This week, the teacher behind the blog The Daily Grind explored the value of dressing in “business attire” on most teaching days. I appreciate Grind’s pseudo experiment that pointed to professional dressing as one way to increase the seriousness with which his students approach his lessons and their learning.
As I read his contribution to the edusphere, I fondly remembered my former male teachers, most of whom wore shirts and ties (no jackets tho). When I became a high school special ed teacher in rural Virginia in 1980, I remember wishing I could get by with the slacks, oxford shirt, and goofy tie my male teaching partner threw on everyday. I had to contend with skirts, hose (good Lord!) heeled shoes, fussy tops, etc. You get the picture.
At my current school, an expansive 1,000 student elementary (that includes our small emotional disabilities k-6 special ed program), teachers generally wear trendy, cute, preppy, and colorful “ensembles”. Most of us are women, and as women do, many dress to impress each other! (Good jeans and fresh looking athletic shoes are absolutely a-okay.) And to my recollection, our male fourth grade teacher wears jeans on and off, but always with a collared shirt. (Better to participate in kickball at recess?) Such care about our look speaks to our professionalism, but also to the realities of teaching younger children.
Those who teach with me in the special ed program for ED kids tend to dress more comfortably. For one thing, we are often called on to restrain children. It’s not unusual for us to slip out of our shoes during such times, or strip a jacket or jewelry off when necessary. If someone took an AFTER snapshot of us, I’m not sure the words “professional” would come to mind!
I’ll bet Daily Grind’s Mr. M wouldn’t hold it against us that we dress as we do. (He seems like a nice guy.) For us and our principal, dressing professionally means being neat, clean, and dressing for demands of the job.
But when an educator’s professional attire is defined by others’ standards based on others’ needs, we teachers of the young or active end up labeled “unprofessional”.