our classroom vault, a locked drawer. On picture day I put the packets into the hands of the children only when they formed a line and proceeded to the photographer. At least one student would have to make an emergency call home requesting the picture order be rushed to the school.
My students, grade three, were always scheduled late in the day. The impossible aim to keep dress clothes tidy through physical education, art class, and lunch turned the day on its head. I postponed outdoor recess despite noisy objections. Anxiety increased. At last from the intercom, “Mrs. Findlan, please bring your class to the library. Be sure all students have order forms and money.” Cheers would erupt.
We proceeded down the hallway envelopes in hand. One or two boys wore a tie and several girls sparkled in gowns suited for the red carpet. Fortunately, even students without envelopes had a photo taken. Their disappointment would come later when the developed prints arrived for only those who purchased.
We arrived at the library, and the photographer’s assistant requested I arrange the children by height, either tallest to shortest, or vice versa. The ends of the line fell into place easily. The others put themselves shoulder to shoulder or back to back. Arguments erupted. Plus, dress shoes changed proportions we had previously known.
I attempted to tuck, tie, and smooth the shirts and dresses. I did my best to tame the boys’ hair using the little black combs every student is supplied. When they learned the combs were theirs to keep, they beamed as if they held five-dollar bills.
One by one the children perched on the stool, tilted their heads and gave toothy smiles. Teachers had a photo taken as well. The children took full advantage to become unruly when I was behind the velvet curtain, so I seldom wore a natural smile in my picture.
We marched back to the classroom, dropped off combs and bolted to the playground. Unfettered joy abounded as they mounted the play structures and raced around the grass, oblivious to smudges and stains. I suppressed thoughts of November retakes.
Mayhem would soon resume with Halloween and continue for two months as each holiday flowed into the next. The stretch of increased excitement and erratic schedules began on picture day and lasted until the new year.
I cannot fathom how picture day and the months that follow will be orchestrated during this pandemic, whether in person or virtual. Teachers, resourceful troopers and classroom warriors, will do what it takes…and smile.