On my first official day of observing a teacher, I walked into the classroom with my shirt and tie, slacks pressed. The teacher wore jeans and a loose t-shirt. Throughout my student teaching experience, last year's long-term substitute experiment, and this my first official year of teaching, button up shirts, tie, and dress slacks have been the norm.
There have been days throughout this year, half-days before breaks, pep-assembly days, or Spirit Week promotions that I have ventured away from the shirt and tie concept. However, it is one of my quirky opinions that creates this need for professional attire, or business attire. I think that as teachers, we often are not viewed by the public as professionals. Somehow, teacher and professional don't seem to match up for the regular tax payer. So when we, our unions and our peers, walk the picket lines or write editorials about teacher pay and lack of respect from our students in the classroom, often we are viewed with contempt. "You work 10 months out of the year, get every holiday off, not to mention winter break, mid-winter break, and spring break. A bevy of in-service days," is what we hear.
If we looked like professionals, do you suppose we might start convincing more than ourselves that we are professionals?
A recent experiment, though not started as an experiment, openned my eyes to just how much of an impact my attire has in the classroom. We are WASL'ing this week--Washington Assessment of Student Learning, or Why Are Students Lazy to some. During the testing period, the Sophomores WASL, the Freshman take the ITBS/ITED. Here at our school, we offer enrichment opportunities to the Juniors and Seniors. Mostly, these enrichment classes are designed to be fun, a way to keep the students on campus and off the city streets.
I offered Dodgeball and Whiffleball. Both were well attended. But, a shirt and tie doesn't quite fit the appropriate dress code for either game. So, in light of the casual atmosphere, I wore sweats, shorts, t-shirt, track-suit, and always my luck Red Sox hat.
So, we had three academic periods and one testing period each day. During my academic periods, I could not get my students to focus on the task at hand. They were much more conversational with me about non-academic things than they ever have been. Now, some of that could have been the mood of the testing week, but I had to wonder if it had anything to do with my attire. Do I lose some authority in the classroom based on the way I dress for teaching?