Apparel and Authenticity

In class this week, we talked briefly about the importance of being “authentic” in the classroom.  I can understand some of the reasoning behind this — it makes sense to me that we are better teachers when we are playing to our strengths and not trying too hard to be something we are not.  However, I’m not sure it is always that simple — what if some aspects of our “authentic” personality are not appropriate for the classroom?  As an extreme example, I might naturally use inappropriate language, etc . . . or I might hate teaching and wish I was working on my research (hopefully not).  There are also more subtle pressures that might place limits on our authentic self . . .

Importance of Clothing.  One example we discussed in class, and which at least two students blogged about this week (here and here), is the type of clothing that we feel we “should” wear as an instructor.  One of these blogs discussed a study in which they found that GTAs that dressed more professionally encountered fewer behavioral problems from students.  I also wonder if choice of attire changes if you commit to an LC approach — in the article, they discuss the role of professional dress in maintaining student/teacher distance . . . but is this counterproductive to LC teaching?

Choice of clothing can also be an issue for some women in male-dominated fields.  Although some women report that they feel comfortable in skirts, others feel that they should play down their femininity to fit in.  According to one woman in science:

Anything feminine totally undermines your credibility

And consider one young female engineer’s story about her internship experience:

I tried wearing skirts all summer during my first internship and I got the “look” from the guys, I did not do it agian [sic] during my second internship. Instead I opted to look like them . . .

My point here is, for women in male-dominated fields, the decision to dress in a feminine way can have more than surface meaning.

What do you think?  Do you feel any particular pressures to act or dress a certain way in the classroom that you feel are unique to your gender/class/race/etc.?

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