The Reason for Low Test Scores is Teacher Clothes

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If you have followed my writings, you know that I struggle with fashion. I hate it, as a matter of fact, though with proper guidance I clean up well.  But I think I’m in a better place now than I was in September when I prayed for Carson Kressley to come and take me to 5th Avenue even if it meant that someone on reality TV got to laugh at my transformation.

I’m grateful, in part, to the lady at Banana Republic who took my coupons and came back with clothes. I’m not saying this was easy—I refused to let her put me in the size that she said fit, if only because it gave me an atomic wedgie of the proportion reserved for 80’s movies where the nerd got skewered on the flagpole. We don’t allow atomic wedgies these days—zero tolerance for bullying. As such, I refuse to be bullied by my own clothes—I’ll wear them slightly oversized.

I have improved in my ability to look at fashion. I’m in a place where I can now look in the mirror and determine if an outfit works or not even though I really don’t match colors well. I can’t, on a good day, place salmon in the color wheel and when called upon to choose colors for my bathroom, I redecorated using the colors of nature—yellow and green. It looked nothing like nature—it looked like it was a hangover job done by the marketing guy from Sprite.

So, I plagiarize a lot.  I’m not above looking at someone’s well put together purple sweater, realizing that I have a purple sweater sitting in a bin that could well see the light of day.  In fact, that’s how I chose my outfit today. And I seem to be getting by.

But there’s a larger disruption going on in the field of education today, something very wrong indeed. It’s lowering test scores and distracting students…It might be too late to save us, in which case we should just pack it up and declare Finland the winner in all things education. The problem, in my mind, isn’t the achievement gap. It’s…

Teacher clothes.

They’re horrible. If I think teacher clothes are an issue–zero fashion me–then there must be a disturbance in the force. When fashion is so…unique…that even I am distracted, I can say with data correlation that it most definitely affects student achievement. I couldn’t do a math paper if I had the opportunity to stare at my instructor’s Rudolph Christmas tie with the LED blinking nose.

I went to a conference recently. My favorite thing to do at teacher conferences is to look at teacher clothes.  It makes it tough to learn about, say, vocabulary or classroom management when there are so many bright and shiny things to capture my attention.

Teacher clothes have been the subject of jokes for 50 years.  The schoolmarm in the a-line skirt brandishing a ruler over the cowering students image that won’t go away. Every time I look around a room full of teachers, I see the following:

  • Power suits.  These are cool.  I suspect teachers with power suits came over from Corporate America seeking to change the world or work fewer hours. Since teaching is actually a 24/7 job, they probably suspect they made a mistake, but still believe in world-changing, so they hang on. That is, until their first second-grader sneaks his second chocolate milk and barfs all over the power suit. That’s $800 down the drain.
  • Cardigans.  These can be done well, but more often than not, they represent the repeat syndrome.  Most teachers have one or two sweaters that they drape over the back of their chairs for the three coldest months of the year when the heating system malfunctions.  It’s like hiking Everest. You have to have layers.
  • Vintage clothes.  I respect teachers with experience, and I, too, have been guilty of wearing vintage clothes. I tried to rebrand it as Zen. I don’t need to be materialistic and buy hundreds of dollars worth of new clothing just because the runway season changed. But there’s something to be said for ditching the powder blue leisure suit, too. “Vintage,” only goes so far.
  • Holiday-themed sweaters.  Yes, the dreaded embroidered Christmas sweater. The only excuse EVER for wearing such an item is for making fun of someone who wears such items. In the case of humor, satire, and practical jokes, a holiday sweater can be worn if the wearer can keep a straight face. Holiday socks are okay, however.
  • Clothes that don’t match with the decade in which the wearer was born. This one is tough. I’m 41. There is no reason on earth that I should be stuffing myself in things from the Junior section. Even though it would fit, it would be wrong. Not allowed.
  • Bangles.  This is a personal issue—I don’t own or wear a lot of jewelry. Some people wear it in style.  But in any case, it shouldn’t be worn all at once like a Mr. T revival.  At many teacher conventions, I see so many layers of beads, bangles, and bracelets, I wonder if I’m in the wind chime aisle at my local garden superstore.
  •  The scarves—oh, the scarves!!  Teachers love scarves. They wear them indoors. I wear scarves, too, but usually just when my heat doesn’t work or when I go hiking.  I can’t figure out scarves. Too close to macrame or hojojitsu (the samurai art of knot tying).  For the brief time I lived in Russia, I associated scarves with old ladies. The word for scarf in Russian is, in fact, babushka, which also means “grandmother.” I don’t want to be an old lady. No scarf for me.

As I get older and confront my own mortality, I have to address the subject of teacher clothes in my own life. In 20 years if I’m still in the classroom, I think I’ll be the hippie crunchy teacher—the one with the silver braid, hiking boots, and Irish cable knit sweater playing music from two decades ago.  But that’s a long way off. In the mean time, I’ll keep bringing my coupon to the girl at the store that tells me what to wear. And I won’t wear teacher clothes.

 

[image: nothingbutdollsonstrings.com]

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Fashion Emergency 101: Someone Tweet Carson Kressley! Stat!

I hate shopping for clothes. It’s a problem. I get anxiety. If I had to name five things I’d rather do besides being beaten over the head by the fashion industry, they would be the following:  clean the refrigerator, take out garbage in the infectious disease unit sans mask, scrape road kill off highways on a ninety-degree day, polish kid vomit from the floor at school, or repair industrial tractors in the middle of an Oklahoma corn field waving a Nebraska flag.

Fashion mystifies me. I hate clothes a lot, but I hate “teacher clothes” more.  You won’t catch me alive in a Halloween or Christmas themed sweater.  If I’m thrown in one when I’m dead, I will find the culprit and haunt their family for generations. Poltergeist-style.

But it’s back to school time, and I do need clothes.  And so I forge ahead and shop. No pointy heels and A-lined skirts for me, thank you.

Fashion rules for teachers:

  1. I must look cool(ish) in an old-person geeky sort of way. I should project enough of an air of authority so students to not want to chuck spit balls at my cardigan when I turn around.
  2. I must feel comfortable. I’m active. It’s tough to jump over small items of furniture while dressed like an investment banker.
  3. I should not look like someone’s grandmother.  That would require me to bring in milk and cookies every day, and that’s just not healthy.
  4. I should never look like a candidate for prom queen. This includes the times when I attend school functions that require me to dress up, like dinners and proms. This is public education, not a Nabokov sequel.

To solve this dilemma, I created a “school uniform.” It’s a public school. Even though studies show that schools requiring uniforms achieve success at higher rates, I’ve only seen a couple of public schools implement uniforms fully. Most of those that try say the uniform is “optional” because no administrator in his or her right mind wants to box three rounds with the American Civil Liberties Union, whose watchful eye protects the rights of students to wear death metal t-shirts, sideways-fitted caps with stickers and a healthy collection of gothwear.

Because no one will force me to wear a uniform, I’ll force myself.  I have no desire to have Catholic school flashbacks. Those obnoxious plaid miniskirts that Sharon Stoned girls’ at recess scared me away from skirts forever. Just a simple pair of khakis and a golf shirt for me, please. I want people to wonder if I’m about to teach or about to pop under the hood of a car. Universal worker-wear, the kind that makes you want to get down and dirty. Because education is a down-and-dirty kind of job if you do it right.

I created my school uniform for a few non-fashion reasons, too.  One, because we have “dress-down day” fundraisers. I don’t like to pay for dress-down days. I think I dress down enough as it is. Dress-down days always raise money for a good cause, but I like to choose, myself, where I give. I’m not too cheap. I can certainly afford two dollars on the days I carry cash, which are few and far between—teachers do not carry cash.  It’s just that giving is personal to me.

Also, I don’t want to be shaken down for money for the honor of wearing clothes to school. Maybe that’s an exaggeration. I’d have to wear clothes anyway or I’d be facing far bigger problems than who blew off my homework, but I’m also uncomfortable having a policy that defines charity.  And then there’s the issue of The Sticker. Even if I did give, I would politely refuse to wear The Sticker saying I contributed. I don’t need a badge identifying me to the Giving Police. I do want to be helpful. I just don’t love dress-down day.

But that’s not the reason for my uniform either. The real reason I created my school uniform—khakis and an array of golf shirts paired with my favorite Keen hiking shoes, is because I can’t coordinate fashion.  It sounds so much better when I put it in a sociopolitical context and cite data, performance, experts, and research, though.

The truth is, I can’t shop for clothes. It causes me anxiety. Serious, go-see-someone type anxiety. Oh, how I’ve prayed that I’d win a contest and have Carson Kressley walk through my door saying, “Oh, no! We’re going to take care of that girl right now.” And he would wave his fashion wand over me like Cinderella’s haute couture godmother, replacing The Uniform with things that make runways appear before with the speed of light.

But he didn’t appear, and I struck out on my own. I went to several stores, tossed some things around and emerged with one measly shirt.  One…shirt.  I feel no achievement  at this because I already own that shirt in three different colors.

First, I failed to find a suitable pair of shoes in a warehouse of more than a thousand pairs of designer shoes.  I walked out overwhelmed and empty-handed. Next, I exasperated the kind retail professional who pulled out all the stops to show me a million outfits that just might do. At outfit twenty, I told her she deserved a raise.  She laughed a little.  Just a little. Because what I said was true.

She brought me blue suits (too Republican National Convention). Cranberry pants, pink shirt, (too ice cream shoppy), grey flannel “blazer,” (to bathroby-Thurston-Howell-the-Thirdy), a purple shirt (too “holy crap that’s ugly”) and some fancy shirts—shirts with low necklines and flowers tied in the middle in just the right spot to make me feel like I had a third boob.

When The Girl Who Deserved A Raise finally escaped for a breather, I struck out to find something on my own. I found the shirt.  It had been folded into a perfect square, with about fifty little pins, pieces of cardboard, and plastic collar supports ensuring that it would look perfectly square forever when matched up with other perfect squares lined up in perfectly aligned rows. Was I even supposed to touch this?  After reading the shirt-origami instructions, which were completely in Japanese, I unraveled the booby traps I tried it on.  And there was. The shirt. My one, tiny, victory.

All in all, I think I failed. And I blame Carson Kressley, who did not come to my rescue. Couldn’t he have taken one little day away from his busy schedule transforming slovenly bachelors for me? I’m hoping somebody will send me his number.

As a last resort, I considered putting an ad on Craigslist, “Professional fashion-deprived individual seeks kept woman to help her shop for clothes. Must have at least five years experience spending husband’s money. No leopard print need apply.” But I can’t tell a Gucci from a Prada, and I think Vera Bradley looks like very much like my grandmother’s front room curtains. And certainly don’t want someone else’s initials written all over my purse to the tune of five Benjamins.  Generally, a cloth shopping bag suits me just fine. I might be beyond redemption. Better not to waste someone’s time.

So now I’m home, waiting for the anxiety to pass and my heart rate to return to normal. I’m going to retreat to my desk and come up with seven more studies that show scientific proof that the school uniform will indeed be the key to education reform. And then, I’ll wear it forever.