The Costume of a Teacher
One of the bibles of the business world is a book called Dress for Success. This book describes how to dress for the roll of a successful business person and that wardrobe will help you step into that role. In many ways, the Dress for Success tells us that how we dress for work is somewhat our “costume” and that putting on that costume of a business professional, you naturally begin to play that role.
Most schools will have a dress code that you will have to abide by as a teacher much as they do for the students. That dress code assures that you will dress in a way that is not dangerous or districting or inappropriate to the job of teaching. And that dress code brings you in line with what the administration expects of the students. But aside from those general guidelines, there is a lot of leverage left to you in your dress so you can express your personality in the “costume” you wear to teach school.
The important thing to remember about the outfits you select is that they do send a message to the students. If you dress very formally, you are telling them to address you respectfully and that you are very much the adult here and they are not. Even if students don’t know they are getting your message, they are and even you don’t know you are sending a message, you are. So it’s a good idea to think about what message your outfits are sending and how you might customize your wardrobe so the students understand who you are and what your expectations are of them just from how you present yourself to them in class.
One big message to send with your costume is, “I am the teacher and you are the students here.” This is not a message of superiority. It is a message of distance. First of all, be aware that this distance between you and the youth socially is necessary and must be part of your approach to your job if you want to be success long term. The classroom is no place for a midlife crisis. Even if you like dressing in a stylish or youthful way outside of class, in-class dress like an adult and in a formal enough way that your clothing makes a clear demarcation between you and them.
This distinction actually makes your students feel more at ease with you. Students get uncomfortable when the adults over them try to blend into youth culture too much and become “with it”. Youth people like the authority figures in their lives to be clearly designated and for you to live up to your role as an authority figure in your behavior, your language, and your wardrobe. So dress for success by having your clothing say, I am the teacher and the students will respond in kind.
Your outfits also have to be practical. Sometimes teaching can become a physical event. You must be prepared to bend down to pick things up and to do some level of low key physical labor even with students in the classroom. This means no tight clothing that restricts your range of motion. It means no short skirts that has you worried about the hemline and your legs all day long and shoes that can keep you going for an entire day of very a very active teaching life.
Just as almost every profession has guidelines for how to dress, these hidden messages and quiet efficiencies you include in your wardrobe selection will go a long way toward making your teaching day successful and comfortable. When your wardrobe is right and you are dressing in the costume of a teacher, you will “become” a teacher and step into that role you were born to play.
The Courage of a Teacher
When you think of career fields that call for courage, jobs that may call for a loss of life are most often thought of. So the career fields of firemen, policemen, or the military are jobs that involve a great deal of courage that we cannot discount. Teachers, by contract, don’t really think of themselves as strong or brave individuals compared to these more obvious choices. But it takes tremendous courage to be a teacher in ways that it is worthwhile to acknowledge as we are doing here today.
The courage of a teacher goes beyond just being willing to stand up in front of 20-30 wiggly children every day and try to guide them through their studies. Of course, standing up in front of that kind of crowd does take a lot of guts. Children are the notoriously unpredictable crowd. And while the chances you will see physical harm speaking to a classroom of youngsters are small, it is a public speaking nightmare and facing that kind of nightmare takes real courage not many need on a daily basis.
Going into teaching as a lifestyle choice is also a courageous decision. Teaching is well known to be both a low paying position and one that affords little thanks to the teacher. Teachers are often the target of attacks by parents all the while they are enduring considerable sacrifices just for the privilege of teaching young people. Many times budgets for schools are cut so that class sizes swell and a teacher who wants nothing more than to be able to mentor and love a small group of children finds a classroom of twice that size put before him or her to teach. Or the supplies budget for schools gets slashed so many times teachers will go out with their own money and buy the classroom supplies they need so the young can be educated and the classroom can function despite these problems.
Three is an emotional risk that teachers openly embrace every year they take on a new class. A lot more goes on between a teacher and a class of students as that teacher puts out instruction to make those children better people. A bond and a love develop that is valuable to the educational process. This affection often carries on into childhood for the children who will speak with fondness of that favorite teacher decades ago. But for the teacher, as soon as that bond becomes mature at the end of a year of teaching, those children move on and they must prepare their hearts for a new set of kids in the fall. That emotional roller coaster is a wrenching experience that teachers embrace to be able to continue doing the one thing they love to do which is to teach.
This is not to say that there are no physical dangers or acts of heroism that teachers often exhibit when the need arises. In any urban school, courageous teachers face injury or worse from students who are gang members who threaten them with dire injuries for being there to do the one thing they are called to do which is to teach. Further, we have documented cases where school shootings put students in danger that teachers put themselves in harm’s way and even lost their lives to protect their students. We saw this at Columbine and in other crisis situations as well. And that kind of willingness to become a martyr to save a student is a classic example of what it means to be courageous.
As you prepare your career path toward becoming a professional teacher, you may not have ever thought of yourself as courageous. But because of the sacrifices, you are about to make and because the only real reward of being a teacher is the joy of imparting knowledge to young students, there is a nobility to what you are about to do that is worthy of recognition and honor. And while society will not necessarily take the time to give honor to the courage of teachers, it’s a good thing when we do that so it is documented here that teachers are truly a courageous lot and we can all be glad for their influence on our children’s lives and on society in general.