Dress the part?

Growing up, I had three sets of clothes.

There were school clothes, play clothes, and church clothes. It was important to remember which was which. As it turned out, they were just hung on hangers at different ends of the closet. There was a time when school clothes would tumble down to being play clothes but, for the most part, those were the rules for what to wear.

As such, it was important that we came directly home from school to change before hopping on our bikes and heading out to play. The ultimate sin would be to get school clothes dirty or to tear a hole in the knee or something.

At the Faculty of Education, one of the pieces of advice that was given to us was to dress formally once we got our first jobs. After all, we could be only 5 or so years older than some of the students and this would establish who was who! At my first staff meeting, our principal went through the Teacher Handbook and there was a section about dress and it just said “dress professionally”. Since I was in the Business Department, I watched other department members that first week and the dress could probably be described as business casual. Not quite a suit but at least dress shirt, jacket, and tie.

For the most part, that’s how I dressed for my career although the tie was nicely replaced with a sweater over a shirt at times. Particularly when you’re crawling under tables, a tie can be a real nuisance.

Just yesterday, a picture popped up in my Facebook memories of a group of us all dressed up for the RCAC Symposium in 2013. I’ve cropped my colleagues out.

For a number of years, I was the MC for the event and that always meant wearing a tie and jacket. I still have that jacket and tie (and maybe even the nametag) but it’s been years since that symposium as been held and formally dressed public appearances have gone away in these times.

I recognize that there are differences everywhere. Between face to face, hybrid, and remote teaching, have the standards changed? Even before COVID came along, this had become more casual. Given the move to more active classrooms, I appreciate that more formal attire just doesn’t cut it.

But that doesn’t mean that the fun necessarily has to go away. Just this morning, I read this article…

Metro Detroit teacher dresses up as a character for virtual class every day

Of course, I had to read about it. It was a nice refreshing read full of hope for her career and her mentality. We’ve heard lots of things about only needing to be dressed from the waist up when online because that’s all that the camera will catch. You make your own decisions.

I started to think about things. Certainly, given all that’s happening, people can understandably be given a pass for not dressing up formally. On the other hand, there really is something that affects your mood by how you dress. For me, I suppose I would have been able to dress up as a banker, a clothes salesman, an insurance agent, … When you’re working with a sports jacket, a dress shirt, and a tie, your options are limited! But, if you have access to fun clothes and the ability to change the background of your video session, why not have some fun with it, if you want?

Personally, I’m not that sophisticated. Yesterday, I had a Zoom beer with friends in Cedar Falls and Omaha. I was wearing a comfortable pair of sweat pants and made sure there weren’t any crumbs on my black sweatshirt before turning the camera on.

If you have a moment, how about dropping your thoughts about dressing in the days of COVID. Have you found that you have changed how you do things? Your insights might just be inspirational to others.

Author: dougpete

The content of this blog is generated by whatever strikes my fancy at any given point. It might be computers, weather, political, or something else in nature. I experiment and comment a lot on things so don't take anything here too seriously; I might change my mind a day later but what you read is my thought and opinion at the time I wrote it! My personal website is at: http://www.dougpeterson.ca Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dougpete I'm bookmarking things at: http://www.diigo.com/user/dougpete

4 thoughts on “Dress the part?”

  1. Good morning, Doug!

    So. This is certainly an interesting topic to ponder. I have experience from before I started teaching, throughout my time teaching, and my time subsequent to teaching to reflect on, along with a couple of instances of advice and reflections that have occurred along the way.

    FIrst, I can harken back to pictures of my dad from his days teaching math and geography from when I was younger. Suit and tie. Neatly trimmed hair. Very professional and appropriate for the time. I also have pictures of him from his time in the RCAF back during WWII, decked out in his navigator’s uniform. In contrast, I recently came across a previously unseen photo of him with a huge beard and patched trousers while he was working as a surveyor for gold mining companies in northern Canada after the war but before I was born. From those examples alone we have acknowledgement that we can be influenced both my external expectations as well as the realities of practicality.

    I have two pre-teaching work experiences that both raised the question of the interplay between “work clothes” and the work itself. Through high school and the first couple of years of university, paid my way by working as a magician. Influenced, in part, by the approach taken by Canadian magician Doug Henning (and also by a bit of common sense), for the most part I eschewed the tradition of top hat and tails that had been the uniform of magicians through most of the 20th century, and gravitated towards a white sweatshirt with the Superman crest. I was in my teens, after all, at the time, and my goal was to connect with the kids I was performing for then. Plus, even dwarf rabbits are difficult to fit into a top hat. Even with magic!

    The second “pre-teaching” experience occurred at the Ontario Science Centre, during the last couple of years at University and prior to my heading off to do my teaching degree. There again, a tension arose between the connotations of “uniform” and the actual work. We all wore white lab coats as a way of being recognized on the floor — during demonstration on the various stages, and in-between while hosting visitors throughout the building. On one hand, it was a logical, easily recognized way for visitors to identify staff — and yet a good number of us were conscious that the white lab coat also connoted a certain authority that we wrestled with in working to make science approachable and fun. I will confess that I carried a good number of my hold-over magic tricks in the pockets of my coat. There were even a few days when I walked around with my realistic sponge mallet and offered kids bonks in the head. Hooray for Science!

    At the Faculty of Education, there was a sculpture in one of the stairwells that looked like the cast-off skin of a human who had shed the leathery, outer-protective layer (“identity”?) and who was therefore more vulnerable — but also better enabled to grow.

    When I started into my teaching practicum, I did the tie. I wore it to my interviews. It seemed to be expected. However, when I showed up at my school for the last-day-of-June staff meeting to meet my new colleagues, I was in the minority, for sure. I think the Principal and VP would have been wearing ties, but the fellow I sat beside quietly leaned over and said, “that’s the last time you’ll need to be wearing a tie …” I remember feeling discomfort at receiving the advice at the time — new as I was to the school and the community — but it certainly resonated with the existing tension I had experienced previously, and clicked with some thoughts I had captured at one point in the form of a poem.

    I’ve posted it on my blog at least once (I think in response to a post by Peter Skillen, when he referenced his days attending school in the UK), and am able to call it up from memory:

    I want to wear a tie.
    But if my students wore them also,
    Would the knot around their necks bind them as tightly,
    As the one around my neck,
    Binds me?

    So. After a while — within a year or two, I’d say, ties went out, and sweaters became much more practical. I even remember when my Board made a “business casual” pronouncement at some point. So, times change. I also recall, at some point, internalizing the words and sentiment of a consultant that I heard speak a couple of times, who referenced “professional clothes,” and defined them by the fact that you changed out of them when you returned home from work. That seemed to be both practical and beneficial in helping with the work-life balance.

    In recent years, I’ve had a lot of fun designing various sweatshirts to wear in place of sweaters (Minecraft, Coding, SDGs, Orange Shirt day, Anti-bullying day, micro:bits, etc.) and I have a very nice collection of those from the last few years of teaching. Certainly those became part of my “professional” wardrobe.

    I’ve done up at least two new sweatshirts since COVID began, and continue to change into my “work” clothes for webinars and meetings. I know it’s possible to do online events without getting out of pyjamas, but that’s not for me. I don’t know why I still keep all those ties in my closet — I’ve not worn more than one or two of them over the past couple of decades. Should I wear one on the 16th?


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