Parrot Fashion

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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We know that teaching is a wearing occupation, but does it really matter what you wear?

‘They’ say that you are what you wear, so in that case, some days I’m the Gruffalo, others Spiderman and if the situation demands it, then I’m a Roman Emperor with all the trimmings. It has also been known that I turn up for work (on separate occasions) as a dictionary, a giant banana and a parrot. All quite normal …

Tear and Wear:

On the whole, making my wardrobe choices each morning mean ‘dressing like a primary teacher’, because that’s what I do. But this doesn’t involve a hard hat, although that might come in useful some days, nor does it involve a fluorescent jacket even though it’s handy for playground duty, but choosing what to wear does involve some tough choices.

What exactly is a male primary teacher supposed to look like?

There isn’t a manual to refer to and the last time I looked, ASDA weren’t pushing a ‘Back to School’ uniform exclusively for male primary teachers. I wish they were, because that would make life so much easier. Instead, you go with what you think is appropriate and this normally falls back on personal stereotypes, or looking to see what other staff in the school have thrown on!

Wear and Tear:

Dressing the part is important if you want to avoid a dressing down by:

  1. senior management
  2. children and
  3. parents.

Everyone has got an opinion on what’s fashionable and what’s deemed appropriate or ‘right’ for the job, and no one seems to be shy in coming forwards when it comes to saying whether you are ‘very smart’ or ‘a right scruff’-  with plenty of choice words in between! If you are a male primary teacher, then a good pair of hard-wearing ‘troosers’ is essential. These need to be PVA proof, Pritt Stick proof, glitter proof, felt-tip pen proof, poster paint proof, snot proof, vomit proof and in fact, just 4-11 year-old resistant!

White trousers are therefore completely off limits! Blacks, blues, greys and browns are battle ready. Forget corduroys too – everything gets stuck in those grooves. Its cotton or wool, but no jeans and steer clear of polyester slacks because they just shine after three weeks and make you sweat in the summer!

Make Your Mark?

Not for the first time, I have wondered aimlessly around Tesco’s after school, obliviously wearing glue and glitter and sometimes not always in the most appropriate places; but this goes with the job.

These are my battle scars and my fellow customers need to understand this is my life; staring and smirking isn’t big and it isn’t clever. My life is glitter and glue and these are school marks I’m proud of.

Shirt and necktie are the order of the day for most male teachers, perhaps with a cardigan, light-weight jumper, and/or jacket. Some mavericks go for bow ties and waistcoats but only a few can pull this off. Real mavericks go for a loose tie or even no tie at all. Extreme mavericks will wear a T-shirt with a vogue message – outstanding.

Old School Tie:

One thing is a given, if you are male and teach primary, then a collection of ‘fun’ ties is unofficially compulsory, unless you teach year 6. Tread carefully here – fun ties can also make you officially ‘sad’. I have an impressive collection of fun ties and these go with those other compulsory essentials: ‘fun socks’. I’ve got Bart Simpsons round my ankles and emoji’s round my neck, but don’t judge me, this is who I am, this is what I do.

Children like my ‘Muppets Monday’ tie just as much as they look forward to my ‘Winnie the Pooh’ Wednesday socks. This says “I am a fun teacher and even though I have a dreadful cold, a meeting after work and a pile of marking, I’m not going to give up on you and my socks and tie will get us through it.”

Wearing fun attire might be seen by some as not dressing as a ‘professional’, but if the ‘childers’ get a kick out of wondering what fun tie I will wear tomorrow, then I don’t want to the ‘fun police’ arresting our sense of humour. The Big Friendly Giant would say “they is just a bunch of bootbogglers” and he’d be right, not left.

Smart Role Models:

Most male primary teachers I know tend to dress pretty much the same, and they do so because they know what fits best and what passes as school fashion. They don’t dress inappropriately, they dress as they should and match the learning environment full of children who don’t want to be taught by a ‘suit’, but someone who makes them feel comfortable in their own skin; ‘corporate’ is a barrier.

Children know what we should wear and what’s not right or up to the job: they have an eye for it and we should trust them. If I put my football shirt and tracksuit bottoms on, the students know its P.E., but if I dress-up too much then my class gets suspicious and think I’m off for an interview somewhere and the classroom can get tense.

As long as we are clean, neat and tidy, should we dress according to our activities. Why worry? I’m not even going to attempt to comment on the wardrobe decisions of my other colleagues in schools …

What you wear sends a very powerful message to those around you, and it can communicate what you think about the job. Next week, I’m ‘Where’s Wally?’ again. See if you can find me …

John Dabell writes for Teacher Toolkit.

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