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Appearance: Why It Does Matter
Have you ever thought about how you're presenting yourself in the classroom? I have had several instances of a parent opening up to me during a teacher-parent conference about how their student had difficulty in another teacher’s room in our school the previous year. This was not due to the teacher's lack of knowledge, but because the teacher’s demeanor or dress made the student feel either disliked or uncomfortable. As I look back, in every instance of this occurring, the teacher being spoken about was a well-seasoned educator I knew to have high teaching skills. The problem, every time, was the teacher’s demeanor and appearance turned off the student.
As we experienced teachers grow into the strengths our of classroom management and master the knowledge of our grade, we cannot afford to lose how we present ourselves to our students or in the public eye. We are representing the education profession. The more years we teach, the more years we need to take even greater care to guard that perception.
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How Are You Representing Yourself?
Teaching is an exhausting, often fifty-plus hours a week in the classroom. Yet, we can ill afford to let that show on our faces. Take a look at your relaxed facial demeanor in the privacy of your own home. Do the corners of your mouth involuntarily turn downward when relaxed? Perhaps because of this when you are monitoring student engagement they think you are angry, even intimidating. This is how I felt regarding my high school Algebra instructor. Not so with my English teacher, who exuded friendliness even when passing back papers.
Try this: Instead of letting your top and bottom teeth be so relaxed they don’t touch each other, make them touch. This should make a less downward curve of your face. What people see and perceive of you is their reality whether it is your intention or not. Your enthusiastic smile sells that idea that you truly do want to impact the lives of your students in a positive way. Author and thirty-five year educator, Hal Urban, states in one of his books, “Hard work and dedication are not exclusive of having fun." A smile is the beginning of that fun. Teachers’ smiles inform students that ours is a caring career.
Dress & Appearance
Yet your smile is only the initiation of your climb to greater heights of professional respect. I once mentored a student teacher who could not engage the students because of her appearance. She arrived daily with greasy hair, and it made a definite statement. It said, “I don’t believe a current hairstyle or my graying hair should matter to you if it doesn’t matter to me." Her clothing was always dark hues--grays and browns on crooked sweaters. No matter how talented she was, she was presenting an image of herself that was unprofessional as well as dull and uninteresting to my middle school students.
Next, we move from your mirror to your closet. Male teachers: No, you don’t have to wear a tie every day, but give everyone a break from your pastel, short sleeve dress shirts. Bright, rich, and deep or vivid colors, appropriate to the classroom, attract and engage your learners. This applies to the ladies, as well. Even if you teach PE, gentlemen, too, need to exude neatness as well as updated shirts and pressed slacks to go with that new enthusiastic smile. The effort is greater the closer one gets to retirement, but the pay-off is respect, respect, respect.
Ladies, especially the seasoned educators, are you in need of an updated makeup routine? Even a new shade of lipstick (what, no lipstick?) may be needed. Consider adding new accessories to accent your blazers. The days of cutesy “teacher" necklaces with wood beads and blocks of the current holiday are so over. Smart blazers, light or heavy weight depending or your climate add that touch of professional class when coupled with accessories such as smart earrings and a necklace.
This may seem trivial to some readers, but when students walk in our door, as we try to connect with them and initiate that relationship, our appearance and demeanor is a huge part of that. My third graders got a kick out of checking out my latest manicure color as much as my sixth graders. Whatever the method, reel and hook them in with your smile,your dress, your kind and caring ways just as much as your teaching mastery to keep their desire to learn a "given" your classroom.
- Hal Urban. "Lesson #1: Good teachers share one special quality." from Catholic Education Resource Center (CERC).