How important are the clothes you wear? Some people would say they are very important. Others would say that they aren't important at all. For teachers, I think the answer is somewhere in between.
The interesting thing about this topic is that you will find teachers with opinions on both extremes of the question and everywhere in between. There is no clear answer. Here are some thoughts:
What you wear affects how people think of you. If we didn't think that clothes affected what people thought us then we wouldn't spend so much money buying new clothes every year. Whether you think this is fair or not, people judge us based on our outfits. The same is true for teachers. What you wear has an affect on your students opinions of you, even if just for that day. Are clothes everything when it comes to what other people think? Definitely not. Other things about us almost certainly mean more. But I am a convinced that clothes do have some affect.
What you wear affects your opinion of yourself. According to an article in the New York Times, the clothes we wear can affect how we think of ourselves and the way we act. If we feel like we are looking good or cool, then we will have a different attitude than if we were wearing something that we think makes us look bad. In the same way, if we are wearing something that we thinks makes us look professional, then most likely we will act professionally (and vice versa).
Your influence on your students is more important than your comfort. One of the biggest arguments for not putting any restrictions on what employees wear to work is that they will be more comfortable, and thus more productive. Companies like Google have become famous for allowing jeans and a relaxed dress code. So why not apply the same thinking to teachers, right?
Hold on a second. I don't think that the same logic can be applied. Working in a professional environment around other adults who are left to work on their own projects is far different from an adult supervising thirty children who would rather not be working. The respect that students have for their teachers can directly affect their motivation for working. In a company, the motivation for employees is to be productive enough to make money and keep their jobs. These are two far different situations.
The best style for teachers to wear is business casual. An article on about.com described business casual for men as "a shirt with a collar such as a casual shirt, a polo shirt or a golf shirt worn with pants whether khakis, Dockers, or similar good looking brands. In this environment, you will only rarely see suits, ties, and dress shirts." This means that you want to look nice, but you don't have to go over the top and be extremely formal, either.
For women, business casual means "casual skirts, dresses, pants and blouses. In general, denim, spandex, sweatshirts and pants, t-shirts, exercise clothing, sundresses, and sandals are inappropriate in a business casual workplace." The same point about being too formal that applies to men applies to women as well. Too fancy (or too tight or revealing for that matter) is not a good idea either.
So, does it mean that you have no chance of being respected or being successful if you don't dress professionally as a teacher? No, of course not. It is possible to dress like a crazy person and still get results. However, I believe in giving myself the best chance to succeed. So, teachers, give a little attention to the way you dress for work. You could be improving your chances for success.
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