During my early days of work experience in a UK state school, I remember the seemingly endless quest for a teacher wardrobe. I quickly became a master of the ‘bending over to help a student’ pose, which, let me tell you, rules out around 90% of tops currently on the market.
In TEFL, thank goodness, it all tends to be simpler. Jeans are often de rigeur, and provided one has a ‘good standard of personal hygiene’ (an actual quote from numerous job adverts), pretty much anything goes. Or so you would think.
Here, then, is The Best Ticher’s definitive guide to What Not To Wear in the EFL classroom.
- Extremes of colour
I always thought I could be the teacher who wore white to work and never leant against the whiteboard. This was, of course, an illusion. Now the luxury of whiteboards is a distant memory and I work in a school with blackboards. Chalk dust on black trousers is my nemesis.
- Dangly things
All too often I have decided to use a school day to road test a new pair of earrings, which quickly become a source of fascination (and handling) with my littlies during circle time. If you value your earlobes, don’t. I once wore a beautiful long necklace to work, only to discover that one of my students had tied it into a careful series of knots as I was helping her with her work. Avoid.
- Old saggy anything
It pains me to share this cautionary tale, although I am now thankfully rather immune to it due to a past colleague’s tendency to share it whilst on a night out. Laundry day saw me wearing a rather elderly pair of tights to work, which in retrospect should have been relegated to the bin as soon as it became apparent that the elastic was no longer doing its job. The moment of horror as I realised that my tights were slowly descending remains with me to this day. I’m positive it was a memorable lesson for all present.
- The wrong socks
I currently spend most of my time teaching in a classroom where shoes are Not Allowed, and so socks suddenly play a more important role in my life than ever before. I have a set with the days of the week on of which I am particularly proud – however, woe betide me if I teach anyone above grade two whilst wearing my Tuesday socks on a Wednesday.
Ah, but Elly! I hear you cry. Our hopes of monochrome, baggy jumpers and mismatched socks are dashed! What then are we to wear?
- Clothing that will extend your students’ vocabulary.
One of my favourite t-shirts has a picture of a walrus on it – his name is George. He is the reason why all of my students, even the littlies, now know the word ‘walrus’ in English.
- Nail polish
One for the ladies of the TEFL world, I suspect (although men, please give it a try and let me know how it goes). Before becoming a teacher I never realised how much of the time students’ attention would be on my hands. I point to an exercise, a word or a page number in the coursebook. I use finger highlighting to correct student errors. Painted nails make me feel better about my hands being on constant display – but they also give me a little something extra to get my students’ attention. At least that’s what I tell myself.
- Comfortable clothes
At the end of the day, comfort is paramount – not least because you never know what life in the EFL classroom will throw at you. Simon Says ‘Be a cat’? Ask everyone how they are whilst pretending to be a cow? A waiter, a film director, an aerobics instructor: who knows who you will be today?
What are your ‘must haves’ and ‘must avoids’ when getting dressed for work?