To start, take a moment to consider the number of times you have formed a quick opinion about a person based solely on external factors. Consider how you felt about someone with acne or a person with a stained shirt.
Teachers influence the world and that worldly influence most often starts with their appearance before they ever get to open their mouths. It is a sad, but true reality that humans make judgments on appearance first and anything subsequent is less important.
Perception in History
It is a well-known fact in the communications circuit that a person’s appearance has an enormous effect on their audience. For example, historians have proven that but for the televised debates in the Nixon-Kennedy debates, John. F. Kennedy would never have beat out incumbent Richard Nixon. However, because the debates were televised, citizens were able to see and experience President Kennedy’s exceptional, manicured looks and that gave him the upper-hand.
Discussions on the importance of intrinsic and extrinsic factors in quality ratings are perpetually circulating throughout media and in classrooms. Recently, a Real Housewives of Atlanta episode, explained the effects of wearing certain fashions in a courtroom setting. According to the show, biases against parties apply equally to those who wear overly expensive clothing and those who do not put sufficient effort into their attire.
In the Classroom
How does this translate into a classroom setting?
People knew in 1960 that looks matter and that knowledge has not failed to gain recognition. As much as people argue that what a person wears has no relation to what they are capable of, the truth is that the two things are directly related.
In a classroom setting, a teacher who tends to dress like one of the students will automatically be accepted as being a “cool” teacher. At the outset, being cool sounds like a great thing. The students will relate to the teacher and many will even choose that particular person as their favorite teacher. However, consideration must be given to the high probability that the teacher who looks “cool” will also be treated as if he or she is an equal. That teacher will not have as much respect, as his or her well-dressed counterpart because they have been reduced to the student’s level.
It is possible for the teacher who dresses “cool” to establish dominance. If that teacher wants to dress in a way that students think is cool, that teacher also needs to recognize how important it is to illustrate that he or she is serious and demands respect; in that situation the teacher’s selection of attire becomes less important.
On the contrary, a teacher who dresses well is seen as one who demands respect. There is no need for the attire to be professional. The teacher is not required to wear a 3-piece suit with spit polished shoes. A well-dressed teacher is simply one who has a clean-cut look. In some case, jeans and a nice shirt will suffice. Teachers should beware, simply being well-dressed is not all it takes to be a great teacher. Even the best dressed teacher cannot succeed if their teaching methods are archaic and sub-par.
As much as perception does not matter, it does matter. A person should not be judge on their capabilities by what is on their body, but it happens every day and it has been happening for years. Perception is important because it is hard to change a person’s opinion once it has been formed. Therefore, teachers should error on the side of caution and maintain a well-manicured appearance and complement that with outstanding teaching techniques and knowledge about their subject.