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Monday, 28 November 2011

Dressing like a teacher

When planning, assessment, target setting and the like begin to pile over me, my coping mechanism kicks in and I focus unswervingly on the most trivial and unimportant aspects of my teacher identity. Recently, this has manifested in a complex diagnostics of my outfit choices.

I’m a new teacher, fresh-faced and brimming with naive, bumbling inexperience, so the need to appear confident, competent and comfortable figures highly in my daily wardrobe ritual. Which style of dress will best conceal the fact that beneath my stoic, placid face, my limbs are flailing maniacally in a doggy-paddle towards the holidays?

Upon my emergence from my bedroom on the morning of my first day in school, a housemate described my appearance as ‘like a confused social worker’. My smart creamyish trousers combined with the blue short sleeved shirt – the look completed with brown casual shoes – seems to have reflected the dissonant panic of my mental state rather than the smart/casual ideal-type that I was aiming for.

After a day when I felt my behaviour management had slipped, my next move was to wear progressively more authoritarian clothing. From the mildly camp flourishes of my floral collars way back in the first week of September, I shifted gradually into monochrome by about the fourth week. The children’s appraisal was that I looked sad and as I reflect on what they must have seen through the classroom window at lunch time – as they peeped through from the playground and saw their teacher in black trousers, a grey shirt, black-framed glasses, and him being huddled nihilistically over the computer reading Guardian articles and eating a carrot salad – who can blame them?

That’s not the man I want to be, I thought.

I feel comfortable now as the first term slides towards its terminus. Some of the other teachers have now seen my true self in all its gormless, impression-making, silly glory and I feel I have invested enough in the teacher identity that I can experiment a little bit. It started with baby steps. My socks were the first to change – what began as tiny black sacks over my feet now ressemble tiny technicolour sheaths in the artistic style of Mondrian or occasionally, when I’m really feeling transgressive, Pollock. This last week I even had mismatched socks, one of them adorned with the comic book superhero Ironman, the other emblazoned with quiant pink bicycles and the word ‘AMSTERDAM’ reaching around like an anklet.

My current dilemma is a binary choice, where there can be seemingly no compromise. There are two thinks I like – chunky expressive knitwear and bold-branded sportswear. On the one occasion that I wore my bright green XXL chunky knit cardigan over my Nike tee, I caught my reflection in a window and nearly vomited on myself, so stupid I looked. Each style carries a desirable symbolic message and I don’t know which to prioritise. The chunky knits have won me compliments from other staff, who describe how relaxed and cosy I look. The kids like it too – when we do circle time and I perch myself beside them, they react as though Barney the Dinosaur himself has arrived to deliver them a half hour of safe sentimental sing-songs. I like the ‘Earth Mother’ type that the chunky knits cultivate. In contrast, I also like the sportswear. In my tracksuit and trainers I am the action man – the lively teacher starjumping and Charlestonning (yes, this happened) his way through the curriculum, as if the children’s heart rate was synonymous with their academic attainment. Being the sports-type makes me look like the sparky newby, the energetic livewire. But I can’t be both. Barney doesn’t wear Adidas Hi Tops.

Anyway, better get on with the marking…

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