Thursday, September 18, 2008

Teaching Statement

Yesterday I wrote about how my daughter's teacher says things to her class that I would not consider saying to my classes of university students. This teacher also wears clothing items that I would not consider wearing. For example, when teaching, she wears T-shirts that Make A Statement.

In addition to not having any interest in Making A Statement while teaching, there is a question of whether it would be appropriate for me to teach my science classes wearing a T-shirt that supported a political candidate or a cause. Even if I were really proud of being one of only 4 people to vote for Dennis Kucinich* in the primaries, what would be the point of wearing a Kucinich for President T-shirt while I teach my science classes?

What if the T-shirt text or design was an attempt at humor more related to the course topic? Perhaps that would be more appropriate (?). In fact, some of the T-shirts my daughter's teacher wears are funny (e.g. "Shakespeare Hates Your Emo Poems"), and are a way to make a point that helps with her teaching.

On a few occasions when I was a graduate student teaching assistant, I wore a T-shirt with a humorous science image on it that made the students laugh and that eased the tension a bit on exam day. I haven't done this as a professor, but I never wear text-laden T-shirts anyway.

With a few exceptions, students are not fragile creatures whose educational experience will be destroyed if their professor wears a T-shirt that implies that the he/she has different political views or sports team preferences than the student, has a penguin fetish, is a huge fan of The Smiths, or thinks meat is murder**. Even so, in our struggle to get and keep student attention in class (an effort perhaps undermined by wearing clothes that express our interests and views) vs. our wish to seem like real people with real lives and outside interests (an effort perhaps assisted by such clothing), my personal preference is to leave the Statement Garb at home.

I am not, however, ready to wear graph-paper shirts like 87% of my colleagues do, but fortunately there are a few other options between those two extremes.

* before I knew about his UFO sighting.
** Did anyone get that reference to the 1985 Smiths' album, Meat is Murder?


Anonymous said...

We didn't just get the reference, we have the tshirt too.

Nicole said...

In my humble opinion, this is definitely the funniest physics related statement garb I've seen recently. I've been quite tempted to buy it, and I think as a grad student I can still totally get away with wearing it.

Also, I think that whether or not it's appropriate for a professor to wear such things (and this seems to be a personal choice), it is still great that people come up with these ideas for funny statement garb and then proceed to sell them online. This must have been why the internet was created. Professors can appreciate the humor without having to wear the T-shirts, right?

And my advisor definitely has and wears this T-shirt.

Anonymous said...

The graph paper shirts drive me bananas, because I want to plot functions on them. One time I did. I wonder if it ever washed out.

I had a "WTF?" tshirt once. My thesis advisor tried to tell me I shouldn't wear it at work. I told him it was an existential conundrum: Why This Font? He gave up.

Anonymous said...

I remember that one of my TAs donned a (very "custom looking") T-shirt with an image of Chris Farley. After seeing him in that shirt, I decided that he must be a very cool guy, and I treated him differently after that.

I write from experience that if you were to wear a Smiths shirt, you would be forced to live up to that coolness. You are probably cool anyway, but between the expectations of your students and your own obligations with such a promotion, relations would only be strained.

[I used to listen to Headmaster Ritual for days.]

Julia said...

I would be incredibly happy if any of my teachers, but especially a science teacher, wore a t-shirt saying "Shakespeare hates your Emo Poems"

In fact, just the thought of it makes me happy.

Anonymous said...

While I haven't bought the t-shirt, for the biologically inclined here is a great sight (complete with stuffed versions of organs, which I do own of the organ I study)..

I guess I'd side on not wearing a t-shirt (period) in lecture, but on the non-lecture days (i.e. weekends when we know we all work as professors), it's fair game..

Anonymous said...

I suspect that Shakespeare would have hated Morrissey's emo poems too.

I have always been curious why some groups (say, The Smiths) endure on T shirts for many many years while others simply disappear.

Professor in Training said...

The Smiths rock. Hmmm ... showing my age.

Anonymous said...

I must admit that my Flying Spaghetti Monster T-shirt is a personal favorite and combines a sceintific statement with some wicked humor. However, I still strive to wear shirts with buttons on the days I teach, and confine the attempts to poison the kids with my leftist ideas to very occasional things that slip out in passing.

Mark P

Shriram Krishnamurthi said...


As an MSP, politics is largely irrelevant to the material I'm covering. Plus, I am in a position of authority. So, I never wear clothing that expresses any opinion beyond a slightly fanatical passion for bicycling.

If something does come up in class, I generally adopt a mildly conservative position. This is largely because knee-jerk liberalism is so rampant at Brown that I feel it's essential for students to get at least some push-back.

Of course, there are times when we do kick back and talk. At social hours, both in the department and at the bar (we have a growing spring semester tradition of graduating seniors kicking it back w/ the faculty), I'm happy to engage (guardedly) -- though then again, largely to adopt contrarian viewpoints. That kind of engagement is part of their college education.

Odyssey said...

or thinks meat is murder**

I got it! Have the album too.

Average Professor said...

If I only had to deal with students, I would definitely trend towards the humorous nerdy t-shirts. (While I think my colleagues would also find them funny, it wouldn't help me get taken seriously, which I sometimes need.) I can see the value of lightening the mood in class - my classes are small enough that they're very discussion-oriented and it is best if the students are relaxed.

Here are a couple of my faves:

Anonymous said...

I don't wear t-shirts with words (picky about their shape, and it's hard to find good one's of the right shape -- though I found one with a caligraphy alphabet on it and angelou quotes, which I do wear).

But, I don't see any problem with doing so. I don't think that teachers of college students should have to protect their student's minds from their teacher's opinions, in this non-intrusive form. I'm a bit more perplexed about the use of political statements within a presentation (though it would be hard not to refer to the republicans raising their hands up to say that they don't believe in evolution) when talking about it.

ScienceWoman said...

Hmm...have been thinking along these lines lately too. I definitely dress professionally for teaching or meeting days, and professionally does not mean logo t-shirts. On exam days, I have decided to add a blazer or skirt to my usual level of dressiness - as a subtle way of empathizing with the importance of exams for my students. However, if I am simply working in my office for the day or I am teaching a messy or outdoor lab, I'll wear a sciencey t-shirt. I just got a "this is what a scientist looks like" shirt from and I can't wait for an opportunity to wear it.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, if you like the Smiths that much, Morrissey's last album is rather good and I think it's better than a lot of the stuff from the Smiths days.

Jenn said...

It might be because I'm a grad student TA and thus need all the credibility I can get, but I have no desire to come off as anything but professional in the classroom. Plus it only makes worse any problems with people looking at my chest instead of my face through whole conversation (something someone did to me recently after a nice long gap of it not happening, which really just drove home how unpleasant it is to make something other than my face the focus of attention).

I do, however, wear interesting stockings under my nearly-ankle-length skirts. I figure that's enough to show I have a personality, and honestly I'd be pleased if anyone noticed.

johannarts said...

I dress professionally for class.... but as a geologist I also interact a lot with my students on field trips outside the classroom, where a skirt/slacks are not even remotely an option. It's there that I bust out the ironic hipster tees.... they typically love it.

Exasperated said...

What's wrong with graph paper shirts? My wife buys them for me all the time and they are quite functional. How about going au naturel? Me without clothes? well a nation turns its back and gags

EliRabett said...

Once wore a Star-Trek T shirt to a final: Beam me up Scotty, there is no intelligent life on this planet. Almost got stoned.

Anonymous said...

The graph paper shirts, sadly, at least in my end of the world, run as the cheapest reasonably generic short or long sleeved front button shirt that someone can throw pull out of the laundry and onto a hanger and look reasonably put together every day or whenever the need is there. They seem for no reason to cost even less than many plain color or slightly striped shirts. They can be bought in quantity, they can vary but never too much.

(Unfortunately, the cost for similar types of shirts for women are significantly more.)

Albatross said...

Most profs in my department limit their statement making to their office door rather than their clothes.

I gave up my obscure band t-shirts for teaching but they are still my uniform for lab days.

John Logsdon said...

1. I have both a Kucinch (ca. 2004) and mutiple Smiths (ca. 1985) t-shirts.
2. I never teach in t-shirts.
3. I also never teach in jeans.

I find that by dressing a bit more formally when I lecture (pressed shirt, nice pants) I get a bit more respect from the students. This was especially the case when I was just starting and the students might confuse me for being their pal.

Harvestar said...

When teaching an intro course, I wore a content related t-shirt everyday. (telescopes, galaxies, etc.)

Then again, that's just what I would have worn to work anyway.

I also found that glow in the dark t-shirts to illustrate points were very, very helpful at star parties and planetarium shows.