“I dress like a teacher on the inside”…this post was sparked by a conversation on Plurk last week.
Many people would not consider me “professional” enough to be a teacher just by looking at me. The judgment would be made based on how I look—what I wear on the outside. My Hawaiian shirt would not be appreciated. My jeans would be frowned upon. My sneakers would be considered a down-right sin.
If you have read more than a few posts on this blog you might be able to figure out that I bleed making the student’s classroom journey a deep almost spiritual one. Where the students go on that journey is determined by the energy the teacher infuses into the room. I believe that each of us has a certain type of energy that gets thrown out into a room and can take over a class. An energy that can say passion, love, hope, I believe in you, and don’t give up. It is hard to release your energy. It leaves you exposed. It leaves you open to insult. It leaves you emotionally drained. It leaves you with tears at the end of the day.
In order to release my energy, I need to be comfortable. I need to dress like the inner me. The inner me is not a very polished person. I hate working inside. I hate wearing shoes. I hate wearing dress slacks. I hate wearing ties. I don’t even own a good coat. I am happiest in a t-shirt and jeans, shorts actually. I can’t imagine someone walking up to an artist and telling them they would do a better job if they were wearing a tie. Dressing more professional would not make me a better teacher. I know, for eleven years I wore shoes, long-sleeve dress shirt, slacks, and a tie.
**controversial statement coming in 3,2,….** Clothing can be a barrier to connecting with students. Yes, you can dress people in various different garbs and the one in shorts and a t-shirt won’t be selected by students as a “teacher.” But what if you asked students which person do you trust? The one in the tie or the one in relaxed casual clothing? Which person would you be more comfortable asking a question to? The one with the suit or the one with the baseball hat on? I agree that any kind of energy can break that barrier. There was one study that that I came upon when doing research for my thesis a few years ago. They took college students and showed them a 10 minute video of a professor. S/he was not the most engaging person on the tape. In real life when they weren’t acting they were. When those students took a class after watching the video it took them approximately thirty days to begin to have a favorable view of the professor. The students who did not see the video? Favorable impression from day 1.
After reflecting on this post and my experiences, one more thought keeps coming up. If you would not consider me professional dressed in my jeans, if you would not automatically respect me based on the fact that I wear a t-shirt to conferences, then how do you treat the kids in your class that dress different from you? The Goths, the metal heads, the emos, the punks, the skaters, the nerds, the kids with dirty clothes, the barbies, the preps, the kids who wear to much clothing, and the kids who don’t wear enough. Please don’t look at their outside. Look at what they are wearing inside.