Dr. Michelle Reinhard EdD
Does your school mandate “professional attire” for teachers? Is it business casual khakis and polos? Button shirts, slacks, and ties for men, slacks or skirts for women? Exactly whose “profession” are we dressing for, accounting?
Envision the Teacher
When you think of what a teacher should look like, what comes to mind? Unkempt hair, bags under the eyes, thousand-yard stare like you’ve looked into the abyss, but the abyss was too scared to look into you? What about clothes? Suits, ties, skirts are business attire. You know what a business is: fast-paced, twice the money of teaching, maybe even a promotion or two, at a place that all your non-teacher friends go to. Oddly enough, that sounds nothing like school, so what should a schoolteacher look like?
The Teacher is the Ringmaster
The finest teacher is a ringmaster directing the chaos into an orchestrated event, guiding the audience from one act to another, building suspense, engaging and directing the audience’s attention. But you can’t look like an accountant while you do it. Looking like an accountant will not connect the students to art, history, science, math, design, agriculture, you name it and it won’t work. Unless you’re teaching accounting, then you should look like an accountant.
But what about those of us that don’t teach accounting?
The History Teacher
History is an adventure in wardrobe for the Interactived Teacher. Put on a doughboy helmet for the entire class while you’re teaching WWI. Grow a beard, put on some Union Blues for the Civil War (usually easier for men). Have your tricorn ready for the colonial period and a Spanish morion helmet for the age of exploration. Toss on a cowboy hat and thin-rimmed glasses and run around your room yelling “BULLY!!!” If you’re teaching history, look historical! Be something every day and the students will start to look forward to your outfit and what they’re learning that day. You are more than a teacher, you’re a page out of history, a visual storyteller.
Reading and Literature
Books can magically transport us to any time or place, real or imagined, but does anyone imagine working in an accounting office? Of course not. Pick a role from the book and become that character. Engage the students and bring it to life. Don’t fear to be outrageous. If they’re laughing, at least you know you have their attention. The written word is competing with a new, virtual world where the only reading necessary is how to set up the machine. Students are spoon-fed imagination. Setting a book in front of them and telling them to read just isn’t going to work. Bring the story to life and they’ll remember.
Dali, Warhol, Van Gogh, did any of them look like an accountant? Of course not. They looked like you’d expect an artist to look. Students are expecting the avant-garde, the artistic misanthrope with paint splattered everywhere. Even a tie-dye shirt and Birkenstocks project that you are a creative genius and a master of your craft more than wearing a Brooks Brothers tie ever will.
Math and Science
Toss the tie, put on the lab coat and drop some pens and a slide rule in the pocket protector. Go full Einstein as you explore the wonders of mathematics. Grab a Fez and bow tie and be Dr. Who as you explain space and “the big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff” in between. Dr. Brown it up as far as you can for your classrooms of McFly’s. Go full Bones as you talk about biology. Popular media has made science cool. Use it by meeting their expectations and you’ll have their interest.
Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk and Succeed
From skepticism to indifference, just because you’re the one in front of the class won’t make you an authority to be listened to. You can have a wall full of degrees, but will you be remembered? Your lessons can be well organized and prepared with a variety of techniques, but will you reach the students? When they’re home and turn on the TV, students believe what they see and know the characters. So be that character. Don’t believe it will work? Ask the accountant in a nice suit.