It’s All About More Than The Dress

“The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but irrigate deserts.”

December 1, 2016
Steve Johnson10773449

Sha-Ree’ Castlebury is an enthusiastic first-grade teacher who clearly loves her job. Her philosophy is summed up by this quote from C.S. Lewis, “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.”

Her classroom is a decorated riot of sensory stimulation, with bright colors, paper cut-outs, and sock monkeys everywhere. The zebra-striped blankets and florescent-colored shag rugs are the first clues that she understands the importance of touch as well as sight and sound in the learning process.

She takes teaching beyond the building, turning the playground into a classroom where her students learn addition by counting rocks and tabulating their results on the asphalt with chalk.

She wears costumes, lots of costumes. She dressed as super hero “Super E” to teach about silent E and the amazing things that the letter “e” does to words. Sha-Ree lives in a world of exclamation points and finds ways to bring pass her enthusiasm on to her student every day.

Two weeks before the last day of school she had an idea that combined all of her teaching techniques into one last hurrah to her children before they departed for summer vacation and second grade.

Sha-Ree’ handed out colored fabric markers to her little Picasos (as she affectionately called her students) then brought out a plain white dress to be used as their canvas. Each child colored a picture, a message, or both on the dress.

“This was so exciting for them!” Sha-Ree’ told me. “They put their whole hearts into it, even one student telling another that ‘we have to do good on this dress because Mrs. Castlebury is actually going to wear this in public.’”

On the last day of classes she wore her dress to school, and wore it with the same enthusiasm with which see teaches. Flouncing and twirling through the day, Sha-Ree’ showed her students the results of their work in a way that made a much greater impression than if she had merely tacked up colored sheets of paper on a bulletin board, which is the traditional classroom method for displaying children’s drawings.

Scanning and posting of drawings on Instagram would have been more hip than the bulletin board, and just as fleeting in attention. Instead she made a permanent impression on her beloved students, and on the world.

You see, Sha-Ree’ Castlebury’s dress has gone viral. She has Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest accounts which she uses to highlight (rather than replace) her tactile teaching techniques. Visit her website at to learn more about her, but a simple Google search of “teacher memory dress” will quickly reveal what an impression her dress has made on her students, their parents, her school, and (thanks to the internet) the world.

Christmas is coming. Let us all learn a lesson from Mrs. Castlebury. Eschew the temptation give tablets, ebooks, game consoles and gift cards to the children in your world.

Instead give the gift of touch. For the youngest children think board books and such classics as Dorothy Kunhardt’s Pat The Bunny. (Skip all the knock-off Pat the Bunny products; just give the original book circa 1940.)

For children of all ages (and adults as well!) consider coloring books, which are all the rage right now. Board games with pieces, cards, dice, and fake money will draw family and friends together instead of moving them into separate corners of the house. Jigsaw puzzles will do the same.

Want something out of the ordinary? Give an origami starter kit to introduce someone to the Japanese art of paper folding. Put those fidgety little fingers to work!

Here’s wishing you and yours a very sensory and tactile holiday season, from Johnson’s World.