Teachers in kilts not out of the ordinary at Lawrence middle school

Paul Corcoran, who teaches sixth-grade math and language arts at Lawrence's West Middle School, wears kilts to school most days of the week to celebrate his Irish heritage.

Paul Corcoran, who teaches sixth-grade math and language arts at Lawrence's West Middle School, wears kilts to school most days of the week to celebrate his Irish heritage.

The man behind the overhead projector in back of the classroom, teaching a math lesson, is wearing a kilt. Yes, a kilt. And his students aren’t even batting an eye.

“Eight people are sharing a gummy worm,” says Paul Corcoran, a sixth-grade teacher at Lawrence’s West Middle School, who’s donning a green, red and black kilt with matching kilt hose. “How much of the gummy worm does each person get?”

When the students are slow to respond, he adds: “This is one — as soon as you get the answer, you’re going to say, ‘Duh!'”

“Three twenty-fourths,” one student answers.

“Which is? Which is? Which is?” Corcoran says. “One-eighth.”

That the students are more concerned about math than what their teacher is wearing is testament to the fact that the kilts fit perfectly with Corcoran’s personality. Jovial, full of energy and with a bushy white beard, he’s like an Irish Santa Claus.

Corcoran, 64, started wearing kilts in the early 2000s when he was at Deerfield School to celebrate his Celtic heritage. He continued the tradition when sixth-grade classes moved over to West Middle School two years ago.

He has recently passed on his love for kilts to one of his colleagues. Holden Kraus started teaching eighth-grade math at the school the same year Corcoran got there. Kraus, 25, previously had an interest in kilts but began wearing them to class himself after he met Corcoran. “You too?” was a common refrain from coworkers.

“I’d like to think I enlightened him,” Corcoran says. “Slowly, one at a time, I’m going to get us all.”

From left, Paul Corcoran and Holden Kraus both teach math at Lawrence's West Middle School and often wear kilts to class. Students are convinced they're father and son (they're not).

Students, meanwhile, thought the two were father and son — an assumption neither has bothered to correct.

And Kraus isn’t Corcoran’s only protege. The 64-year-old has inspired students to wear kilts to school events and has gotten his son-in-law to don them as well; he’s still working on his son.

While Corcoran is a proud Irishman, he’s come to enjoy kilts for more pragmatic reasons. “Why would you wear those confining slacks?” he says.

When kids tease Corcoran and say he’s wearing a skirt, he uses it as an opportunity to enlighten them about kilts and their history. Plus, he’s been teaching in Lawrence so long — 37 years — that most students have already heard of him by the time they take his class.

“It’s a little different than any of my other teachers, but I like it,” 11-year-old Lydia McColm said of her teacher’s out-of-the-ordinary fashion sense. “But basically that’s how everybody knows Mr. Corcoran, so it’s not that weird.”

“It’s weird, but we’re used to it by now,” added Emily Ice, 12.

Whether the kilts have anything to do with it or not, students seem to love Corcoran’s personality.

“He doesn’t just make math boring, which is what you would assume,” McColm said.

“I absolutely hate math, but I like it now because Mr. Corcoran is my teacher,” added Reese Mason, 11.

Like his students, Corcoran appears to be enjoying himself in class, which is why he says, “I’m going to retire when I’m about 90.” Plus, he knows there are still plenty of potential converts out there.

“Everyone is either Irish or wants to be,” he says.