Here are four things teachers should keep in mind when building their wardrobe.
Dress for coverage: When you’re dressing for the day as a teacher, always look at your outfit from a students’ eye view. Do you bend over desks to help students? Do you sit in a chair and read to kindergarteners? Make sure your outfits cover everything you’d want them to in each position. Also, raise your arms like you’re writing on the board and check whether your shirt still covers your back. Clothing that shows more skin than you intend to can become quite the focal point for your students.
Dress for physical comfort: Being uncomfortable affects everything you do – your mental processing time, your memory, and your level of patience with students. With this in mind, you’ll want to avoid clothes that are scratchy or constricting. Dress in layers if the temperature in your classroom is unpredictable. Most importantly, wear comfortable shoes. You may be on your feet for seven hours – and it’s going to feel a lot longer if your feet are killing you by lunchtime.
Dress for savings and efficiency: If you’d like to avoid dry cleaning expenses or the hassle of ironing every morning, check the washing instructions of your teacher clothes before you buy them. If you’re hoping to get away with a smaller teacher wardrobe, stick with less trendy styles and low-key colors so students won’t constantly point out that you wore the same thing last week.
Dress for a psychological edge: In many ways, teaching is a performance. You need to dress so you can be “on” all day without feeling self-conscious. If you’re worried you’ve gained weight over the holidays, avoid squeezing into an outfit you’ll be tempted to tug at. You also need to balance your desire for efficiency with the teacher image you hope to project. If you want to be the teacher who wears a suit, you may end up dry cleaning after all. If it’s important to you to be a trendsetter, you won’t be comfortable rotating the same seven cardigans and four pairs of dark colored pants. And yes, ladies: if you absolutely must show up to work in heels for a psychological edge do it. But keep a spare pair of flats in your desk drawer.
Note: This advice first appeared in Larry Ferlazzo’s Education Week Q & A column on teacher attire. In what turned out to be his most-read column of last year, Larry asked a bunch of us to weigh in on guidelines for teacher attire, including teachers of the year and teachers working in other countries. We all come at the question from slightly different angles.
You can also listen to to the The BAM! Radio conversation on teacher attire with Larry Ferlazzo, Mississippi Teacher of the Year Renee Moore, and me, where we discuss what happens when teacher attire goes really, really wrong.