Friday, August 2, 2013

Theory 11: The only thing worse than teacher fashion is substitute teacher fashion.

A few years ago, I faced reality: the recession. Forced to leave daily domestic bliss behind, I opted to avoid returning to my old career—retail banking—and opted to test the waters of public education. I “signed up to be a sub” in my hometown (not the district where I now teach).

In last week’s post, Teachers are the most entertaining people on the planet, I explained the ways in which teachers engage their audiences. One crucial element in school performance is wardrobe, thus today’s theory regarding fashion. Teachers try. They really do. But keep in mind that ours are not the most lucrative paying careers. And, subs, per day, gross around half what first year teachers do, which ain’t much.

I sat through a long day of substitute teacher training in the top of a “high rise” downtown. The old building appeared to have run out of bricks. When I stepped off the elevator into a 7-foot-tall-hallway, I felt like Gulliver.  The Lilliputian trainer explained that subs grossed $67 a day and that, after taxes, I’d net about $50. Plus (yay me), paychecks fell on the 25th of the month following the month of the day you subbed. For example: Work August 1-3 and gross $201. Net $150 on September 25.  Really? I felt my soul leave my body and hover over the Target-shirted, Belk-capri’d, Yellow-Box sandaled crowd. The tiny man then explained how we needed to dress professionally. He warned that we might have to rush out the door to a job so he advised we lay out our clothes the night before. Then he forced us to watch a gruesome video on blood born pathogens. I assume—and hope I don’t offend anyone by saying this—that many subs come to the job because they need money. I certainly did. I spent $72 on a drug test, background check, and fingerprints. I heard “professional” and I saw “blood born pathogens” and I thought about my substitute teacher wardrobe “keep it covered and keep it cheap.”  I called Delicious (who taught for 34 years) to gripe. She laughed and advised, “Just go to Wal-Mart and get two pair of black britches. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes. Bug, think about what your old teachers and subs used to wear!”

The past: Let us recall some of our favorite teacher duds from days gone by.

Coaching shorts: Coaching shorts made me nervous. There was plenty of polyester around back then. Why couldn’t manufacturers give those men two or three more inches? I lived in fear of my beloved teachers striking The Thinker pose and scarring me for life. 

 Jumpers: If you work with someone who stills pulls on a denim jumper, call TLC’s show, “What Not To Wear.” Please.  Why would anyone lay that much denim across her body? It’s heavy, hot, and flattens all the wrong parts.  And, no matter how hard you try, you’ll never find the right shoes to go with a jumper.

Sweaters that Tell a Story: Common Core standards mandate that teachers use informational text in the classroom. Graphic novels stitched onto wool do not count.
The present: When you wear an outfit to school, it is tarnished. Think Seinfeld’s “book in the bathroom” episode. Teachers and subs are surrounded by dust, ink, paint, chalk, toner, throw-up, etc. And snacks on the fly are messy.

When I subbed, I decided to live the experience full force and not spend a dime. I wore cheap flood-length black britches and v-neck long-sleeved t-shirts from a large retailer. The shirts became pajamas.  The pajamas became dust rags. That’s a solid deal for a $7 “blouse.” It’s the next best thing to disposable clothing. I did not wear a vest. You’re welcome. I haven’t evolved much now that I’m a regular teacher, but I have learned some tricks from my peers.

I taught high school with a woman who “supported” every club in school by buying its t-shirts. Who can admonish a teacher who is rooting for the track team and fundraising for the drama club while fighting cancer, Alzheimer’s, and bullies every week? What a giver. She accessorized with a bedazzled lanyard and I.D. badge.

My buddy wears his church clothes to school every Monday. He just lays the whole outfit in a chair. God first. Laundry second.

 A co-worker confessed that she buys no-iron clothes because sometimes she sleeps in them. Teachers are tired folks.

White sandals. Just don’t. Forget about the calendar. White sandals are always wrong.
Cardigans with a modest sleeveless top are a must. Students in? Sweater on. Students out? Sweater off. Layers combat hot flashes, cold meeting rooms, and exposure to the elements via fire drills. Most importantly, an extra layer keeps you from over-revealing middle-aged body parts.

No joke. I’d like to apologize in advance to my colleagues for my dull wardrobe and
promise my students that I do wash my clothes (actually, Tall Child does). I do not wear the same pants every day – I just wear the same pants every day.

Here’s my back to school wardrobe list:
2 pair black slacks
2 pair gray slacks
1 pair dark jeans – NOT tight, unless I “over tailgate” on fall weekends
5 solid sleeveless tops
5 solid cardigans
School t-shirt. Go team!
Ah, the mixing and matching. Get excited!
I try to live it up through my earrings but by January I usually wear one of  
    two pair: gold loops or silver hoops.
My $10 watch is gold and silver so I wear it every day. Bonus!
Brown flats (man-made, Earth friendly material) Hey, I’m a giver, too.
Black flats
Crocs. Yes. Sorry. They’re animal print. That counts for something, right?

I’m in the first week of the school year and had some down time during orientation today. So, knowing I had to write this post tonight, I quizzed my freshmen students, “What advice would you give teachers on how to dress?”
Here is some of what I heard:

Don’t shop at an old person store.
Don’t wear too much foundation and no mascara.
Yes, please wear lipstick!
Look professional. Wear skirts.
But skirts don’t go with nurse shoes.
Socks and sandals make me sick.
Don’t mix patterns.
Too many clashing colors look bad.
I had one teacher who dressed like Princess Diana, with long dresses and short hair.
Don’t wear old lady perfume.
Don’t dress like students.

I interrupted, “What about the male teachers?” I heard:

I hate when the men teachers are all baggy. Tuck your shirt in and look proper!
Wear khakis.
And Polo’s.
Don’t wear tennis shoes. Wear dress shoes.
We don’t want to see chest hair. I mean, we can’t see it, but we can see the little dots under the shirt.

I remarked, “Wow. Ya’ll really have high expectations!”

One student consoled,Well, you should take a lazy day sometimes. You can wear tennis shoes on Fridays.”

Sweater Vest Romeo looking snazzy (and ready for golf) on Friday

Hey, we educators (subs and full-time) are doing the best we can!  Most of us are parents, hustling to drop off our own children and hurry to work in time to care for other people’s children. Looks are not a priority when you are tasked with educating the next generation. Teachers hate tardiness and we are, by nature, unselfish. This brings me to Theory 12: Bicycle guys are selfish and make other people late for work.

See you next post! Until then, think outside the barn.

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Also, visit or my website to read about my book, The Eye of Adoption, my short story, Field Day, and my collection of essays for parents and teachers, Parents, Stop and Think.

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Just thinking outside the barn...

Just thinking outside the barn...