Assuming Your Professional Teaching Identity

A guide for beginning teachers

The following material is adapted from Chapter 6 of Becoming a Win-Win Teachera book written especially for new teachers, returning teachers, and anyone needing a shot in the arm during (or after) a challenging year. 

Teaching became easier when I started seeing myself as a teacher and no longer a college student.
—Primary teacher

If you want to make the transition from student to teacher a little easier, understand that you have just become what many youngsters revile. The trick is not to let that get to you.
—Authors Amy Sutton Mahoney and Christopher Purr [1]

Once you have signed a contract with a district, you have accepted the responsibilities of a teacher. You must behave as a professional and insist that students accept you as a professional. Before long, you will find yourself more comfortable with your status as classroom teacher and will find your niche in the new environment. 
—Robert Wyatt and J. Elaine White [2]

wanting to be a teacher from an early ageConsidering the fact that I had wanted to be a teacher from the time I was about three years old, you might have expected my transition to an actual classroom to be less of a shock to my nervous system than it was. While I may have had a good sense of what my new role entailed, there were some real discrepancies between these expectations and the way I had been living my life as a student for the previous four years. Stepping up to the plate required certain skills and self-discipline, at least in certain areas of my life, that I’d managed to avoid until that point.

Even if you were responsible and mature as a college student, you may find that walking into a classroom as a professional requires a degree of conscious attention to things like the opinions you express, the language you use, and the way you present yourself in front of a group of students—aspects of student life that probably had far fewer restrictions or consequences. This transition requires a shift in roles and self-perception, and an adjustment to a world that is nowhere near as insulated or as free as are most college experiences.

If you have made that shift easily, and already see yourself as a professional, more power to you. For many of us, however, even with a extensive pre-service experiences (and perhaps some tutoring or coaching experience as well), some aspects of the teachers’ side of the teacher-student equation take time to integrate into our actual behavior patterns, much less self-image, and may be a bit unclear, unfamiliar, or unanticipated initially.

While some of these may seem very obvious, many of the new teachers with whom I’ve worked found themselves a bit unprepared for some of the realities of actually living this role. (And more than a few administrators were concerned about the difficulty some young faculty members had in filling a professional’s shoes.) So let’s look at some of the considerations you’re likely to encounter.

It’s About Time

Becoming a morning personA big part of what was a rather rude awakening for me was, quite literally, about time. I’ve always been more of a night owl than a morning person, and one of the things I liked best about college was the fact that I could usually indulge this preference.

While I was able to get away with orchestrating my undergraduate career around classes that were available in the afternoons, the schools in which I taught were not nearly as accommodating. When my student teaching assignment began midway through senior year, I suddenly found myself having to leave the house just after six a.m. to catch the buses that would connect me with a ride to my school, which was still about an hour away.

Although not completely unexpected, this was not a smooth transition for me. Unless I wanted to be absolutely useless the next day, I had to get to sleep just as life around me was getting interesting, and my alarm would go off just as many of the people I knew were heading off to bed (or home). Although their own adult realities were soon to catch up with them, at the time it seemed as if everybody was having a lot more fun than I was. 

A fair amount of professionalism has to do with time, whether it’s reflected in showing up when you need to be there, turning in plans and reports by the deadlines requested, or being in your classroom any time the students are there. You will never have enough time to get everything done so learning to make the best use of this precious commodity is essential. 

Teaching demands a high degree of focus and attentiveness on a daily basis—not just when the kids are there, but also during the hours you’ll devote to planning, preparing, and assessing their work. Most people figure out pretty quickly that the job really isn’t well-suited to certain things that some college students may be able to pull off, be it skipping class or showing up late, hard partying on a school night, or all-nighters to finish a paper or cram for a test.

You will never have enough time to get everything done so learning to make the best use of this precious commodity is essential.

Teaching is physically and emotionally demanding, hard enough to do with a rested body and mind. It won’t take long for a lack of attention to this very basic need to start showing up in your performance, practice, and patience with your kids. If you’re a morning person and have tons of energy, this won’t be a big deal. Likewise if you’ve acclimated to the schedules and routines from previous work experience. For the rest of us, however, learning to adjust our body clocks to a life ruled by buzzers and bells has to move way up on our list of priorities. 

Stepping Up: You in a Leadership Role

Filling a leadership role, transition from student to leaderIdeally, your students will look to you for leadership and direction. They neither expect nor want you to try to be their peer, and they do need to perceive you as confident in your role. This is another aspect of becoming a win-win teacher. Learning to see ourselves not only as an adult and a professional, but also as a responsible authority figure, requires a certain amount of perceptual catching up as well, and can be a challenge if we have never thought of ourselves in these terms. 

If you are coming to teaching from a leadership position in another career, this transition will likely be easier than for those without that experience. [3] However, many beginning teachers need to make space in their mental pictures of themselves to include the sense of authority that successful teaching requires.

This can be especially challenging for secondary professionals who, right out of college, are only a few years older than their charges. One beginning teacher I surveyed expressed the following: “Many times… students do not want to take me seriously, mainly because of my age.” This individual is in her early twenties and could pass for one of the kids she teachers. “Many students… do not want to take instruction from a person who is only a bit older than they are,” she continued. 

Educator and author William Purkey recommends that new teachers have students call them by their last name and title. “The playing field is not level, and dual relationships are the major source of ethical misconduct,” he cautions. [4] Unless all or most of the adults in your building have their students call them by their first names, use your last name and title.

It took a while to get used to people calling me “Ms. Bluestein,” and although the title alone didn’t automatically accord me the authority I would have liked, this was the practice at my school, and I do believe it positioned me in a way that made that goal easier to reach. I have heard from many students who were put off by teachers trying to be cool (or look hot), flirting with students, or even mooching food off the kids. Even if you really are cool (or hot), acting like you’re hanging out with your peers when you’re in your classroom is a sure way to erode your students’ respect.

“Remember you are not their friend,” advised authors and teachers Amy Sutton Mahoney and Christopher Purr. “If you act too much like a buddy to the kids, which is so tempting because it is fun to be liked, you are setting yourself up for major failure. Even though they like you, they will test your limits; and when you punish them, they will feel betrayed and will no longer trust you. Those kids who adored you and made you feel like the coolest person who ever walked through the door will make your life as miserable as they can.” [5]

In a win-win environment, you are very much in charge, but your authority does not depend on disempowering or even controlling your students.

Especially if you work in a high school, you may find it easier to relate to your students than the other staff, particularly if you find a wide age gap between you and the rest of the faculty. But, they cautioned, “however uncomfortable you feel in your new role as a faculty member, you must make the transition from student to teacher immediately.” [6] Facilitator Marcia Rosen agreed. “Try to understand the kids but don’t try to be their friend,” she wrote. “Remember, you are a role model. Don’t cross the line with kids. If you do, you will not be able to teach effectively.” 

Keep in mind that an authority role does not preclude friendly and caring interactions. Perhaps understandably, there is a fair amount of black and white thinking around authority roles and relationships, and it may be easy to assume that you’ll have to choose between a heavy-handed, authoritarian approach or being a permissive push-over. Not true. In a win-win environment, you are very much in charge, but your authority does not depend on disempowering or even controlling your students.

You will certainly want to establish a positive classroom climate—after all, you will be spending the next nine or ten months with your students. Constantly having to monitor and manage student behavior won’t be much fun for anybody. Being an adult still leaves plenty of space for you to be friendly and human. It can be a fine line sometimes, but you will be no less a leader for laughing and enjoying the kids you teach.

There are, unfortunately, a number of ways to get this one wrong. One evaluation form for prospective teachers includes, among the skills it identifies in its assessment, the way the teacher interacts with the students. On one end of the continuum, it specifies that the candidate “is very natural in interactions with students and is able to develop mutually respectful relationships and rapport…” At the opposite end, the assessment form lists several unacceptable options including being overly friendly and lacking maturity and responsible judgment, being extremely withdraw and not engaging with students, being overly anxious when interacting with students, or having difficulty maintaining positive rapport with students. [7]

This is where having a good mentor and professional role models can really come in handy. If you’re not clear on where to draw the line, or aren’t sure if a particular behavior would be considered inappropriate or unprofessional, watch how other teachers behave—or ask. I suspect that in most instances, if something feels questionable, it probably is. Trust your gut, and err on the side of caution.

Looking Like a Teacher

teacher, professional imageIn general, there’s a big difference between campus casual and the kind of attire that makes you look like a professional educator, even if you’re teaching in a pretty relaxed environment. A great deal of identity can be tied up in appearance, and some of us need to modify both before we walk into a classroom (or a job interview).

A little discretion and sensitivity to the expectations at your school can help you present your authentic self in the kind of packaging, as it were, that can make successful integration into the profession a whole lot easier. For years, I fought this notion on sheer principle, but the fact is, a part of who people perceive us to be is based on outward appearances, especially when it comes to first impressions—and long before our competence and legitimacy are accepted, much less taken for granted. [8]

This was another hurdle for me. My college wardrobe—a basic early-70s tee-shirt-and-jeans couture—didn’t exactly provide the look that would have presented me as an educator worthy of the title. I needed to look like a teacher and not like a college student, not only to be taken seriously in my new work situation, but also to help me start thinking of myself as a professional.  [9]

teacher, professional imageNotice how teachers dress where you work or in the schools you visit. In general, choose conservative over cool, especially early in your career.

I have met teachers at conferences and in schools who looked as if they stepped out of a fashion magazine and others who looked like they’d been doing yard work all morning. Technically, this has nothing to do with our ability to do our job, but especially as we’re trying to establish ourselves, inspire respect for our authority and teaching skill, and secure tenure in a district, the less people have to get over our appearance, the easier this will be.

If you are especially attached to a more non-traditional appearance, look for a school that will appreciate your uniqueness. They are out there. Working in any system requires a certain degree of sacrifice when it comes to our individuality. This doesn’t necessarily mean compromising our authenticity. Keep track of your priorities and your sense of self and do what you need to do to get in there to do—and keep—your job. 

What Matters Most: Who You are in the Classroom

Of course your professional identity goes beyond authority roles and appearances. In fact, despite all the emphasis on curriculum and achievement, assessment, and teaching skills, the person you bring to your relationships with the students is far more likely to have an even greater impact.

Your sense of purpose and priorities say a lot about who you are, so it pays to be honest with yourself about your core values as an educator. “Everything you do—what you say, your policies, how you treat others—is filtered through your values,” wrote Sherry Annee. “Do you believe all children can learn? If you feel as though students can’t be trusted, then you will be suspicious of cheating each time a student raises his or her head during a test.” 

What you emphasize most in your interactions with your students? What would they say is most important to you? Do your students feel safe, valued, and capable of success? On a scale of one to ten, how high would they rate your love of teaching?

“Years later what students remember is not the bulletin boards or even those hours you spend preparing those lessons,” noted author and educator Michele Borba. “They remember your character.” She recommended intentionality in presenting yourself to your students. “Ask yourself at the beginning of each school year what you most want your kids to remember [about] you… and then find little natural ways to tune that up. Twenty-five years later they’ll come back and thank you,” she said.

This is where your individuality, personality, and passions come into play. Anne Morgan noted, “I’ve always been creative, organized, patient, and a little bit goofy as a person. Teaching Pre-K allows me to incorporate my personality into every aspect of my career.” One student related an example from a high school class in which the history teacher would come dressed in costume, animate his story-telling with sound effects, and incorporate jokes into the lesson. [10] My love of travel and geography spilled into the classroom every year, whether it showed up in pen pal opportunities for my students, cultural activities and guest presentations, or slide shows from my summer vacations. 

Introduce yourself to your kids with a display that shares some of your interests. Include copies of photos of you with your family or friends, a picture of your pets, some postcards from your last vacation, a copy of your diploma, a list of your goals (personal or instructional), your favorite books or movies, the sports and teams you like best, or an example or photo of something related to your hobbies. [11] Common sense would suggest that you do not bring in originals or anything of value that can’t easily be replaced.

And use discretion about what you share about yourself, and when. Once you’ve connected and built a sense of community with your students, you’ll probably feel more comfortable sharing more personal things about yourself, but be aware that it can be dangerously easy to slip into “too much information” territory. Also keep in mind that anything you say, show, or do will be repeated, so run these choices through a mental filter that asks, “Will I feel comfortable when another teacher, an administrator, or a parent hears about this?”

Keep in mind that anything you say, show, or do will be repeated, so run these choices through a mental filter that asks, “Will I feel comfortable when another teacher, an administrator, or a parent hears about this?”

How you present yourself to the rest of the faculty matters as well. Hartman advised, “You need to be wise about professional communication—how you conduct yourself, the way you dress, how you respond to people. If you smirk or roll your eyes, know that you have the right to make this statement but that there are consequences.”

Christie DeMello added, “This may seem harsh but, know your place in the school. If it’s your first year (or even first couple of years), you need to respect the knowledge and experience of those around you. I get really upset with beginning teachers who act like they know everything. It’s viewed in our community as disrespectful and is not tolerated.”

Likewise, I once observed a first-year teacher who was technically very competent and had a great understanding of instructional processes and materials. Unfortunately, her talents were consistently undermined by inordinate self-deprecating and approval-seeking behaviors with the other faculty. Whether you feel like it or not, you are an adult. Act like one.

Legitimate questions and concerns are a sign of commitment; apprehension about something you’ve never done before is understandable. However, a fragile ego and need for constant reassurance suggests you aren’t emotionally equipped for the job. Your best bet is a mix of openness and self-assurance, confidence that doesn’t come off as cocky or arrogant. “I know you may feel nervous, but don’t let the kids or the parents see you sweat,” counseled Gerri-Lynn Nichols. “You are a professional. You are not going to work to make friends. Don’t lose focus. Do not be intimidated by seasoned teachers.”

Your best bet is a mix of openness and self-assurance, confidence that doesn’t come off as cocky or arrogant.

Clearly teaching demands a certain degree of showmanship. Whether you are tired or discouraged, or stressed about something in your life that has nothing to do with your work, when you walk into your classroom, a competent performance is expected. “You may not be happy when you enter class, but you can always be cheerful,” noted William Purkey.

A director of elementary education advised new teachers to “take an acting course because you have to be on, even on bad days.” Teacher educator Wendy Marshall agreed, “You’re on stage every day.” Deal with what’s going on in your life, certainly, and also be prepared to shift your focus to your work and your kids when you walk across that threshold, as difficult as that may seem at times. 

Being true to yourself, professional integrityThere will be days when teaching will test every promise you’ve ever made to yourself, whether it’s to avoid losing it with the kids or resist eating every bit of chocolate you can find in the school. You not only need a cool head, but also integrity, ideals, and faith in your inner guidance. Who you are, the self you bring to your work, will be evident in just about every choice you make. 

“Reputation, it has been said, is about who you are when people are watching,” wrote columnist Leonard Pitts. “Character is about who you are when there’s nobody in the room but you. Both matter, but of the two, character is far and away the more important. The former can induce others to think well of you. But only the latter allows you to think well of yourself.” [12]

At the end of the day, what have your students learned because of what you brought to their lives, because of the time they spent with you?

Life in a Fishbowl

Here’s something else to consider, something that was not a factor when I started teaching. We now live in a world where everything about our lives is far more public than ever before. Online photos and videos that were funny or cute when you were in high school or college can put you at risk for not getting hired or actually losing your job. And anything you say or do—in your classrooms and in your private lives—can become grist for the Internet mill in seconds. 

scrutiny on the job, life in a fishbowl“If you go out on Fridays to party, don’t do it in the town, city, or county where you teach!” advised one assistant superintendent. A contributor to an online discussion about the ethical aspects of teachers’ behavior in their personal lives acknowledged that openly engaging in “inappropriate” behavior in public “is very different from doing it in private. Unfortunately, sometimes things that were done in private end up becoming public.” [13]

While perhaps not entirely fair, teachers are, in most communities, held to higher standards of comportment and can come under sharper scrutiny than individuals who aren’t responsible for “shaping and molding” the youth of those communities. While many people—including educators, parents, legal advocates, and other community members—defend teachers’ rights to live their lives as they choose, school districts are understandably nervous about the potential embarrassment reflected in what they (or some parents) might consider to be inappropriate language, photos, conversations, or behavior on public display.

Although perhaps legally defensible, Wyatt and White noted that “from a practical standpoint, parents often expect teachers to forgo their rights if the parents see the teachers as having a negative or threatening influence on their children.” [14]

While perhaps not entirely fair, teachers are, in most communities, held to higher standards of comportment…

Author Yvonne Gentzler observed, “Professional roles include those qualities that constitute responsible and ethical conduct. Teachers are trusted with a tremendous power to influence the thinking, motivation, and knowledge of their students. It is incumbent on you to consider how your practice, behavior, and actions will impact the lives of your students.” [15]

As one superintendent asked (referring to material posted online by one of his teachers), “Would you do this in the class in front of your students?” If the answer is no, you probably don’t want the material available to anyone with Internet access. [16] Or, as another blogger noted, “No one wants to be the teacher… on the six o’clock news.” [17]

teachers live in the public eye onlineThe path gets narrower when you step into your classroom, and even if your youthful exploits aren’t plastered all over cyberspace, the possibility of ever running into your students or their parents in public, whether it be at a supermarket, a concert, or a bar, puts you in a fishbowl you may not have experienced in prior to becoming a teacher.

Even if the behavior isn’t illegal or unethical, be prepared to clean up your act if need be—much less any content that might be considered inappropriate on a blog or social network site, for example, if a student or parent (or district administrator, for example) were to come across it. In other words, even if you’re still a kid in your head, be prepared to look and act like a professional, not just on the job, but anyplace your work life is likely to catch up with you.

Protect Yourself

In past decades, cultural changes, technology, and legislation have significantly complicated teachers’ lives and made us more vulnerable to legal action than ever before. Where “school law” topics were once reserved for advanced and somewhat esoteric graduate classes, a paper written by Phillip H. Wagner advocated for preservice programs that “prepare potential educators with a working knowledge of the fundamentals of school law.” [18]

He cited the increase in volume and complexity of school-related legislation as a requirement of teachers “to possess a basic understanding of the laws that impact them and the concerns that frequently arise in education law.” He also cautioned that “educators must recognize how their actions can lead to litigation and the impact of legislative and judicial mandates on the teaching profession.” [19]

Legal implications will touch just about everything in your teaching life, including classroom activities, records and privacy, and ethical behavior, to name a few. For example, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the confidentiality of information related to students’ records and who gets to see or hear about students’ progress. It also gives parents the right to contest “records which they believe to be inaccurate or misleading .” [20]

From a practical standpoint, FERPA violations include things like posting students’ grades, allowing students access to graded papers or tests other than their own, or sharing any information about students—from personal or contact information to grades and records—with anyone who does not have a “legitimate educational interest” in those students. [21]

Wyatt and White elaborate: “The only way information is to be passed from one teacher to the other is in a private area, such as an office, away from other people, especially students. A teacher or administrator should share confidential information only if teachers need to know that information in order to be more effective in teaching that particular student.” [22]

So from the start, be careful to avoid idle chatter with specific and confidential information about your students in the hallway, teachers’ lounger, and certainly in your classroom when students are around. If you’re not familiar with the legislation behind these cautions, talk to someone in your school who is, and find out how the school handles issues of privacy and confidentiality.

Be careful to avoid idle chatter with specific and confidential information about your students in the hallway, teachers’ lounger, and certainly in your classroom when students are around.

Watch out for assignments that can cross into tricky territory. One of my more embarrassing moments happened when the TV miniseries Roots first aired. [23] Nearly all my students were watching the show, but when I assigned an activity asking them to create a family tree, several parents let me know, in no uncertain terms, that this information was none of my business. Oops. I knew other teachers in different communities who had no problems with similar assignments, but this was a sensitive issue with the families of my students. 

Wyatt and White recommend advising kids to steer clear of certain topics, things like “illegal activities, very personal religious experiences, politics, and anything hurtful to another person,” for example, when brainstorming or journaling. [24] If your students journal, be sure to specify under what conditions you are obligated to break confidentiality. (This might include when they share an intention to hurt someone or themselves, disclosure of illegal or self-destructive behaviors, or if they report that someone is hurting them, for example).

And consider this issue when displaying kids’ work. Many teachers make it a habit to get students’ permission before displaying their work. At the very least, display work without grades—you can submit grades on a separate paper or feedback form if you plan to display the assignments—or cover the grade when you hang the students’ work. 

teaching and the lawTeachers are probably most vulnerable, however, when a student or parent is unhappy with something the teacher has done, even if the teacher’s behavior is reasonable, justifiable, and well-documented. An article by Nancy Gibbs related  “The fear of litigation has given rise to the practice of defensive teaching… The number of teachers buying liability insurance has jumped 25% in the past five years.” [25]

Many students come to school armed with a staggering sense of entitlement, and neither they nor their parents will hesitate to defend the child’s behavior, or fight to give the kid a break. “Anything you say can and will be used against you by a disgruntled student,” warn Mahoney and Purr. “It doesn’t matter if you were kidding and everybody in the class that day knew it. They’re still your words.”

Gibbs’s article described an example of the kind of defensive teaching that is becoming more and more common. She wrote about a sixth-grade teacher who “does not dare accuse a student of cheating, for instance, without evidence, including eyewitness accounts or a paper trail. When a teacher meets with a student alone, the door always has to be open to avoid any suspicion of inappropriate behavior on the teacher’s part.” [26]

Clearly, the best defense—besides caution and common sense—is a good relationship with your students and their parents. An attorney and risk management specialist for teachers, David Wolowitz observed, “In order to be a successful teacher, probably the single-most important thing is to connect with the students.” In our discussion, he mentioned several places a teacher’s attempt to connect can cross the line, the importance of maintaining a sensitivity to factors such as the age of the child and the nature of the connection (for instance, through email, social networking sites, or physical contact), and an awareness of how the interaction would be perceived—by parents and by other adults, and by the kids themselves.

“People who manage risk well make connections but are alert to the risks,” he said. He cited examples of inappropriate self-disclosure, including a teacher who had posted vacation pictures giving kids access to photos in which she was wearing a skimpy bathing suit. Likewise, Wolowitz described the kind of physicality that younger students might perceive as warm and caring, but which could come across as inappropriate with older students.

“Risk management should not interfere with having a positive, powerful, effective connection that leads to good education, but having an awareness of the nature of the connection with its benefits and risks,” he added. At the risk of encouraging outright paranoia, do develop an eye for how others are likely to see you. Because the acid test for liability is not in your intention, but in how your actual behavior is perceived and interpreted.  

Footnotes and commentary

Scroll down for related resources on this site.

[1] Amy Sutton Mahoney and Christopher Purr, Untenured, Uncensored. Lanham. MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2007, 3.
[2] Wyatt and White, 13.
[3] Interestingly, the beginning teachers who often have the greatest difficulty with the unique challenges of working in an educational environment are not the young people coming to the profession straight out of college, but those who enter the classroom as a second (or third) career after working in other fields. While some make the transition smoothly and successfully, others find it disheartening to discover that strategies that were effective in one work environment do not naturally translate to the classroom. This is true even when transferring from one school or grade level to another, much less from one career to another. I continually encounter dedicated folks who are incredibly perplexed and frustrated by their inability to get their classrooms to function as smoothly as their previous design teams, sales forces, or military units.
[4] William Purkey, “A Survival Manual for Beginning K-12 Teachers,” excerpted from William W. Purkey and J. Novak, Inviting School Success (New York: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1996). This advice is especially relevant for beginning teachers whose authority, competence, and professional reputation have not been established. Be aware that a title alone does not confer authority. Your behavior and interactions with your students will do that. I have been in several schools, public and private, in which students called teachers and administrators by their first names, and the authority relationships were not compromised, partly because this pattern was accepted and familiar at those sites. Follow the conventions in your school. 
[5] Amy Sutton Mahoney and Christopher Purr, Untenured, Uncensored (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2007), 86. I once had a first-year teacher for a sculpture class in high school. She gave us each a mound of clay, but no actual instructions or requirements, because she was trying to be “real cool with our creativity.” Until we actually turned something in. Having her publicly criticize—ridicule was more like it—one project after another burned any trust we had in her, personally and professionally. For my money, this qualified her one as of the worst teachers I ever had. I transferred into another class immediately. It would be another 30 years before I was even tempted to put my hands in clay again.
[6] Amy Sutton Mahoney and Christopher Purr, Untenured, Uncensored (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2007), 12.
[7] “Teaching Dispositions Assessment.” Available: The College of New Jersey Web site:  http://www.tcnj.edu/~educat/dean.html. 
[8] A 2005 article describes a new generation of workers who expect to bring their “campus-casual” habits to the workplace. It cites findings from a survey from that same year by the National Association of Colleges and Employers that found that 49% of employers “said non-traditional attire would have a ‘strong influence’ on their opinion of a candidate” In a 2002 study, “38% of respondents had such an opinion.” Olivia Barker and Sarah Bailey, “Going Toe-to-Toe on Office Etiquette,” USA Today (Aug. 15, 2005): D-1, 2. Although these surveys reflected a broad (that is, not specifically educational) work environment, it is clear from the feedback I received from administrators and veteran teachers, that a professional appearance is a significant factor in hiring (and, I suspect, evaluating) the individuals on their faculty.
[9] I’m frankly still more inclined to dress for comfort than “show,” but in a work situation, I don’t want my students or audiences to be distracted by my appearance.
[10] From a story shared by then-high school student Tony Salaz in Jane Bluestein, Mentors, Masters & Mrs. MacGregor: Stories of Teachers Making a Difference (Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 1995), ___.
[11] From several sources, including Wyatt and White, page 5.
[12] Leonard Pitts, Jr. “Cheaters Always Pay—Eventually,” Jewish World Review (June 21, 2002).
[13] “Ethical Behavior,” online discussion on “Educational Issues, News & Politics,” July 28, 2006. Available: ProTeacher Community Web site: http://www.proteacher.net/discussions/showthread.php?t=14277. Questions of propriety can apply to things you did in before you became a teacher, things you did in other jobs, or things you do outside of teaching that are completely unrelated to your work. One article reported on a teacher who was suspended after her students discovered a racy ad she did for a clothing company two years before she started teaching. (Steve Hall, “Teacher Suspended After Students See Her in Racy Ad.” Article on AdRants Website, Jan. 17, 2008, http://www.adrants.com/2008/01/teacher-suspended-after-students-see-her.php#more.) The article suggested an overreaction on the part of the school and noted that “it’s so over-the-top comical it’s hard to believe anyone would read any intentional nastiness into it on the part of [the teacher] or in anyway cast her in a negative light.” Nonetheless, the author also admits, “it would be pretty creepy to see your school teacher having simulated sex on a desk.”
[14] Wyatt and White, 129. While the majority of comments on public blogs and responses to news stories exposing teachers’ private lives (which tend to focus on the more sensational and negative examples) support teachers in having a right to privacy, the idea of being a role model for the community was frequently mentioned as being a part of the job. Also keep in mind that the smaller the community, the fewer freedoms you are likely to have about how you live your life—all the more so if you live in the same neighborhoods in which your students and their families live.
[15] Yvonne Gentzler, A New Teacher’s Guide to Best Practices (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2005), 159.
[16] “Teachers Expose Private Lives Online” (Nov. 2007). Available: KPHO-TV Web site: http://www.kpho.com/news/14705236/detail.html. In this same article, author Tim Delaney used the example of how the same image or language posted on a billboard along the freeway would be considered offensive.
[17] “Ethical Behavior.”
[18]  Philip H. Wagner, “An Evaluation of the Legal Literacy of Educators and the Implications for Teacher Preparation Programs.” Paper written for the 53rd Annual Conference of the Education Law Association, Nov. 16, 2007. Available: Education Law Association Website, http://www.educationlaw.org/2007%20Conference/Papers/A7Wagner.pdf?PHPSESSID=31584003be141e853c2f7007129eb326. Wagner noted that the legal issues of greatest concern include child abuse reporting, special education (IDEIA) concerns, discipline policies, and federal mandates.
[19] Wagner.
[20] Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Dec. 23, 2008. Available: U.S. Department of Education Web site: http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html 
[21] “Student Record Confidentiality: FERPA Information,” 2009. Available: Griffin Technical College Web site: tp://www.griffintech.edu/administration/FERPAGTC.htm; also “Those Who May Have Access to Educational Records” and “Do’s and Don’ts (of FERPA).” Part of an information sheet on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Available: Huntingdon College Web site: http://hawk.huntingdon.edu/FERPA/fsinfo.HTML. This page defines “educational interest” as follows: “In accordance with FERPA, a school official has a legitimate educational interest if the official needs to review an educational record in order to fulfill his/her professional responsibility.”

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Related Resources

What I Learned When I Started Teaching
Why I Teach 
Assuming Your Professional Identity
Great Expectations: Good News for Beginning Teachers
Wish List for Beginning Teachers: What they really want most
Why Teachers Quit: 6-part excerpt starts here
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Podcast: “On the Right Foot: Support for Beginning Teachers” with J. Victor McGuire

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