Will You Go To Prom With Me?

As I think back to my many prom experiences, I think about the importance of this staple of spring in high school’s around the country.

I’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming lately about possible topics to address on my blog. It has been an overwhelming spring semester with lots of new policies and initiatives causing all of us to wobble a little under the weight of change. All of those things are important, but, for some reason, it doesn’t feel as important as this:


I might be the minority in this feeling, but I believe that dances are one of the perks of being a high school teacher. Regardless of how your own high school experiences were with these kinds of events, it is impossible not to be sucked into the vortex of nostalgia the minute you walk through twinkle light and crepe paper decorated doors.

With so many proms in my memories, my nostalgia has many layers. I remember the feelings of being a student going to my senior prom on my 18th birthday with a large group of dear friends. I also remember being a baby teacher where prom represented the beginning of the end of my marathon sprint through my first year of teaching.

There are memories of the times I planned the prom with the juniors and spent the evening of the dance in a dazed stupor, exhausted from decorating and making sure that there were plenty of safety pins and tissues for any and all prom emergencies.

And now there are memories of this past weekend, where I was reminded of something really important about my job.

I ended up staying much later than I planned to due to my compulsive need to dance.

I’m so glad that I stayed.

During the very last song, the crowd dwindled from around 700 to about 100. As often happens in situations like this, a giant circle formed. Random students (and teachers!) took turns in the center of the circle showing off their moves to the shouts and cheers of their peers.

What was so excellent about this circle is that it was made up of the most random assortment of students. It was a strange, pulsating, representation of the many kinds of student groups that separate and define my traditional suburban high school.

I don’t know how much these kids interact with each other on a daily basis, but for some reason, this dance circle brought everyone together with joy and laughter—and it was awesome.

I was reminded in this situation of the incredible task that I have accepted as a teacher of teenagers. They not only look to me to help them be successful with academic tasks. They are looking at me to see what it means to be an adult.

When I take a turn in the middle of the circle, be it in my classroom or on the dance floor at prom, I hope that they see that being silly is way more fun than being self-conscious.

As I join them in cheering for their peers, I hope that they see that being an adult means celebrating what makes each of us unique, especially when our circumstances bring us onto common ground.

When I make room for more students to join the fun, I hope they see how easy and important it is to be friendly to all who cross your path.

As I laugh alongside them, I hope they hear in my voice the tender affection that they inspire in me and realize that even when they feel their most teenagery, they inspire joy in this adult and many others.

This was my fifteenth prom, which means I’ve been going to proms longer than many of my students have been alive. That sentence definitely makes me feel old. However, I am grateful for the fact that I have had the chance to engage with so many of my students in all of their finery.

Because, prom is important. It provides students the chance to dress up and feel beautiful. It also provides prom chaperones a chance to take a step back and remember the importance of helping students see beauty in themselves, even when the tuxes and dresses have been exchanged for Monday’s school clothes.

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  • AnneJolly

    Proms and such

    I know that “senior prom” feeling, Jessica!  It was unforgettable for me because it was the event I’d looked forward to as a “rite of passage” -something the freshmen and sophomores could only wish to attend (unless they had a date who was a junior or senior.) 

    When I began teaching middle school I was saddened by the introduction of the “prom” at that level. A spring dance – maybe. But a full-fledged dress-to-the-nines complete with students arriving in limos – oh,no! That’s too early – we’re taking away some cherished rites of passage. What will they look forward to as new and different when they attain the cherished senior status?



  • Katherine Clevenger-Burdell

    High School Proms

    I agree with the previous comment. I have a combination background of social worker/counselor and educator. Putting kids in situations where they feel obligated by peer pressure or other pressure to grow up too soon can be a negative over a lifetime. High school proms lose their "something special" quality and this "rite of passage" if proms  start in Junior High.

  • JessicaKeigan

    Celebrating with appropriate boundaries

    I absolutely agree with both of you. Thankfully, in my district, only juniors and seniors are allowed to attend the prom (unless an underclassman is invited to join one of their junior/senior peers). In addition, my school has implemented a policy so that only students who have nearly perfect attendance (95% or better) may attend the dance. This provides an incentive for engaging with the academic side of their responsibilities so they can celebrate with this event. 

    I know that prom can often stand for things that can be challenging for our students. I was just so pleased to see my students presenting their best/most beautiful selves, inside and out, that I wanted to applaud them publicly for a lovely experience.