Dear Ted

25th June 2004 at 01:00
I'm an NQT about to meet the new reception children - my class-to-be. What should I wear? A smart suit seems too formal

Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

Ted says

As someone who usually grabs the nearest lump of cloth out of the wardrobe, hoping it isn't a curtain, I am not exactly the style guru you may be seeking, so others will have to advise you whether the little pink tulle number is right for the occasion. But dress code is of interest, and children are certainly conscious of what teachers and others are wearing, even at an early age.

There is a great deal of hypocrisy about dress. I remember an MP once saying that if all teachers wore suits, pupil behaviour would improve substantially. Yet MPs wear suits in the House of Commons and the behaviour there is like a badly run zoo. Dress is a signal, but it is also a reflection of function, personality and preference.

Your next year's class will be most interested in the kind of person you are. The way you dress is only one part of that. Are you kind, interested in them as individuals, fun to be with, friendly and likely to do exciting things? Or are you boring, pedantic, over-fussy, nasty and unfair? What you wear won't change the way you are.

First encounters are important for young children. They make preliminary decisions about adults pretty quickly and are good at summing people up; they have to be to survive. Why not look at your wardrobe and try to think like a five-year-old meeting a new teacher.

You are right, the suit may look a bit stuffy, and your daily garb may suggest you can't be bothered to dress up a bit for them. That probably leaves some middlebrow gear that is smart, but not over the top. If you pass yourself off as an art teacher you could probably even get away with having a bacon sandwich strapped to your head.

You say Beware comedy ties I presume an all-in-one protective boiler suit with ear mufflers is out of the question on your initial visit, although I urge you to invest in some such garment before next term. You do not specify your gender, so nor shall

* when I suggest:

* something tactile (handy when soothing anxious four-year-olds);

* something distracting, although let's not go down the comedy tie road;

* wipeable shoes, capable of resisting anything from Berols to urine;

* something stretchy, to combine bending and stooping with modesty;

* something cool;

* something that can double as a visual aid if need be (a rainbow-coloured scarf, teddy bear brooch, alphabet motif shirt).

On my first day in reception in 1971 I took little of the above advice and wore a beloved Biba mini-skirt, my best suede boots and a bell-bottom sleeved, peasant-style blouse. The sleeves became entangled in the paintbrushes sticking out of the pots, spilling the contents over my boots and inviting tiny hands to explore the gap between my knees and my underwear as I bent to clean myself up.

Vicki Johnson, Isle of Wight

Set a good example

It is just as important to be smart for a reception class as for any other age phase. The way we present ourselves should set a good example for pupils, and convey the right message to colleagues and parents alike.

Reception teachers do a lot of bending and crouching, so comfort and freedom of movement are essential. Why not invest in some smart separates that you can mix and match? Loose-fitting trousers are ideal and look very smart teamed up with a neat blouse or cotton top. In the winter you can add knitwear for warmth.

I would also avoid anything that requires dry cleaning. In my experience, you can end up with all manner of things daubed on your clothing by the end of a day, so it will need to be able to withstand a lot of washing.

Lisa Ratcliffe, Southport, Merseyside

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