"I'm sorry. What did you say?"
"This is not what a teacher should like," she restated emphatically.
Once I was past my initial reaction to comment on her appearance I began to ponder what it is that makes someone look like a teacher. For elementary teachers it is obvious. Massive amounts of denim, preferably in the form of a jumper with patchwork apples, rulers, and a slate with an "A+" plastered on it is virtually required. Turtlnecks can be worn for additional authenticity. In fact at conferences you can always pick out the elementary teachers from their clothes and the permament smile etched on their faces.
As for secondary teachers the question is a little trickier. We are an eclectic bunch mixing elements of both elementary and post secondary style. So it would not be unusual to see the turtleneck make an appearance, but ties become much more common at this level as well. I can't say that there is any one specific style. My principal most likely has a range of styles in mind which I clearly fell outside of.
My guess is that it was the headphones, which in this case had a distinctive 70's ear muff style. But can headphones alone cause one to look unscholarly? The assumption is that whatever is eminating from them must be of a decidedly unacademic nature. If I had offered her my ipod and she heard the narrator reciting a chapter of Beowulf would I look like a teacher again? To be honest it was more likely the melodic tones of Wilco not ancient English alliteration reverberating between my ears, but the point remains the same.
Perhaps it was the untucked shirt or blue jeans that caused my facade to crumble. I'll admit to a certain casualness of dress lately, but I have not noticed a corresponding decline in student achievement. The only thing that I can think of is that we are worried about how we appear to visitors to our school to which I say, "oh well." I have worked many years to not look or even act like a teacher.
A quick perusal of popular culture reveals negative stereotypes of teacher stacked upon each other. Edna Krabappel, Mr. Garrison, Charlie Brown's Squawk Box. At best we are considered irrelevant.
Once in an essay I wrote to apply for a position as a student teacher I said that I did not want to become "a pedagogical tie-wearing zombie." This still holds true today.