I am in the education program at my school, and this past semester involved my first practicum, as an assistant to a high school English class. I really struggled with what to wear on these days--how low is too low? How conservative am I supposed to be? Taking cues from the teachers at the building didn't really help, because they featured a wide varieties of styles. I have a hard time finding advice for this, because while teachers are conservative, they do not, by any means, dress professionally in the sense of a lawyer or businessperson. I was wondering if you could offer some tips on being fashionable while staying within the boundaries of what is appropriate for a high school teacher.
The topic of appropriate attire for a teacher is certainly contentious, as I found out after this post where a reader asked if a sheer blouse (with a tank under it) was acceptable for a high school teacher to wear to work. I can understand your frustration in deciding what to wear, since teachers are put in the difficult position of trying to look stylish and age-appropriate while still appearing professional and polished.
As my of my friends in your position have told me, it's especially challenging when you're young and working in a high school, since the age difference between you and your students is not very large. Your first priority in dressing should be to make sure your clothes convey a sense of professionalism to your students, their parents and other teachers, so that you will be treated with the respect shown toward older and more experienced teachers. That said, you don't need to ditch your fashionable wardrobe for dowdy separates from Chico's. Here are a few guidelines for dressing appropriately at school that I've developed with the assistance of my teacher friends:
1. If you have any thoughts that a specific article of clothing is too sexy, don't wear it. You can get into some really hot water if you show up to school in an outfit that a parent or administrator deems sexually suggestive, and you risk losing some of the respect of your students. That means no cleavage, bare shoulders, exposed bra straps, tight clothing or short skirts.
2. You're in a position of power, so avoid wearing anything that you'd lounge around in. Anything made of velour or fleece should be left at home. No sweatpants, sweatshirts, baggy t-shirts, workout gear, Uggs, Crocs, or clothing that's ripped, stained or wrinkled.
3. If you wear jeans on a casual day, they should be fairly formal looking and in near-perfect condition. Avoid jeans that are too baggy and skinny styles, and go for a dark wash with no sandblasting or kitschy details like jewels or embroidery. A trouser style or a bootcut is acceptable in my book. If you do wear jeans, make sure you compensate for the casualness by pairing them with dressier shoes and a more formal layer, like a blazer over a blouse.
Okay, so now that I've gone over the don'ts, here are a few examples of looks that I think would be perfect:
This is a very cute, young look, but your body is totally covered and the structured jacket over a button-down makes it professional enough for a school setting. From Ann Taylor Loft.
Okay, I have no idea why this Banana Republic model is dancing and footless, but I think her outfit is a good example of a basic work outfit of a bright blouse and belted trousers. You could add a cardigan or a blazer, or throw on a sweater over it if it's cold.
A printed jersey dress is another great staple to have (I'm a huge fan of wrap styles in particular). Another plus is that they can be worn in any season and they're very comfortable and forgiving. This outfit is from Ann Taylor.
Those are my tips, though I know my readers will have many more to add on. Anyone else have suggestions for Catherine?
Tuesday, January 22, 2008