The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Dress for Success

Today was the second day of my week-long assignment as a 6th grade Language Arts teacher at Mahomet-Seymour Junior High School. Things went really well today, and my positive relationship with the students and staff is continuing to grow. In fact, the teacher across the hall has already listed me as a preferred sub and has put in an assignment for me after Spring Break.

During one of my classes this afternoon, one of the girls asked me why I always wear a tie. The brief response was that I do so because I am a professional and I dress professionally. Also, I don’t think the students would take me very seriously if I wore jeans and a t-shirt. But the actual answer is a bit more involved.

This actually goes all the way back to my Fall 2007 student teaching placement in a 5th grade (gifted) class at Garden Hills Elementary School in Champaign. I had visited the classroom before the assignment actually began, and noticed that the teachers tended to wear informal clothing. The male teachers, especially, wore nice jeans or casual slacks and polo shirts. As an impressionable young prospective teacher, I took my cue from my mentors–in this case, all of the teachers in the building. An important side note here is that most of these teachers had been working within the profession for at least 20 years. I dressed well, but still casually. My university advisor suggested that I never wear jeans, so I switched to wearing my khakis, but that was all the advice I got.

Near the end of my placement, I had to spend three days in a “full take-over” in the classroom. The first day, I dressed as usual. The second day, I wore slacks, a dress shirt, and a tie. The difference in the class’s response to me was incredibly apparent. So I decided that, from then on, I would dress professionally when I taught. When I was given my second student teaching assignment in a 1st grade class in Paxton, I decided to start off the right way. (Right for me, I should say.)

I didn’t think much of it until the last day I was there. Several of the boys and girls came wearing ties in honour of me. They had (with their teacher) made scrapbook with their pictures and comments, many of which referred to my ties. I was touched, and it reinforced my decision to continue on wearing dress clothes to work. The only time I have lapsed was when I did a short afternoon assignment for my mother-in-law last year. I wore what I wore when I did my fall placement in 2007. I decided not to do that again.

So I continue to wear dress shoes, slacks, dress shirt, and tie to work, regardless of the assignment. It doesn’t bother me that other male teachers don’t dress the way I do. My decision to dress as I do is for me. I don’t have any desire to transfer my personal standard onto others. For example, there is a 3rd grade teacher I know who almost always wears shorts, a hoodie, and sneakers. Everyone knows him, everyone loves him, and everyone respects him. Maybe it is because he has been teaching for a very long time. I don’t know. But, for me, I feel that how I dress impacts how my day goes. And perhaps I was influenced from a vignette in Gloria Ladson-Billings’ The Dreamkeepers:

Pauline Dupree… is always impeccably dressed in a style that reminds one of a corporate executive. Her outfits always are coordinated; she seems to have a different pair of shoes for each. During our first interview, she said that some of the girls in her class sometimes peek around the classroom door in the morning to see what she is wearing. When one of her students asked why she was always “so dressed up,” Dupree replied that she dressed the way she did because she was coming to work and she worked with very important people, so she wanted to look good…

[What follows is a dialogue between Dupree and one of her students]

Dupree: As far as money is concerned, it is true that teachers don’t earn as much as I think they should but there really is more to work than earning money.

Student: Like what, Mrs. Dupree?

Dupree: Like getting the chance to work with the most important people in the world.

Student: Who?

Dupree: All of you. Every weekday morning I wake up I know I’m on my way to work with the most important people in the world. Do you know why you’re the most important people in the world?

Because you represent the future. How you turn out will have consequences for us all. What you decide to do with your lives can help make this community and the world a better place.

And so it is with me. I dress for success. Not mine, but theirs. Tomorrow is Tie Day at MSJH. I think I will bring several ties and change them each class period, just because I can. It should be a great time!

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