I have seen many new teachers enter the workforce with an abundance of content knowledge and educational pedagogy. However, as seriously as these new educators take their professional development, they increasingly overlook one area that continues to dwindle in importance. That area is professional dress in the classroom.
The age-old adage “dress for success” is still applicable to the 21st-century teacher. I know this may seem like one of the last items that should be on a new teacher’s checklist. After all, there are a plethora of things to worry about from lesson design to IEPs, but new teaching professionals should certainly place this amongst one of the more important aspects of their careers simply because professional attire generates a respectful rapport with students and others.
Teaching is a profession. Therefore, teachers must look like professionals to garner professional-level respect. If you were to set up a meeting with your attorney, or an appointment with your doctor, you would expect each to present himself or herself in a certain manner. If they did not, you would undoubtedly question their professionalism, and inevitability, their ability to perform well at their respective jobs. What most new teachers fail to realize is that there is an air of authority in the way professionals dress.
Therefore, teachers should dress in appropriate professional attire every day that they are in the classroom or in front of parents and the educational community. First, you are modeling the correct professional behavior. Teachers are the first professionals that students deal with on a daily basis during their lifetime, and it is imperative that students begin to see what will be expected of them as they enter the professional ranks. Second, it distinguishes teachers from the students.
You are the professional and the classroom leader, and therefore, you are the one who merits respect in the classroom. Thus, you should stand out amongst those wearing jeans, yoga pants, shorts, and T-shirts. Now, this is not to say that there are not times when dressing down is appropriate. Certainly, schools will have spirit days, anti-drug and anti-alcohol campaigns, and a host of other events that encourage students and staff to wear different attire. And, yes, teachers should advocate the spirit of the day, but in a respectful manner.
A teacher’s dress and appearance is part of his or her personal branding. Your brand is more than just your professional persona. It is the essence of who you are. It incorporates everything from your integrity to your personality. Your brand is how you will be viewed by your students, their parents, your administrators, and your peers. It is part of your professional reputation.
Furthermore, when we see someone dressed professionally, we take on the mindset that it is time to get serious about the matter at hand. In this sense, a teacher’s attire sets the tone for the learning atmosphere of the classroom. New teachers must analyze their appearance and ask themselves if they are portraying the personal brand they want to market to students, parents, administration and the overall community.
Teachers today must adopt the mindset that they are professionals–professionals charged with the most important of tasks of developing youth–and thus, deserve to be treated as such. This mentality must begin each morning before the educator walks out of his or her front door. You are a professional, so dress the part. Be what is expected of you and your effort will be matched with the requisite respect.