I distinctly remember my instructor for my first teaching clinical experience saying, “Don’t you dare wear jeans to your field assignment. We teachers are working so hard to change our image to that of a professional, and it is your job to look the part.”
Fast-forward two weeks, at my first day in the inner city, 5th grade, public school classroom where I was assigned. I look all snapped up and polished. My normally frizzy hair is neatly slicked back. My brown dress pants are pressed, just brushing the tops of my brown suede boots. A crisp, white pinstripe shirt is tucked in and buttoned up to the collar. Pearl earrings sit on my earlobes, and my facial features are meticulously lined in muted shades. I feel professional. Meanwhile, the school’s teachers are shuffling around in blue jeans, t-shirts, haggard ponytails, and even sweatsuits. Whoa! What happened to the “dress for success” philosophy?
I will concede that many members of the staff at my field placement were people that were working very hard every single day. They had the look of disenfranchised, overtaxed burnouts. However, whether it was a symptom of exhaustion or apathy, their general uniform looked incredibly unprofessional. As a parent, student, or community member, I would have a difficult time respecting a teacher in dirty sweatpants.
Needless to say, I felt very out of place in my “professional wear.” I was a glaring contrast, but yet I remained faithful to the business attire goal. By the final days of my fieldwork, though, I began to realize how strange I felt in those clothes. I didn’t feel like myself in clean, harsh lines of black and white. I certainly didn’t want to look like my colleagues, but I started to not want to look like a businesswoman, either. I was a teacher, not a stock broker! I needed clothes that I could move in, that weren’t sloppy, that weren’t revealing, but that did include a color that I could find in the rainbow. On my final day, I broke rank. I wore navy blue dress sneakers, khakis, a Kelly green sweater, and a chunky blue ceramic necklace. I let my curly hair hang down around my face. I felt much better. I still felt like a professional, but a human one.
The point of this story? Let me manifest it here, in my OFFICIAL RULES FOR PROFESSIONAL, REASONABLE TEACHER ATTIRE.
1. A teacher should present the image of a responsible professional through his or her appearance. All observations of the following rules must first adhere to this overarching mandate.
2. A teacher should be able to express his or her identity and personality through clothing, within reason.
3. A teacher’s attire should allow him or her to safely run down a hallway, if need be.
4. A teacher should be able to feel comfortable, both mentally and physically, in his or her work attire.
5. A teacher should not look sloppy.
6. A teacher should not wear clothing which is tight, low-cut, or otherwise directly inciting the sensual imagination in any way.
7. A teacher should not wear valuable jewelry other than engagement rings/wedding bands.
8. A teacher’s hair should be groomed as he or she sees fit.
9. A teacher would be wise to avoid clothing that students can’t resist ridiculing.
10. Tattoos, non-traditional hair colors, and piercings: Until the professional world accepts them, these deviations should remain discreet.
I kind of wish that everyone could run around in crazy combinations of clothing or costume, with myriad variances of color, texture, and style. But, unless the professional world goes avant-garde, I’ll leave that to my students.