This past Tuesday night. I rushed home after a meeting that ended at 4 pm to change out of the khaki pants and polo shirt I wore to school that day. I dug through my closet to find my standby "meet the parents" ensemble: a pencil skirt that I silently pray will fit every year, a silk shirt, and a blazer. I'm pretty sure I bought this outfit for an interview when I first graduated from college 7 years ago. It still looks new, because I have worn it exactly 7 times... or maybe 8. I frantically refreshed my makeup, straightened my hair, found some jewelry, and slipped on my brown heels. Then I rushed out the door in time to present briefly at the PTA meeting, then talk to 60 or so parents about my classroom philosophies and what they should expect for their children this year until 9:15 pm. That hour in which I rushed home could have been spent working in my classroom. It could have been spent eating some dinner and having a cup of coffee. Instead, I used those precious minutes to change my appearance. Why?
Teachers, especially middle school and below, don't always wear clothing to school that would be seen as professional by other adults. When I go into Express and see the tight, restrictive skirts and shirts with tons of buttons, I know that type of ensemble would just not work for my day-to-day. Crouching down to sit with students on the floor and have a reading conference, squeezing between desks as I monitor students working independently, and even standing on a chair to put an anchor chart up on my wall just don't allow me to wear the type of "work clothes" that my friends who work in an office environment can rock each day. Instead, I'm usually seen in flats, pants, some kind of shirt, and a cardigan, or maybe a maxi-dress. Not exactly a fashionista, but when it comes to teaching, at least for me, function overrules fashion.
My students know that I am knowledgeable. They know that I am confident. They see me at my best each day as I talk with them, read with them, write with them, and advocate for them at school. They see me and respect me as their teacher, whether I am wearing high heels or not.
Adults are not so easy to convince as children. Outside of school, when I talk about my profession, it is never met with the same types of questions and comments as my friends discussing their jobs. For example, "I work on Capitol Hill," might be met with "Oh, who do you work for? What are their issues?" Whereas, "I'm a middle school English teacher," is usually met with, "It must be nice to have summers off," or "I would like to teach someday too!"
When you work in a job that everyone thinks they're qualified to do, the pressure is on to prove that you're a rockstar. I think this is why I play dress up every year to meet the parents. Maybe if I'm wearing a pencil skirt and heels, they won't question me when I talk about piloting a new grading policy or having controversial YA literature in my classroom library. Maybe they'll view me as a qualified professional if I look like the other adults they work with day-to-day.
Next year, I'm going to really think about whether I need to change my outfit, or if I am confident enough to ask parents to see me as I look each day, as their children see me, and still believe that I can be viewed as an educated adult in a professional field. We'll see.