Professional Comfort

Sitting outside a room lined with racks of finalized pieces awaiting the kiln, half-finished clay masses, and oversized glass windows–Ms. Mariel Gross’s legs hung off a desk as she reflected on her stylistic changes throughout her last eight years teaching at Longmeadow High School. 

“I think of comfort and safety.” She pointed at her overalls with scissors poking out of a pocket and paint lining the fabric. 

Ms. Gross is one of a few teachers here at LHS whose appearance has stood out amongst the faculty. Brightly colored pieces of clothes that don’t necessarily mesh and an apron always around her waist, she claimed that her choice of clothes is primarily inspired by the subject she teaches: 3D design. 

“I live by art,” she said. Role models, pop culture, art movements, and LGBTQ+ history are all inspirations for the design teacher’s style.  

Another teacher, only two doors down from Ms. Gross, expressed that her style mostly comes from a time in high school when she found friends with similar tastes in music and expression that helped her figure out her look. 

Second-year LHS teacher Ms. Betsy Mitchell’s sense of fashion is rooted in a place of wanting to fit in, traveling the road of baggy clothes to preppy, eventually landing on a more self-described “emo” style. Black jeans, Doc Martens, and frills–Ms. Mitchell’s outfits continue to hold inspiration from her own high school looks. As her style has evolved over the years, she hasn’t worried about how it will affect her teaching career. 

While both teachers possess a style of casual and often loud attire, the forces that had molded their interests couldn’t be more different. “Freshman year of high school I wanted to hide,” said Ms. Mitchell. In contrast, Mrs. Gross spent her high school years experimenting with altering and sewing clothes with the help of her grandmother. 

Beyond the material aspects of their styles, both teachers adorn a range of tattoos. From American Traditional cats and faces to matching pieces with family and friends, tattoos lined the skin of Mrs. Gross and Ms. Mitchell alike.

“I think it’s better to be upfront,” Ms. Mitchell said when referring to showing off her highly visible tattoos at her recent interview for the teaching job she holds, “A big part of teaching is showing kids self-expression.” 

While LHS has been very accepting of teachers’ freedom of expression through clothes, tattoos, and piercings, past schools haven’t been so generous. 

Mrs. Gross sighed and let out a breath, “My stuff was a little too risque.” While working at Ralph C. Mahar School in Orange, MA years ago, she had been called out in a meeting for wearing leggings (under a skirt) that was deemed inappropriate.

Despite the past experiences, Mrs. Gross pledges to keep dressing the way she does as she continues her teaching career. “I could see myself wearing these same overalls in ten, twenty, ninety years!” she laughed.

But tucked away in an office in the music wing, Berkeley graduate and first year teacher Mr. Steve Barnett brought up an opposing point of view: “You can’t dress like a student.” 

Although Mr. Barnett sported the same bright colors as Mrs. Gross, he offered up the idea of dressing for how you’d like to be treated. As a teacher, he feels that certain articles of clothing are no-goes. Even jeans, to Mr. Barnett, are “inappropriate.” 

The clothes he picks out for school everyday rely heavily on button down shirts and dress pants. He believes that the clothes worn by teachers in school should be chosen with more care than in everyday life. 

A rule of thumb Mr. Barnett came up with is: if other teachers are wearing it, then you can wear it. He looks to teachers with more experience than him as a guide for his in-school fashion. 

Despite the differences in paths to their own style and view on a teacher’s role regarding fashion, all three teachers managed to exhibit a style that doesn’t always resemble that of the more seasoned teachers of LHS. 

However, as Mr. Barnett puts it, “I hope to keep teaching here for a long time. It’s a really good school. Everyone is very chill.”

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