Things I Know 156 of 365: The clothes make neither the man nor the idea

Make it work.

– Tim Gunn

In one of my favorite essays, Robert Fulghum recounts his days as an art teacher, admitting he wore two buttons in the classroom.

One read “Trust me. I’m the teacher.” The other read, “Question authority.”

I first read the essay as a kid of 12, so I remember thinking it funny in an old people kind of way.

Now that I’m a teacher, I am more conscious of the image I exude in the classroom and the message of those buttons. At any point in the year, you might have walked into my classroom and found me in pressed chinos, a button-down and a bow tie or jeans and a sweater.

Today, as some visitors from another school entered my room, I saw their eyes flash to my feet.

We’re in the midst of a heat wave in Philadelphia, and I chose sandals as I got dressed this morning. I’m supposed to be a hippie English teacher, right?

My guests, as some do when they go visiting, were dressed formally.

I’m not certain whether or not they caught me catching them looking at my choice in footwear.

I made no mention of it as introductions were made – I do have some social graces.

Visiting SLA to discuss the integration of technology into the classroom, they asked if I could talk about what my students were doing in class.

I explained they were working on writing projects of choice, which they’d researched individually with peer review of that same research.

I spoke to the fact that students were exploring types of writing and writerly voices at a variety and depth I’d never have been able to match had I set such an ambitious agenda.

I talked about synchronous editing and how Google Docs afforded me the ability to watch not only my students’ progress as writers, but their progress as editors and revisers as well.

I expounded on how allowing for choice, setting basic expectations and utilizing all the available tools gave me access to more data and understanding of students’ needs and abilities than I’d ever have access to in a standard classroom.

And, I did it all wearing sandals.

I asked my guests to trust me as a teacher, but showed them it was okay to question authority.

I realize sometimes wearing the uniform of the realm makes access easier to obtain. I wore a suit to prom and will dress up for graduation. Tuesday, though, I wore a shirt with a skulls and crossbones as well as a toy sheriff’s badge with my name on it a student gave me.

You’re just as likely as not to find me dressing the part on any day.

Still, there’s something to be said for reminding ourselves that ideas have no uniform and that the shapes of creativity never are.

I’d hate to think I ever missed an amazing idea or person because I’d decided they weren’t dressed up enough.


2 thoughts on “Things I Know 156 of 365: The clothes make neither the man nor the idea

  1. My three biggest shocks when I walked into a Dutch school for the first time: 1. There's a smoking lounge in the teacher's lounge.2. Kids can smoke on campus and drink beer at graduation if they're old enough (16+), hence the cases of beer in the pantry. 3. Teachers dressed down at work for the most part. The last one really shocked me. I'd been told when I started my student teaching in the states that I absolutely had to dress up every single day so that I could command the respect from students that my position deserved. Not even on the special “donate to ROTC so you can wear jeans Friday” could I wear jeans. I met a Dutch teacher that did her student teaching internship in Pennsylvania through an exchange program and the clothing was one of the first things that shocked her. She had to buy pants suits and collared shirts and a bunch of other things to “dress the part.” She told me that Dutch teachers are more casual at work and choose to dress up if they're going out for a night on the town. It's nothing new now for me to see teachers wearing graphic tees with catchy, inspiring sayings or to see an administrator wearing jeans, shirt, and a linen blazer (about as dressed up as it gets over there). I wrote a post about it a while back (… I'm excited to start teaching in this new country for a variety of reasons, but I can't deny that being told “it's okay – we respect you regardless of whether you're in a pants suit” wasn't one of the big ones.

  2. This is interesting to me for obvious reasons, but as I was applying for high schools in middle school, my parents were looking to put me into a quaker school because they make up the majority of school in my area. One of the interesting features of those schools is that the teachers are called by their first names by other faculty and students alike. This was mind blowing to me because I don't and I still haven't talked any adult without calling them first by their title.But I quickly realized that the intent behind this was to break down some of the stratification behind kids relationships with adults. It was interesting to see that dynamic in their classrooms and I feel that clothing has a similar effect on students where there is no uniform. The informal spirit that kids instinctually have never really fits in the confines of formal clothes and interactions. Leather sandals or yoga pants, I can see that clothing often bears no significance to what you can expect from teachers, or people for that matter.

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