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Any advice on projecting authority?

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Samantha Miranda Samantha Miranda 3940 Points

I'm 5'2" and look young, so what can I do to look more like a teacher and less like a student as I do my student teaching?

Mary Bigelow Mary Bigelow 10275 Points

Hi Samantha-- Your appearance and demeanor won't automatically make you a better teacher, but they can be factors in how students perceive you. Be sure to dress professionally, even if the teachers in the school tend to have a more casual style. You can of course be stylish and comfortable, but save the jeans, t-shirts with messages, very short skirts, flipflops, and gym wear for other occasions. Be well-groomed in terms of hair and makeup. As a science teacher, you'll want to model appropriate attire for the lab, too (no open-toed shoes or dangling jewelry). In addition to attire, your confidence level adds to your appearance. Stand up straight and look the students in the eye. Avoid using a lot of teen slang (although once in while the students will get a kick out of it). Practice projecting your voice so that you don't have to scream to be heard in the back of the room. I know several science teachers who wear a white lab coat on lab days. Talk about an authority figure! Mary B.

Patria Baumstark Patria Baumstark 3140 Points

Hi Samantha, Mary's advice is the way to go. I like to dress appropriately in school but it seems that more younger teachers are into the casual wear. It also depends on the school culture where you are. I am conservative and like to dress up like teachers in the olden days or like older teachers do. I stand out and show my age because of the way I dress. AFter several years working at the high school, I am learning to dress casually on "casual days or spirit days" but often dress up appropriately. Some younger teachers, male and female, are the jeans and flip-flop type, which I do not like. On the other hand, I am not sure if they do exude authority in the classroom as I have not been in their classrooms. Maybe that is what some students like. I think the best way is to act like most of the teachers and administrators at school.

Betty Paulsell Betty Paulsell 48560 Points

Samantha, I am attaching a short article from Instructor magazine that might be of help. It is more about demeanor than dressing.


Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92296 Points

Hi Samantha,
There are several great ideas already. I created a collection a while back for my preservice teachers that contains some excellent NSTA resources having to do with how to set up your classroom for success: CI426 Constructing My Science Classroom
It might be of interest to you to peruse some of the book chapters and articles. Besides dressing for success, possessing the poise and self-confidence that projects a 'I'm ready for whatever the day may bring!' demeanor can go a long way to creating that positive classroom climate for you and your students. Some of the articles provide helpful ideas for how to do this. Best of luck!

Mariam Ahmed Mariam Ahmed 1545 Points

I found this post and all the replies really helpful. I'm an aspiring teacher and my student teaching semester is coming around the corner really soon! I'm always wondering how I'm going to project myself with authority when I myself am old enough to be my students' older sibling. Great ideas and suggestions, and I will be adding Carolyn's collection to my library. Thanks! Mariam

Marie Samba Marie Samba 3635 Points

Samantha i believe you should dress more in suites and put your hair in a way that would not alow you to look young. And put high heels

Samantha Miranda Samantha Miranda 3940 Points

Betty, Thanks for the article. Sincerely, Samantha

Samantha Miranda Samantha Miranda 3940 Points

Carolyn, Thanks for the collection of resources. Sincerely, Samantha

Samantha Miranda Samantha Miranda 3940 Points

About professional dress, I'm not sure what I could be doing differently. I usually wear khakis or slacks from suits with button up shirts and sweaters or blazers. Perhaps a new haircut would help.

Monica Holloway Monica Holloway 2990 Points

I definitely agree with the recommendations!! I am the same height as you and in the beginning I dressed professionally and pulled my hair back in a ponytail quite a bit. My experience has taught me that scholars will be very likely to follow instructions and work hard when they know how much you care about them. Once I started to relax and enjoy them everything fell into place.

Mary Bigelow Mary Bigelow 10275 Points

I had a question from preservice teachers related to this topic. In addition to projecting a professional image, their concern was how to navigate the authority-figure/friend territory, especially in the case of high school students who are not much younger than the teacher. We discussed this a bit, but I'm curious as to how others would respond. Mentors: What advice do you give to new teachers on this topic? New teachers: How did you deal with this issue? What has (or has not) worked for you? Thanks! Mary B

Molly Duffield Molly Duffield 2945 Points

I have a great relationship with most of my students. I've been asked by some colleagues how I handle the boundaries between friend and teacher. One thing I tell my students is that while they are in our school, they are like my kids. They are my babies. I'm Mama Bear at school. I'm only about 10 years older than my middle schoolers, and they do call me Mama. We laugh about the fact that I'm not really old enough to be their mom, but that I care about them and want them to be successful. I've found that my kiddos like having a "parental" figure at school. We can laugh, joke, share some issues, but they also know the look. Many say, "OMG! My mom gives me that look!" They know when I'm serious and we need to focus, and they know when it is OK to joke. I hope this helps!

Sandy Gady Sandy Gady 43175 Points

There is a lot of really good advice here on dressing appropriately professionally. While I agree with all of that, you also have to dress according to what you are doing as well. If you have the lab coat, then wearing more dressed up attire will work. If however you are going on a field trip, climbing ladders and the like, most certainly you want to dress for the activity. When you are young and close to the student’s ages you have to differentiate yourself from them. Dressing “just like them” won’t give you the first few minutes of respect for the position. There is so much more to being accepted as an authority figure. How you present yourself physically is only a small part of having students respect you. You have to have confidence in what you do and say. Look students in the eye. Talk to them with professional, yet friendly language. When you write notes on the board or in a lab notebook, don’t take shortcuts and use text language. Plan your lessons ahead of time and know where the obstacles are. Be prepared to lose electricity, have a fire drill, or only a portion of the equipment you thought you would have. In this day of technology at your fingertips, don’t “friend” students on Facebook or other social media. I know there are some teachers that do so with no ramifications, but I know a whole lot more that have gotten themselves in trouble. I love Molly’s humor, it is important that you keep your perspective. Develop your own “look,” that tells students you really do mean it and it’s time to focus and get the task done. For those of us that are older, we can tell you, the first few years are the hardest. It takes a while for you to build a reputation in the community. When you are starting out you have to decide what that reputation is going to look like. The best advice I can give you is be fair, be consistent and love what you do.

Rodney Olson Rodney Olson 385 Points

I've been in schools where I could dress casually and others where I had to wear a dress shirt and tie. I don't feel that the way you dress makes the biggest difference in how the students relate to you. I feel that authority is gained by knowing your material, presenting it with confidence, and using occasional humor to lighten the mood. The students need to know that you have their best interests at heart, and they won't respect you if you fill up the class time with "busy work." Have a daily routine, have the students perform as many meaningful lab activities as possible, and be sure to relate the material to everyday life.

Jannah Fitch Jannah Fitch 380 Points

As another new student teacher, I would also like to thank everyone who posted in this topic for their advice. Carolyn, your resource collection in particular is extensive and I've saved the articles to begin reading.

Ruth Hutson Ruth Hutson 64325 Points

Sandy wrote, 'Plan your lessons ahead of time and know where the obstacles are. Be prepared to lose electricity, have a fire drill, or only a portion of the equipment you thought you would have.'

Sandy is exactly right that you should plan your lesson ahead of time. It is also important to plan for more material/activities than your students could finish in the class period. As a new teacher, there are times when you underestimate how long a lesson will take. It is important to have some authentic exercises that your students could do to fill extra time when the lesson runs short. These should not be busy work. Some examples of things you could use are polls, journaling activities like 'what do you think, what do you think now,' write some questions you have about what you just learned, brain dumps... You might plan a review game, have students write jeopardy style questions for your review game, or watch a video that will extend your students' understanding.

I also think that it is important to set clear expectations and classroom procedures from the beginning. Revisit those classroom procedures throughout the year as necessary when students are not following them. Let students know the consequences for not following classroom procedures and be prepared for them to call your bluff.

If your students see that you are prepared and you mean business about them staying busy, then you will be the authority on the subject you are teaching and in the management of your classroom.

Ashlee Crider Ashlee Crider 205 Points

Hi Samantha! I also look quite young and sometimes feel small around my 5th graders at my student teaching placement. One of my professors gave our class advice that has stuck with me through the last few years, bring things with you that make you feel great. My professor always brought her lipstick because it made her feel professional, pretty, and confident, so when she was feeling down her students would say go put on your lipstick and be happy! My way of doing this is to dress in a way that makes me look and feel professional, when I feel good about how I look it is easier for me to feel confident and project that to others. Make yourself feel confident, don't worry about looking young, you are the teacher, embrace it!

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