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Picture Day in the Teaching Profession: Cheese!

Jenny Starkman

A small thing happened to me a few years ago in the teaching profession that changed my life for the better. Every year, for the last 23 years in the teaching profession, I have had to get my school picture taken. Now, it’s not my favorite day. Staff gets ushered in before the school day to sit on a box, with our feet carefully positioned on the X placed for the day on the floor. If I had a caring photographer, she might fix that out-of-place hair or make sure my necklace pendant was even. Others would simply tell me to look, tip my chin, and click -- picture was taken.

Sometimes, my colleagues and I in the teaching profession would ask the photographers for the same favors I am sure they hear from teachers in every school. “Can you get my good side?” “Can you tilt the camera down from above?” I asked one new photographer if she could try to make me look like I had less chins (disclaimer: there’s one extra), and she said rather straight-faced that she didn’t think her camera worked magic. I didn’t bother to tell her I was joking. I’m not sure I was.

One year, every single staff photograph taken by this one particular photographer was taken at the same exact angle and lighting. It was easy to identify which photographer took which teacher’s picture. They were all over-lighted, foreheads looking immense, cheeks the main focus of the image. The lighting was darker from the nose on down, causing unfortunate shading for some that was just felt downright mean. Luckily, my photographer wasn’t quite as bad. She did position my head and neck, and I smiled like I meant it, laughing at something one of my colleagues was saying. It didn’t help that I did not remember it was picture day that day, and I wore nothing special or had a beauty regime much more than I would on any normal Tuesday.

When I got my picture back that year, I was so bothered. I did not like it at all. It was an image of me, but you know how there are great pictures of you and then others where you think, really? Do I really look like that? Perhaps it was the odd tilt of my head, exaggerated to the side more than I ever sit. Perhaps it was my pulled-back hairstyle that day, or the drab ivory color I wore with little additional blush. I had thought I looked nice that day. It simply didn’t translate into the photograph. Whatever the reason, I felt it was a poor picture of me.

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The day the photographs came out, I put my ID card on my keyboard. I found myself glancing at it, my dislike for it growing. One of my classes came in, and as I was checking books out for the 1st-grade students, they asked if that was my new picture. I told them it was, and I told them I didn’t like it very much. “Why not?” they asked, as I passed the picture over their way. I mentioned I wasn’t sure what it was, but that I have had better pictures taken.

Their responses changed me that day.

I love it when you smile like that, one said. When we come in and you are smiling like that, it makes me happy inside. I know we are going to have a great library time.

I like it when your eyes are smooshy like that. It means you were laughing. And they are green, like mine.

I like it when you wear scarves, especially the ones that look all soft. You are pretty.

You always have pretty earrings.

You smell like you took a shower and put some pretty spray on. It smells nice when you stand by me.

I like your teeth. They are white and straight and sparkly.

When you wear your soft sweaters, it makes me want to hug you.

You remind me of my mom when she is happy.

You are my favorite day of the week.

Think about that one. I am someone’s Favorite Day of the Week.

From that day on, I looked at that picture differently. I didn’t get a retake. I kept the picture exactly as is. That is how the kids see me. Smooshy eyes, sparkly teeth, scarves and cute earrings. Happy to see them, laughing and welcoming them in. Soft clothes, reminding them of their mom when she’s happy. I am someone’s favorite day of the week.

It is a blessing to see myself the way my students see me, especially if those others are 6-year old kids. A teacher never really knows where their influence begins or ends. The impact we have on our students will never end, and that is a big deal.

I hope when they are older and look at their yearbook, they remember how much I cared for them. And laughed with them. And loved them.

Picture day is right around the corner. I’ll make a better effort to wear a color that reflects better in the picture. But I will for sure have on a scarf, and pretty earrings, and smooshy eyes and sparkly teeth. I will smile while I think of the special role we play in our kids’ lives.

I am someone’s Favorite Day of the Week.