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Work On Your “Withitness” and Start the School Year Off Right

Do you remember how important wearing the right outfit was for the first day of school when you were in the seventh grade? Your decision was based on peer pressure, parental monitoring and your own desire to look cool. Now that you are the teacher, how important is your “teacher look?”

The “withitness” dress code

Teacher “withitness” is a phrase coined by Jacob Kounin many years ago and it starts, at a very basic level, with how you dress. Teachers walk that fine line between looking too conservative and too hip. New hires are told to look more like teachers than students. Some districts have a teacher dress code prohibiting certain items like capri pants and tank tops. The bottom line on teacher attire is one word—professional. All students, even young ones, judge their teachers on first impressions and you only get one chance to make a good first impression!  

So what should teachers wear to work? The answer to this question depends on the school’s culture. In many schools, male teachers are expected to wear dress slacks or khakis, a shirt with a collar and a tie. Females wear conservative skirts, dresses or dress slacks, with nice blouses, sweaters, vests or jackets. Teachers of young children need to wear clothes that are washable and allow for working with student activities on the floor. Physical education teachers and coaches need appropriate sportswear. Flip-flops, shorts, jeans, t-shirts with slogans and revealing garments are simply not professional.

Classroom “withitness” tips for the first day

A teacher’s wardrobe is only the start of “withitness.” Add to that everything a teacher does to know what’s going on in the room and to make everything in the classroom run smoothly. Your level of organization from the first minute of the first day of the new school year will set the tone for the entire year. Teachers are on stage in front of their students every day and need confidence to feel “together.” Besides clothes, what helps you outwardly project this together factor and win students over from the first day of school? Below are some tried-and-true strategies.

1. Work in your classroom a few days before the students arrive. Arrange the desks and work areas so that there are good traffic patterns for student movement in and out of the room. Plan for how the students will find their seats on the first day.

2. Arrive early on the first day of student attendance and check email for last-minute announcements.

3. Have something for students to do as soon as they arrive in the room. Post this assignment on the board or screen and get students working immediately.

4. Plan ways to get to know the students. The first assignment can be a get-acquainted one with an interest inventory to be completed.

5. Let the students know who you are. Share your credentials, your recent professional development, or a hobby.

6. Don’t hesitate to script out what you will say to students on the first day. Use a clipboard or big notecard to remind yourself of all the announcements that need to be made.

7. Create a classroom management plan with rules, corrective actions, and positives and be ready to teach it on the first day of class. You may involve students in class meetings to get buy-in to for the management plan.

8. Know where to turn if you don’t know the answer to a question. It’s always good to know the teacher next door.

9. Welcome all students and be business-like. Set a positive tone in the classroom.

10. Dress for the occasion. As the school year begins, you will be introduced at parent open houses. Wear career clothes to these events, just as you would wear career clothes to an interview.

As schools re-open this fall, teachers face the results of budget cuts—larger classes and fewer resources. When times are difficult, being professional is even more important. It is our job to be well-dressed, organized and prepared for our work in classrooms. Teachers need to project a professional image to students, colleagues, administrators, parents and the community. Do you remember one of your own teachers who was effective because of the “withitness” factor? Become that teacher and be a role model for your students.

Dr. Mary C. Clement is a professor of teacher education at Berry College, northwest of Atlanta, Georgia. Her research on the hiring of new teachers has received national recognition.

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