What “scholars” look and dress like

Ground zero for gender equality in academia is a good woman’s college, like my alma mater, Converse College.  At Converse, each woman looked, dressed, and acted differently, but there was a confidence in how each of us presented ourselves.  We were women modeling multiple diverse examples of what “scholars” look and dress like.  We were all scholars, all women, and all individuals.

Great female educators give the same message in many different ways:  be yourself.

Then I started teaching and realized how hard it is for the younger, female teachers to be taken seriously.  Although I got an otherwise fair review at a post-conference observation, I was once told by a (male) administrator that “controlling students is harder for young, pretty teachers like you.”    …uhhh…thanks???

Every day I go into class looking as professional as possible, but also trying to be myself. I don’t have a long grey beard or look old and scholarly, but I am a scholar.  I am an authority and role model in my classroom.  I refuse to androgenize myself to validate males in academics or to be able to “control students.”  That is not inherently harder for me because I’m a woman.

I dress and act with confidence in who I am to better lead my classroom.  If you happen to identify as male or simply feel drawn to a more masculine look or enjoy dressing however you want to dress, that’s fine.  You do the same.  Be yourself.

To improve women’s opportunities to take their places in education-at the front of the classroom- we need diverse educators who are each proud to look, dress, and act like themselves.

This is particularly true in classrooms with large numbers of ethnic minority students like in ESL classrooms.  For example, many, but not all, of my Latina girls are already struggling with their bicultural identity: what does it mean to be Latina in a society dominated by White Anglo-Saxon Males who speak (mostly) only English?

But on top of that, they have two sets of values from two cultures with different ideas about gender roles.  Ethnically-diverse students need the “be yourself” message more than anyone.  Being yourself looks and feels different for each individual child, but having the courage to be yourself is harder for minority women.


madame ensor

Here I am dressed like who I am.  It just feels like me.  Hopefully, children can tell I’m comfortable and approachable.  (Except for my super-cheesy smile.)



Here’s Annabelle Allen looking like the confident beauty she is.  The original, individualistic way she dresses conveys strength and confidence, so children pick up on her authenticity and trust her.  She doesn’t need a Hillary Clinton pantsuit to feel powerful.  She leads dressed as herself.

Society tells girls they have to choose between being smart or being pretty.  Annabelle shows them that they can be both.





Published by

Claire Walter

I am an ESL teacher and I promote differentiated, compassionate instruction and assessment for English Language Learners.

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