Friday, February 17, 2012

Gibson Tuck

I have had a problem since I started teaching at E University: nobody believes I am a professor.  I definitely don't mind being mistaken for someone younger, and I am not at all yearning to look aged, but it is a bit off-putting at times: when I went to the registrar's office to have a student's grade changed, the registrar seemed suspicious that I was a student trying to commit some kind of grade fraud.  I actually started pulling out my ID card before she gave me the paperwork.  And, I guess, when I think about it, my look isn't helping much.  The picture below was, ironically, taken the day of the grade-change-incident.  It wasn't a teaching day, but I am still wearing a button-up shirt and dressy jeans and boots.  But...the hair, the trendy jacket, and the multiple bags probably don't communicate authority.
If it were only occasional cases of mistaken identity, I wouldn't mind so much, but something I read by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink has made me reconsider.  He cites a study in which students viewed two-seconds of video of a professor they had never met lecturing with the sound off and made a snap-judgment of that professor's effectiveness.  These judgments were identical to the evaluations made by students at the end of a whole semester.  Clearly, something about appearance is forming students' judgments and showing up in course evaluations.  Which made me think about the few comments I received on last semester's evaluations where students mentioned that I didn't seem authoritative, or lacked confidence, or seemed shy.  I am curious to see how appearance might play into this.  I did, after all, write a dissertation on how dress and appearance shape identity and can be manipulated to gain power.  So, I am conducting an experiment: this semester, I have worn my hair up every time I step on campus, I teach wearing dressing, skirts, hose, heels, the works.  The trendy bomber jacket stays home, as does the puffy blue parka.  So far, there have been a lot more addresses as "Dr."  rather than "Mrs." and definitely no "Miss."

I have tried several different hair styles and try to rotate between ponytails (the grown up kind, sleek, low, with hair parted in front) and various buns and braids.  I like period-hair styles, like the Gibson tuck below, but try not to wear them too often--I want to look more authoritative, not nuts.

I like the Gibson tuck.  It is very elegant, but easy to do--a basic ponytail tucked into itself with a few pins.  It looks a bit messy, because this is at the end of the day, but it actually has good staying power.  And, bonus, when I take it down at home in the evening, beautiful waves.
So, this will be a long-term experiment.  I will have to see how reactions go and student course evaluations.  Hopefully, these few tweaks will help students see me as a more authoritative figure.  Maybe they'll even start doing their reading!

And PS:  I know, the real focus should be--and it is--on crafting my teaching practice.  The appearance-manipulation is just a fun side-project.

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