A Tes contributor recently argued compellingly that whether you park your car forwards or backwards in the morning reveals your level of immersion in teaching. Yet, rather than keeping an eye on manoeuvres in the car park, I think there is a simpler way to work out teachers' attitude to the job: it’s about where and when you wear the clothes you buy to wear to work.
It seems to me that there are two types of sartorial approach in the staffroom among those whose choice is not restricted by the subject they teach. While some colleagues wear crossover outfits that they would happily wear in a bar, restaurant or (relatively restrained) club if necessary, others buy a new outfit every August specifically for the classroom, even though these garments may well not look out of place in a slightly funkier setting.
In my opinion, just as they compartmentalise their wardrobe, so, too, do this latter group of teachers partition their life by imposing strict boundaries between work and play.
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While not remotely questioning their professionalism, perhaps this group of costume compartmentalisers are less immersed in their work and find it easier to step away from the role. The type of person who doesn’t naturally have the urge to tell teenagers who are hanging around the bus stop to start acting responsibly perhaps needs – like an actor about to go on stage – a costume to perform their vocation. During lockdown this group quite possibly needed to dress up in a shirt and tie before they sat down at the laptop to begin their remote teaching.
What clothes say about a teacher
I consider myself part of this group in all areas of my life. For example, I wouldn’t consider riding a bike without adorning Lycra. Many of us still act as we did when we were pupils, immediately ripping off our uniforms as soon as we get in the door from school, symbolically creating a physical sign that work is over for the day. Other teachers keep the corduroy jacket on, blending their evening work into that of the daytime and adhering to the Thoreau maxim "Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes".
And while these lines were blurred during the previous lockdown – own up if you only smartly dressed your top half for Teams meetings while sitting in pyjama bottoms – the distinctions might get distinctly hazy during the upcoming festive season, particularly in parts of the country where the hospitality sector remains closed. Going to work could be the new going out, with glamorous couture being worn in the classroom by teachers desperate for a bit of sartorial sparkle.
Which leads on to one critical question that has been vexing me for ages: do PE teachers have a work tracksuit and a going-out tracksuit?
Gordon Cairns is an English and forest school teacher, based in Scotland