What not to wear

I guess most of yous remember the BBC programme What Not To Wear* where Trinny and Susannah mercilessly took apart people's wardrobes and ensured they were ready for whatever it is that they were up to. I always thought it was quite harsh that the person's family and friends were the ones who put up the person as a candidate for what is commonly termed a makeover. Yesterday, I realised that my family and friends would most likely put me up for a candidate, especially if I am supposed to dress as a Teacher.

What brought this fascinating insight on, you ask? Well, a severe withdrawal symptom from not having any World Cup matches to watch meant there was far too much time to do other things. Such as brood about joint papers and Nazis (more on that at a later date). And, get advice on clothing.

What advice? Well, I was told yesterday that dressing in a suit is likely to get students to respect my authority (I just had a picture of myself as Cartman there).

A major problem with following that advice is that I don't have a suit. Suits, as anyone who has wandered around shops in town can tell you, are expensive. As someone who is having problems paying my rent (and buying books for dissertating), I hardly think buying a suit is going to top my list of things to spend money on. So, no suit.

Also, suits are bloody uncomfortable. In my younger days, I used to work in a place where wearing suits was (implicitly) required, especially during the annual Commission meetings. Let me tell yous, it was not fun. If I'm supposed to be engaging students and imparting my wisdom to them, I'd rather do it in something I am comfortable in and wearing something I am feeling self-conscious about is not going to help that teaching experience.**

But, is my usual stuff okay then? I don't know. In the summer, I tend to wander about in what could be considered fairly usual summer gear of skirts/cut-offs and t-shirts. Nothing unprofessional but nothing terribly formal either. Anomie, who taught for a year at TUWSNBN, never had a problem with appearance and she and I don't dress much different (as far as I can tell). As for age, I'm older than Anomie so should have that on my side. But, Anomie also doesn't have a lamentable tendency to levity (and I do).

I can't help feeling that a bit too much is being made of appearances here (and I'm not even getting into the whole "it's different if you're a woman" issue). Yes, I realise I need to assert my authority at the start of the class but, hey, these students have paid their fees and if they don't want to listen or study, then they don't have to. My task, as I see it, is to teach students how to recognise various ways of knowing and to communicate these ways in an understandable manner, as well as to learn how to do research themselves. I'm presuming I'll be learning along with them since it's a subject I'm interested in and want to see how different students react to what we'll be grappling with. Wearing a suit and imposing authority implies that I know most of the answers and, really, I don't. I can give students tools to figure out stuff, help them think things through and communicate their views to others and that's it. Idealistic? Yes; Achievable without a suit? I hope so; After all, I'm already giving up my beloved flip-flops and that should be enough.

* Even if you've not watched the actual show, DW-watchers probably remember Captain Jack being a candidate with gynoid versions of Trinny and Susanna in WNTW in the episode Bad Wolf.

** I shall do my best not to turn up in flip-flops, my only footwear for the summer. I guess I'll have to take E and go shoe-shopping and add a pair of sandals to my shoe wardrobe.


At 6/29/2006 1:20 PM, Anonymous serena said...

sounds like you have too much time on your hands without the footy!

when is next port game? what time i mean?

At 6/29/2006 2:31 PM, Anonymous Weberman said...

The problems are that a) the class you're teaching is a requirement that most students dread and will resist taking in the first place; and b) by not dressing in an authoritative way you are inviting challenges not to the substance of the material (which is of course fine) but to anything that you ask them to do in the course of the class. Dressing a certain way won't necessarily forestall this, but it can help, as long as it's part of a whole image of "being the professor." You don't need to signal "I know everything," but you do need to signal "I am in charge here, I set the parameters of what is acceptable . . . especially when it comes to assignments and grading."

Of course, once you establish that then you can (and probably should) spend the rest of the semester rolling it back, forming a learning community, and the like. But you need some kind of authority in order to get students to do these things in the first place. Dressing the part is one way to get a head start on it. At least, that's my take on things.

At 6/29/2006 2:45 PM, Blogger Bionic-Woman said...

I know what you mean about suits being expensive but based on my experience teaching undergrads when I'd barely been out of the program a year I agree that dressing the part does help. Perhaps you could find some basic mix-n-match pieces that are the perfect balance between the style you're more comfortable with and the authority that a certain fashion style tends to confer you on. Ummm rhetorical commonplaces anyone?

At 6/29/2006 4:38 PM, Blogger Priya said...

Thanks, all of you.

Weberman: Yes, I am a bit wary about challenges to what I ask them to do in class and during assignments. However, I still reckon that if they don't want to do stuff, then they don't have to. I do plan to make it clear that this will then affect their overall grades (and I'm still in charge of those!). I'm not entirely a push-over (despite evidence to the contrary!) and I have taught before so I envisage trouble from students not getting things rather than from not doing things.

Bionic-Woman: I reckon a shopping trip would be in order if I could afford anything except a pair of shoes right now :-) Even the weekly grocery bill is iffy, far less (new) clothing! Too bad DC doesn't have good Op Shops.

But, again as I pointed out in the post, Anomie never had problems with setting boundaries and teaching and she, too, was teaching a required course (World Politics). I know I'm not Anomie but I still think I can get away with my usual gear (except with proper shoes, of course). We'll see. Yous can tell me "I told you so" if there's chaos and anarchy in my classroom and the poor oppressed students start a revolution :-)

Serena: Portugal-England at 11am on Saturday. Go StevieG! Go Ronaldo!! (I'm an equal opportunity cheerer for that one)

At 6/29/2006 5:29 PM, Blogger Bionic-Woman said...

Well your ISA attire seemed quite professional...not doable in the fall though just in terms of the temperature difference. I think the look does matter but you'll figure out what yours is.

One quick thing: the past to which you refer is I presume a different space and time; doesn't mean all the same things hold in the space and time to which you're referring re: your upcoming teaching assignment.

Okay I better stop lurking on blogs and resume working on my chapter so that I can get through today's stuff and stop punishing myself by staying indoors!

PS-I'm liking hearing (okay reading) you speak up more...I think it's the first time I've witnessed you talk through a thought without shutting up midway. It's much more fun and interesting. Although the invite to "I told you so" was a (passive-aggressive?) backing down. Hope that didn't sound too rude or patronizing - if it did it was totally unintended :-).

PPS - One of these days we'll all have money to buy groceries and more. If only there was a way that we knew of to get to that point without having to engage in disciplining ourselves to write super-regularly!

At 6/29/2006 11:20 PM, Blogger Priya said...

The "I told you so" is a running theme in PTSD in general since E and I go back and forth on it. It's a joke (but it's also always fun to say that to someone :-))

Most of the time, I can't be arsed enough to think through a thought and write about it. I do write about loads of things--it just seems like the things that get commented on (clothing!) are things I see as being of very little importance in the general scheme of things.

Also, please go ahead and piss me off/start fights/do whatever you want without bloody apologising for it! Sheesh--if one can't fight with one's colleagues and friends (and family), then who is there to fight with/piss off/say stupid things to? I'm not passive aggressive (though I am aggressive and competitive :)) but if I come across as such and you reckon that's bad, then go ahead and say it!

Thanks for delurking and commenting. Again, despite (much) appearance to the contrary, I usually do things my own way. Hence, there's plenty of space for ITUS (and much enjoyment to be got out of those).

At 6/30/2006 1:22 PM, Anonymous serena said...

WOW, and all this began about clothing...LOL

Equal opp. cheering...there is no such thing Priya!

p.s. i was about to say that this blog has gone from dr. who to world cup fan site...lol wonder if E would like to render an opingion on that...lol

At 6/30/2006 2:59 PM, Blogger Priya said...

I'm sneakily changing the tagline already. Thanks for reminding
me :-)

At 7/01/2006 10:32 AM, Blogger Bionic-Woman said...

Don't know if it's bad per se but it's more interesting when you keep playing :-)


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