Teacher Tori Nelson and student Matthew Finney show off their shaved heads. (Photo: Tori Nelson)
When Tori Nelson arrived at Winlock Miller Elementary School in Washington state, where she works as a fourth-grade teacher, she noticed a lone student sitting crying outside her classroom earlier this week.
Matthew Finney, a shy boy in her homeroom, had his coat on and his head down, covered in a winter hat. “I could see the back of his neck had been shaved, and since Matthew usually has very thick brown curly hair, I realized that he’d had a haircut over the weekend,” Nelson tells Yahoo Parenting.
“I asked him what was wrong, and he said he’d gotten a buzz cut for the summer. But this morning, a fifth grader on the bus made fun of him, and he didn’t want to come to class and get teased by other kids.”
Nelson tried to convince Matthew to come inside. School rules prohibit kids from wearing hats indoors, so she told him that if he didn’t take it off, he could get sent home. That didn’t work, so she suggested he take some time to wash up in the rest room. Matthew, holding up a binder to shield his head, didn’t budge.
“Finally I said, ‘if you take off your hat off and come to class, I’ll let you give me a buzz cut too,” says Nelson. “I figured it’s just hair, and mine is already short anyway. I might as well get it shorter in time for the warm weather.”
Matthew practicing his barber skills on Nelson in front of the entire fourth grade (Photo: Tori Nelson)
Matthew excitedly took her up on the offer. After lunch, during recess, Nelson and another teacher gathered all the fourth graders together. A school employee brought in scissors and clippers, which Matthew used to the cheers of his classmates, excitedly watching as her hair fell away onto the ground in the schoolyard.
“It was a lot of fun for the kids, and it helped Matthew feel better about himself,” says Nelson. “You have to do what it takes to reach children. Teaching isn’t just about reading and writing, it’s about self-esteem and accepting differences.”
This isn’t the only time that Nelson has reached out to her students in unorthodox ways. “We have a lot of poverty here, and years ago there was a student who wore the same thing every day because he didn’t have any other clothes,” she recalls. “To make sure he didn’t feel bad about that or stand out, I wore the same thing every day too.”
Matthew’s mom, Breanne Finney, was thrilled that Nelson went to such lengths to help her son. “Matt came home that day so excited about what had happened—he felt really good,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “He especially liked that she let him do the haircut.”
And for the record, not one fellow classmate made fun of Matthew’s shorn head. “Matthew even told one student, ‘if you make fun of me, you’re making fun of Miss Nelson, so don’t do it,” says Nelson.