(This is an article I wrote for a forthcoming NQT Survival Handbook – I will add the link when it is available).
Phew! The interview is over, so you can relax now, pack away the suit/smart dress now and kick back a little; after all, your class are only four years old, right? Wrong. The way you dress gives a wealth of information to a wide range of people, and it is crucial to consider the audience that will see and judge you during the school day.
A large part of an NQT’s fear can often be the parents, who are sometimes quite intimidating. Dress professionally, and you have a far higher chance of being treated professionally too. If you dress smartly, the impression you are giving is of focus, pride and value to the role of a teacher.
They will normally be enormously supportive of you in your first year, and use them as a benchmark, but not the definitive guideline. Ask your mentor the dress code at school if it is not in the staff handbook, and if you are in any doubt, dress smart. If you are wearing a shirt and tie when everyone else is wearing tee shirts, you will stand out for the right reasons. Conversely, wearing a tee shirt when everyone else is smart will make you want the ground to eat you up!
You are now an ambassador for your school to everyone you meet in public. Every person you meet who you tell you work at X School will take a mental snapshot. How good an impression do you want to make in that snapshot?
Children from three upwards form opinions based on how you dress (I checked with a three year old who lives at my house!). Don’t ever doubt the perception that you don’t have to be smart because they are young – give them a role model for professionalism. Be an inspiration and an aspiration. Can we really complain about pupils being untidy in their uniform or breaking the rules of we are wearing flip-flops and sunglasses in our hair?
Richard Templar writes about work clothes in his book “The Rules of Work”, and he hits the nail on the head when he says to try and dress in the way the person managing you dresses. If your Head wears a tie, wear a tie. Promotion and responsibility are as much about impression as experience.
The Litmus Test
In my fifth year of teaching, a fight broke out which I had to deal with, and we called the parent in to collect the ‘instigator.’ He came in very angry and defensive, but we managed to calm him down, and he ended up being very apologetic and wanting to work with us to break this cycle of anger his son had shown. This was on World book Day, and I was dressed as a pirate at the time. I had experienced dealing with all sorts of parent reactions, so I felt confident in dealing with this situation, even dressed like I was. As an NQT, you don’t necessarily have these sorts of people skills, and it is my firm belief that wearing the correct, smart clothing will help to both ‘protect’ you, and give you a feeling of professional confidence. Good luck!
No flip-flops or sunglasses. It’s a job, not a holiday!
Consider the age group you teach, their gender and how their hormones operate…
If available, wear school colours for sports
Gents, shave every day
Clean your shoes every week
Change for PE lessons whenever possible
Match ties and shirts at the start of the week to save decisions later on
When in doubt, suit up
Think of the best three teachers you ever had or observed. Can you remember what they wore?