Trying to be a little reflective on this gloomy Sunday. I felt invigorated and refreshed as I woke up this morning (at 9:30, mind you!). I looked outside to see gray skies and brown grass, intermixed with slushy brown mud and melting snow. My first instinct was to respond in disgust, as I walked back to the shower to get ready for my usual Sunday morning at Starbucks. However, the tone of this scene completely changed when I actually stepped outside and heard birds chirping and the rapid sound of water dripping onto the swampy ground. Spring is upon us, and it is my absolute favorite season due to its ever increasing beauty, warmth, and hope. Despite it’s ostensible ugliness, it is almost as if the positive attitude of spring, hopeful and renewing, overrides the superficiality of its image.
Such is the case with people, too, and I wish more would recognize it. I had a discussion with a friend last night, another teacher, and we were talking about how important we perceive appearance to be while teaching. Specifically, she mentioned how she feels a need to wear make-up. For me, of course, this just refers to wearing presentable clothes. While I agreed with her on some level and still believe our appearance is important, I do not think it is necessarily our surface-level appearance that makes children respect us. My friend and I, however, seemed to disagree with each other. She noted that, in order to gain respect within the area she teaches, it was necessary to be “made-up” or else the kids will view her differently.
I started to play Devil’s advocate, which I tend to do. I thought that, perhaps it wasn’t the make-up or the clothes itself that make us presentable or respectable; rather, it is the attitude behind our appearance that makes us presentable. By wearing bright colors and my trendy glasses, I am saying to my students, “I like to stand out and be bright.” I am representing parts of my personality and showing my kids that I care enough about myself to get dressed in the manner that I do. My friend gave the counterargument, however, that most of the girls she teaches are growing up with moms that are always made-up and perfectly put together, putting pressure on her to do the same. While I could not connect in a perfectly equal manner, I am constantly pushing against the male stereotype as a gay male teacher, especially in the area where I teach. Most grown men do not dance around the room, write sensitively, wear pink, and play Taylor Swift on Friday mornings, but I do, and that’s what makes me… me.
|My bestie (and teammate) and I at school|
Instead of my students respecting me for the pressure I could put on myself to be like the other men around me, I think my students respect me for being me. However, I don’t think they think this abstractly yet. My actions and my appearance show confidence, and in kid language, that confidence is translated into a fun, authoritative figure who is engaging. Conversely, I think if I was trying to force myself into a stereotype that did not fit me, discomfort and inauthenticity would brew within me, and that would manifest itself as a teacher who is rigid and an authoritarian, in my students’ eyes. So I also posed the question: Have you ever had a teacher who is “unattractive” by conventional standards? Of course we have, and I’m sure many of these teachers who did not fit the stereotype stick out in our minds, many in a positive way, not for the clothes they wore, the make-up they wore, or the shape of their face.
In essence, kids need role models who exemplify confidence and self-worth, and that’s why I make an effort to care for my appearance. Kind of like this gloomy spring day, it is not the mud and clouds that set the tone for my perception; rather, it was its attitude of hope and optimism that made me look upon this image with such admiration this morning.