Those of you of a certain age will remember “Fernando’s Hideaway”, a “bit” that Billy Crystal did on Saturday Night Live. His celebrity interviews always included something like this: “It doesn’t matter how you feel… it’s how you look. And baby… you look marvellous”.1
This has a lot to do with teaching — now, more than ever.
Teachers want to be thought of as professionals, for the simple reason that we are professionals. (I’d like to think that we are the world’s second oldest profession.)
I’ll paraphrase the Professional Standards Councils of Australia,2 when I say that teachers:
- have special knowledge and skills derived from research, education and training at a high level; we apply this in the interest of others
- are governed by — and adhere to — codes of ethics, and profess commitment to competence, integrity and morality, altruism and the promotion of the public good within our expert domain
- are accountable to those served and to society;
- hold beliefs about our conduct as professionals. We uphold the principles, laws, ethics and conventions of the teaching profession as a way of practice.
In addition to our professional conduct and ethics, we owe it to our constituents — students, parents and the general public — to look like professionals.
Now, more than ever, optics count.
It’s unfortunate that we are frequently judged on appearance. It can be difficult to command respect if we don’t look the part. Jeans, T-shirts and sweat pants should not be part of our teaching wardrobe. How can we command respect if we’re dressed for lounging at home or raking leaves? I think that male teachers should wear a tie and have a jacket. I understand that in the lab many of us will wear a lab coat3 — that’s okay — we need to. But when we walk down the hall or attend a meeting or talk to parents, we don a blazer. Our shoes should be polished. (I’ll leave it to female teachers to decide what is appropriate for their attire for an educational environment.)
At a minimum, our attire should be at least one step up from our students. If teenagers are required to wear a uniform — with pride in their school — then the same should apply to us. We must set a good example.
This year, I plan to bring brushes, rags and shoe polish to my Mentor Group — and show the boys how to put a spit shine on their — uniform-mandated — black dress shoes.
Teachers can’t have it both ways. If we want respect — we need to begin by looking like we deserve it.