Dress up #SOL19 28/31

First, I put on a navy Land’s End dress. You know the type: knee-length, wide neck, 3/4 sleeve, tasteful pattern, ties around the waist. I wear this dress often and it is very teacherly. I check my reflection then go downstairs. “Do you think this looks ok?”

My husband is perplexed. “Umm… yes?”

“It’s parent-teacher conferences,” I remind him.

His face lights up with comprehension. “Oh! Right! Yes. Yes, that’s perfect for parent-teacher conferences. You’ve worn it for them before, I think. Great choice.”

We eat our breakfast, he heads up for a shower, and I get the kids out the door. After they leave, I smooth down the dress and think, I never know which tights to wear with this. And what about shoes?

I head back to our bedroom and check the mirror. The wide neck shows a bit of my bra strap. That’s the end of it. No. Not this dress. I take it off, turn to my closet and start moving the hangers.

Too dowdy. Too short. Too revealing. Maybe pants? No, not pants.

The people who come to meet me at parent-teacher conferences tonight will be diverse. They will be newcomers to Canada or born here. Some will be native English speakers; some will bring children to translate for them; some will struggle through this important conversation in a language that is not their own. Some will be White; many will not.

Some of the “parents” coming tonight will be guardians rather than biological parents. Some are single. Some will come with a partner, but the status of their partner will vary: spouse, significant other, stepparent.  They will be artists, business people, bureaucrats. Their wealth will vary. 

Some of their children find school easy, but many do not.

Each of them will walk into my room with their own cultural expectations of “teacher” and I will or won’t live up to that pre-formed image. But – and here’s the crux of the matter – I really want our talk tonight to focus on their children: on what their child is achieving and what their child can achieve, on how we can work together to help their child reach new goals. I do not want my clothes to challenge anyone’s notion of teacher. I don’t want them to notice my clothes at all.

Hmm… I stare at my closet, perfectly adequate on almost every other day of the school year.

My thoughts cycle through my various students, culling what I know about them, trying to imagine what their parents see in their mind’s eye when they hear “teacher.” How can I honour my students and their parents tonight? How can my presentation of myself speak to them of respect?

Finally, I choose a knee-length black skirt, blue Oxford shirt and black tights. I hesitate between boots and pumps. Pumps are culturally safer but it’s going to rain. I glance at my watch. I really need to get to school. Practicality wins: boots it is.

I check the mirror. “Honey?” I call, “How do I look?”

He comes in, looks at me and smiles: “Like a teacher.”


Now I’m ready to spend the evening not talking about me.



18 thoughts on “Dress up #SOL19 28/31

  1. Love your concluding lines! Your process of selection so resonates with me. Picking my clothes is the hardest thing I do when I pack a suitcase for PD travel. I often wish I had a uniform… (LOL Did I really say that?) I also ask: How recently did I wear this in that place? Will anyone remember? What about social media photos? What about their weather?


  2. I like the way you go from thinking about your outfit to thinking about whom you are dressing for and ultimately clarifying that the point is precisely to not draw attention to yourself. The whole thought process offers a generous window on the kind of mental math we as teachers can go through to arrive at the outcome we are really aiming for.


  3. I was amused to read that I am not the only one who has been conflicted about what to wear to the parent-teacher conferences. Early in my teaching career, when I complained to my then-husband that I had nothing stylish to wear on back-to-school night, he replied, “You are a teacher. You don’t have to look good. You need to look pleasant.” I found that funny and true.


  4. I liked the line, “I really want our talk tonight to focus on their children:…” It didn’t cross my mind how clothes can distract. My wardrobe is basically a half dozen pairs of khakis. Pretty boring.


  5. Love how this slice pulls us in with the struggle of what to wear and then slowly guides us into your work with kids and parents. Sometimes, an outfit is so much more than an outfit. Beautiful piece not about clothes but about the human connection we always try to make with kids and families. Thanks for sharing!


  6. I can tell what a dedicated teacher you are when you think about how the clothes you wear might impact the parents and families you’ll meet with. Thinking about their emotional needs above your fashion concerns is one of the an example of one of many small decisions thoughtful teachers make every day. I love this. Thanks for caring so much!


  7. I LOVE how you started out making sure you looked okay (and your husband’s sweet comment “like a teacher”), then shifted the purpose of the piece to be about the kids and their families. So VERY teacherly, as we are all here for the kids!!


  8. I didn’t realize how much I was doing this until you wrote about it here. You’re very right though, there is the struggle to combat a dozen preconceptions of “teacher” and what we wear has some impact. I’m also noticing how you imply the power teachers hold, the power over children and their futures, and the way people of different backgrounds will come prepared to negotiate that power. By being careful about what you wear it seems to me that you are attempting to neutralize the power dynamic and shift the attention on to the student – but is it possible in all cases to really neutralize that power? At the very least we can try to look as non-threatening as possible… am I waffling?


  9. Your slice today is similar to Radutti’s. He shares about the self-doubt that teachers sometimes go through. It also seems as if you are being judged in a way, like attending an interview, your appearance has to be right for you and your audience. Thanks for sharing what we struggle with especially at an International school, with many cultures and religions present.


  10. Dressing for conferences (or any school function!) can be so tricky!! You are so right. I hope you felt confident all day and evening and that your conferences went wonderfully! I’m so glad I’m not the only one that struggles with this, but it sounds like you made the perfect choice! 🙂


  11. It’s a hard day to dress for! Sounds like you nailed it. I think every teacher in the building should wear a shirt with the school logo and a pair of jeans. Then nobody has to think too much about it!


  12. Wow! You put a lot of thought into your clothing choices today! I totally get it though and it sounds like your choice was absolutely perfect!


  13. I completely understand the closet not feeling adequate for the occasion. And my office mate would have teased me in a black bottom with a blue oxford shirt because that was her Catholic school uniform. I liked the repetition of the interaction with your husband.


  14. This slice shows something that we all women have to endure. For guys it’s kind of simple. Just choose a pair of pants and a shirt. blue, brown, black. Nobody notice. I am sure your children’s parents or tutors love you the way you are and the way you care for their children’s success. PS: your slice reminded of Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She has an article that’s called “Why Can’t a Smart Woman Love Fashion?”. I know in your case is more about being respectful with the different cultures, but I thought that women have to face this dilemma more than men.


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