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.