(photo courtesy of theteacherdresscode.com found via pinterest)
This is the ultimate test of a suitable outfit for working with young children in a Montessori classroom, at least in my humble opinion:
1) It is cheap AF. Did any of the items I’m wearing cost more than $10? Even the jeans will cost $10 or less, no joke.
2) You still look like an actual professional, and not too sloppy or too casual for a professional work environment (torn jeans are the one exception, because that’s trendy right now; and you can still pull off torn jeans very tastefully as evidenced by the title photo for this post. Check with your individual school dress code on torn jeans though!).
What do I mean by not too sloppy, not too casual? For me, it’s do I look like a girl boss-meets-goddess even if these articles of clothing only cost $9? And even if I’m about to accidentally like, sit on a puddle of urine in these pants today, maybe. No one working in Montessori classrooms should look sloppy, like she just rolled out of bed and doesn’t care about her personal appearance. A trained guide should not look like her intentions are to go to a workout class. Noooo, no no. Montessori education is a legitimate profession, at least of the AMI variety.
Dr. Montessori has a quote about guides looking respectable in her book The Absorbent Mind; and if you understand the vibe high-quality Montessori education is striving to convey, it means that everyone working in a Montessori school should look like a professional when they come to work. When it comes to Montessori education, yes, there is room for fun in fashion. But we are nevertheless offering exceptional early childhood programming. So it’s important that everyone looks legit. And there’s a way to look like a respectable professional, not spend a lot of money, and still be able to move and roll around with toddlers.
I remember a time when the owner showed up to work one time, unshaven, in a t-shirt and jeans, and no joke– he looked like he was experiencing a stint of having been kicked out of his house by his wife or something, in comparison to his usual business attire in suits. It was a stark contrast.
Parents of Montessori kids (from private schools, at least), are mostly high-earning, white collar professionals who are paying thousands of dollars a month to be a part of this experience. Montessori school usually isn’t a $400 a month, drop your kid off so they can watch TV all day kind of thing. It’s Montessori. Like, babies making their own fresh-squeezed orange juice at school from the oranges on the trees their older siblings planted when they were toddlers in the same program. The more seriously we guides and assistants take ourselves, the more seriously everyone else takes us. Including these high-profile parents. And the more seriously they take the business. And the more seriously they take the entire field of Montessori education. It’s the difference between this….
Who are you gonna take more seriously? The person in that sweater, or the person in that dress? If that blue dress she’s wearing cost $10 or less, I’m wearing it to work with a pair of spandex shorts or leggings underneath it. Because I consider myself a legitimate professional and I want to dress the part.
3) Your outfit conveys and creates a personal sense of self-worth–which is different from not looking “sloppy” or “too casual”. This factor, personal sense of self worth, is about how you value yourself. The question I like to ask myself is “Would I make a man wish I was the mother of his child in my $10 or less outfit?”. Yepp! I know all the dads are spoken for, but it’s a great point of comparison. Do I dress as nicely as all the moms dropping their kids off?
I personally derive a stronger sense of self worth and dignity by feeling like a woman through the way that I choose to dress. To me, being a woman can bring its own sense of power if you step into that feminine strength only we can convey. Even if I might get snot all over my outfit that day, it doesn’t matter. A pediatrician might get slimed by a toddler on any given work day, too. It’s about my sense of self-worth, especially because American society disregards ECE professionals so much so that garbage people and nannies make more than we do. So the more confident I feel, knowing that I’m educating entire generations of children for my country, the better I teach. And the more confidently I interact with others. Sounds cliche, but dress for success. Think it, feel it, become it.
4) Unlike a lot of the ideas from the teacher dress code blog, the footwear for toddler teacher has to be functional. It must stay on, and it must protect your feet, which will get wet and have wooden toys dropped on them. Can I sprint like Ussain Bolt to catch any children who suddenly dash away, or to reach any children as fast as I can who unexpectedly fall off of something they shouldn’t have been climbing on? Do these shoes make me sound like a ninja while walking around the classroom, or do they make me sound like a clydesdale horse? These factors matter in a Montessori toddler work atmosphere.
5) Stains are inevitable. That’s why I go for the cheap version of expensive-looking clothing. Am I willing to have this clothing item permanently stained with allegedly “child-friendly” but not really child-friendly art media? Or stained with blood? Because both have happened in my career thus far. The paint will getchya in places you can’t even conceptualize is possible.
6) You will be rolling around with the kids. Literally sometimes. Would I be willing to do a crotch-out, happy baby pose in this outfit in front of parents? If the answer is yes, proceed forward!
7) Young children are all 1-2 feet tall. So you should dress with that in mind. Can I bend over and touch my toes in this outfit without my booty or crotch being revealed? ‘Cause yeah. That’s a consideration in the toddler classroom too. Particularly for your co-workers and parents’ comfort.
8) When you bend over, the front matters, too. Can I bend over without any part of my tits being revealed? (and don’t be fooled, this applies just as much to the smaller-chested woman as it does to the well-endowed. In fact, the smaller your tits are, some shirts drop right open when you lean forward to present, and will reveal literally your whole entire chest when you don’t have big tatas. And boy is that awkward.
9) There are lots of gates, doors, hooks and things hanging at about the 2.5 foot level in a Montessori toddler classroom. If I walk through a threshold quickly, can I make it through without getting caught or stuck in or on anything? If I walk past this child, do they get swept up under the billows of my skirt or cardigan? Sometimes, my cardigan is like, dragging over the heads of two toddlers as a walk past them. True story. And it makes me reconsider whether that thing is gonna work at work.
10) Things that drape or hang off of your neck are pretty much out. Can I change diapers and present in this outfit without any part of it hanging into the children’s faces? Sionara necklaces; how I love thee, but we will be happy hour and weekend friends.
Optional #11): Time is everything. Can I go pee as fast as possible in this outfit? Can I get myself out the door as fast as possible in this outfit? Let’s just say that even though jumpsuits are off limits for the kids, they are not off limits to me and are one of the fastest ways to get my perpetually almost late, flat teacher booty out the door on time, OK?
If the answer is yes to all of the above, hooray! Your outfit is a winner. Get it, girl!
Bonus tip: One of my favorite online sites to source Montessori toddler-friendly teacher clothing, and this is not a paid endorsement, is Shein.com. I cannot speak on the fit for larger sizes, as I am in the small-medium range. But everything I have ordered from this site fits me. I have found the most beautiful $5 blouses and things on this site! The one caveat is that I once ordered things from them and for reasons still unknown, the site refunded all the items in my cart before anything arrived. Otherwise, I’m all about shein.com.