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The rules were written on the walls of the middle school in the cafeteria.

Shorts and skirts must be three inches above the knee, not shorter.

No bra straps showing.

No tank tops.

Standard regulation dress code rules written in blue letters across a yellow background, the school colors. I went to middle school here and was back as a substitute. The rules weren’t unreasonable. Middle schools always have the strictest dress codes.

I watched the hallway as students scuttled into the English class that I was teaching. The preppy, polo-wearing choir kids got to class early. The band kids came late. It was standard.

It was May. Everyone passed notes. Everyone wanted to be done. The sunlight streaming through the window by my desk made my eyes tired. I played the Shakespeare movie like I was supposed to and closed the blinds. It didn’t help.

A girl came in late. Her neon yellow bra strap slipped out from under her t-shirt sleeve. I motioned for her to pull it up as she took her seat. As soon as she moved it, it slid again, a tightening issue. I waved her to my desk and wrote out a dress code violation slip.

Ms. ____________________

Time and Date:


I set the slip on the corner of my desk. “Fix your strap, please.”

She stared at the piece of paper. “I’m sorry. I’m trying.”

She didn’t seem like a troublemaker. Maybe I should’ve let it go. I handed her a restroom pass. “Try adjusting the strap length.”

Red faced, the girl hurried to the bathroom. When she returned, the strap was where it belonged, hidden.

We paused the movie after Petruchio tamed Kate. I flicked the lights on. “Your teacher will be back next class and you will finish the movie. Your final is on Monday.”

As the kids rushed to the bus, a male teacher stopped the girl from earlier. Her strap had peeked out again in her hurry to go home. He handed her a violation slip. I should’ve stepped in, fought for her. But the delinquent girl crumbled the paper in her hand and went out to the bus.


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