The T-Shirt Principle

The T-Shirt Principle

Raquel and I were entering our second year of marriage when I became a new-to-the-profession, public school teacher at Caprock High School, Amarillo ISD (Amarillo, TX).

During my first years in education, I was given opportunities to attend out-of-district conferences for professional development. At some point, in every one of those opportunities, I would buy Raquel a gift, and the gift was always a nice t-shirt that was distinctive to the city or region that hosted the conference.

However, it took a decade for me to notice something: Raquel seldom, if ever, wore the t-shirts*. So, I asked her why.

Raquel responded, “Jerome, I don’t like to wear t-shirts.”

My first revelation was a husband thing, “You mean it took me a decade to notice?” I was stunned, not at my wife’s response but at my blindness.

It was the second revelation that made sense of my decade-long blindness: I like t-shirts! I was giving my wife the gift that I would like to receive, not the gift that she would like to receive.

That revelation gave birth to what I call “T-Shirt Principle:” We tend to give to others the gifts we like to receive.

The T-Shirt Principle in the Classroom

The T-Shirt Principle has classroom implications, too. We like to teach the way we like to learn.

The Problem 

We like to teach the way we like to learn, but the problem is that not all of our students like to learn the way we like to teach.

The Voice of the Learner

The T-Shirt Principle has a simple solution.

After my wife shared with me that she did not like to wear t-shirts, I asked her what would she like to receive as a gift. She told me, and ever since that moment, I’ve purchased gifts for her that she likes to receive and, now, with that new understanding, I like to give.

The classroom experience has a similar solution.

Know your students as the unique human beings they are. Know your students’  learning preferences. How? Simple. Ask them.


It is important to recognize, understand and respond to the voice of the learner.

Ask and you will be amazed. It certainly beats a decade of t-shirt giving.

* I’m a slow learner and my wife is a saint.

About drjstewart

Christian, husband, father, educator, writer, and photographer.
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