Can Brightening Your Attire Brighten a Classroom?

Jessi Worde - Second Year Teaching Fellow at Van Buren Middle School, Albuquerque NM

The two words I most dread hearing when it comes to wardrobe requirements are “business casual.”  These words conjure a vision of clone-ish drones dressed in “dry-clean only” slacks and cowl-neck sweaters.  It’s not that I don’t see the merits of professional dress.  It’s hard to exercise authority or effectively manage behavior in a tube dress, or in a Juicy Couture track suit with “sweet” emblazoned across your fanny.  Students do see professional dress attire as worthy of more respect.  It is clear to students that one’s own regard and thought for one’s appearance is strongly correlated to that individual’s ability to act with authority.  Thus, far from pooh-poohing the impact one’s clothing choice can have on one’s work, I take my wardrobe choices seriously.

That said, my closet is organized by ROYGBIV parameters.  Anything not contributing to “the rainbow effect” is banished to a far corner of my closet.  My fashion inspirations include (in no particular order): Clarissa Darling, Claudia Kishi, Hollywood Montrose, Rainbow Brite, Pippi Longstocking and Ms. Frizzle.  Thus, since joining Citizen Schools, it has been a personal goal of mine to expand the paradigm of business casual to include more colors.

Last Thursday one of my students gave me a shout-out at opening circle for “always wearing cute outfits.”  The band teacher is perplexed when I’m not wearing some bright hue of knee-highs.  The special education Language Arts teacher has started wearing bright accessories too—and she looks amazing!  At the beginning of the year, before school day staff learned my name, they knew me by my colors.  When I’m on lunch duty, students ask me where I shop and I’m happy to tell them they have total access to where I get my clothes—thrift stores!

Now, it’s true that wearing eye-catching colors can be distracting to students who are not used to such distinctive garb.  When I had my own team last year I had to designate specific times when they could ask questions about my outfits—during snack and at sign-out.  Soon students were policing each other and if a student were to call out during a math lesson (as one did) “Why is your skirt Teletubby green?” peers would quickly redirect that student, “You can’t ask her that now!  Only at snack or at sign-out!”  When I wondered if I was foolish for continuing to express myself stylistically, and to remain true to my colorful lifestyle, my friend Chris reassured me, “The more children are exposed to uniqueness at a young age, the better.”  I like to think he’s right.

My last word of advice would be, while you are busy exploding the parameters of biz caz with bright and vibrant colors, be sure not to offend those with a predilection for earth tones and neutrals.  Keep in mind that for every peacock there is a gray dove.  For every rainbow unicorn there is a brown bear.  For every butterfly there is a moth.  As in nature, so in wardrobe: all colors are created equal.  This is why cherry red, mustard yellow, hot pink, lime green, electric blue and neon chartreuse must become the compatriots of slate gray, jet black, muted mahogany, dusty ecru, eggshell white, and pale brown.

Have you ever attempted to add more color to your life/work? What was the impact?