Emma is a Teaching Assistant who works for Protocol Education in Wolverhampton. Choosing what to wear to school can be a tricky task and Emma advises us what not to wear.
This week I have enjoyed a genuinely new experience. I was offered a day at a children's centre. No, that wasn't the new experience. When I got there, all smartly dressed in my grey trousers and smart but casual warm jumper, they handed me... A tabard! I took it with a straight face, which was not easy. You see my brain and I are not friends. I wanted to be professional, my brain on the other hand had other ideas. Being brought up on a televisual diet of a Big Breakfast before school, all that ran through my mind was the chant "woman in a tabard!" If you don't get that 90's reference, please, YouTube it! You will not be disappointed.
The many faces of smart/casual
Clothes are very important when working through Protocol. The official guidelines stipulate smart/casual and absolutely no jeans or trainers. But what you wear for each assignment varies greatly. I was talking to another supply teacher the other day. He was smartly dressed in black trousers and a shirt and I was wearing black trousers and a smart/casual, but in no way new top. We both agreed that we didn't feel as smart as we'd like, but we were both working in foundation stage that day and little hands do have a habit of smearing paint, bogies and other bodily fluids onto clothes. So smart/casual, but not new was the way forward.
But what you wear for each assignment varies greatly.
High school clothing
Of course when I was offered work in a high school and later a P.R.U (pupil referral unit) I spent a lot of time carefully perusing my work wardrobe for just the right outfit. What do high school teachers wear? Thinking back to my old school days I remember it mainly being tweed, elbow patches and tank tops. Not exactly my style. Then there was that one hilarious day when two English teachers turned up wearing exactly the same sailer's outfit! Ok, maybe you had to have been there, but it did give us a giggle through an hour of Shakespeare. Will's jokes certainly never did! I decided in the end on a smart little number, which I'm sure I'd worn to a job interview in the past, but I felt confident and professional and was certain that 16 year olds rarely wiped their noses on support staff's clothes. As it turned out, they did however wipe their noses on their own sleeves. Mental note; take tissues next time.
Children have made a habit of prodding at me for years now, often with wet fingers. Am I the only one? It all started when I was on work experience at a primary school. Back then I had no idea how to dress, but I still understood the general rule; no trainers, no jeans. I turned up, as a spotty, terrified teen, with a full set of gleaming braces on my teeth and green glittery nail polish. Yes, I was gorgeous even back then! The first thing that happened as I smiled nervously was that a little finger shot right out and into my mouth. "What's THAT on your teeth?" With burning cheeks, I told the owner of the little hand that they were my braces. Ok. Back to numeracy. For about 10 seconds then piped up the little voice "why do you have bracelets on your teeth?". You couldn't make it up!
No to the Sparkly nail polish
Later that day the teacher took me aside and very gently pointed out that green sparkly nail polish was perhaps not the right choice. She told me about an incident that happened to her when she was an NQT. She used to wear big, gold hoops in her ears. One day she asked the children to paint a portrait of someone else in their class. One child painted her. A tiny head, overshadowed by two massive yellow circles. She never wore those earrings again.
Stories of friends
Children have a way of picking up on differences and they aren't shy about asking about them either! This reminds me of something that happened to my best friend. She dyed a small patch of her hair blue. She went into work the next day and the children were looking at her strangely all morning. Finally one could hold it in no longer and blurted out "Miss, you've got paint in your hair!". Luckily, she thought it was hilarious and even more luckily she shared it with me. I do love a good laugh.
I once worked with a woman who'd had two children. She told me that an embarrassing incident that had happened to her one day, whilst heavily pregnant with her second child. She was standing in front of a year five class, with her trousers ever tightening with her expanding waistline. When suddenly there was an audible riiiipp. Ever resourceful she grabbed a stapler and ran out of the room. Of course in sympathy for her embarrassment I waited at least a few seconds before rolling on the floor in a fit of giggles. Common curtesy and all.
Your choice of clothes are very important in this line of work. It's not just about impressing the existing staff, or representing the company, it's about trying not to stand out too much. Not unless you want a barrage of questions and dubiously sticky fingers to prod at you, that is.
There are many of us who have been in these situations. If you are brave enough to share comment of our Facebook or Google+.