Why in the world bait geography teachers for their underdeveloped sense of dress?

23rd March 2012 at 00:00
So what if style doesn't top the agenda for the `cardigans and corduroys' brigade?

I am quite fed up with the abuse that is directed at geography teachers and the clothes that we wear. "Dressed like a geography teacher" is the sort of unpleasant retort you hear all too often.

The insults went even further recently, when the dress of a leading rock group guitarist was likened to that of a "transvestite geography teacher". And even this splendid journal's "My best teacher" piece included Professor Ian Stewart, a brilliant geographer himself, describing "geography teacher clothes" as "cardigans and corduroys".

We do not hear similarly disparaging remarks about RE teachers or science teachers or even, for goodness' sake, maths teachers. Do they not have similar questions of a sartorial nature to answer?

And now behavioural scientists claim a teacher's dress sense can affect pupils' attitude and performance. Smart dressers, they say, are more likely to motivate and inspire.

Rubbish! My most inspirational teacher wore a well-worn tweed jacket with leather elbow pads. And yes, quite coincidentally, he was a geography teacher.

But certainly, as a teacher, I have observed some terribly-inappropriate sights in our schools, including a colleague from the art department wearing a Duran Duran suit, a PE teacher wearing, deliberately, odd- coloured socks and a music teacher sporting a Tweety Pie tie.

I have seen tattoos, flashy earrings, low-cut V-necks, skinny jeans and just-long-enough skirts. And that was just the men!

In-service days are particularly painful for this keen fashion observer and commentator. Headteachers and training shoes, I am sorry to declare, just don't work.

And, while we are on the subject, we should all be worrying about our online appearances. With just about every school having its own website, it's now important to have an appropriate image in cyberspace.

In America, I was informed (I'm not sure why), that there are companies which will scour the internet for information about you and use it to create a simple profile with appropriate ideas for dress and image. "Wrestle back control of your online self," the website advises and "let us help you manage your online reputation".

I was able to pass on that, but in the interests of educational research I did delve into a book titled How to Dress for Success. The book's bottom line is that we should all be considering important questions such as: "what do your clothes say about you?"

So do young people respond more positively to what they recognise as style and sophistication? Do the clothes we wear have a direct effect on pupils' perceptions of our ability? Do better-dressed teachers get promoted more quickly?

I don't, unfortunately, have the answers. But I will conclude with a final thought. Even if badly-dressed geography teachers are more interested in substance than style, we do fulfil a useful function: we make everyone else, just about, look funky.

John Greenlees teaches geography.

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