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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Maybe I'm part of the problem

With Yom Kippur upon us, it is time to confess my sins in response to Paul's post, because I am part of the problem:

Prior to COVID, I wore slacks and a tie when teaching (often a tie linked thematically to the day's class), although I wore shorts, a polo, and a quarter-zip on non-teaching days (I live in Miami, where it is hot 49 weeks a year and very warm the other three weeks).*

[*] A former student sued me a few years ago. The complaint, alleging a due process violation, included allegations about how I dressed).

When I taught online during COVID, I adopted my non-teaching outfit for the video classroom space. The shorts were out of camera and the quarter-zip-and-polo looked nice enough. I lived in Philly and taught online during fall 2020; John Fetterman was running for Lt. Governor, and, needless to say, I became a fan.

I continued wearing that outfit when I returned to teaching in-person-but-masked in fall 2021. For precedent, I pointed to basketball coaches--who used to wear dress clothes on the sideline, from Pat Riley's Armani suits to the unfortunate 1970s:

ImagesThat is until COVID, when coaches insisted on wearing comfortable clothing (warm-up pants, quarter-zips, sneakers) to go along with masks. And there is something weird about a mask with a suit or otherwise nice clothing. So, I told my students, I would continue with shorts and a polo and a mask in the classroom. With the lawsuit fresh in mind, I assured them this did not reflect on how seriously I took teaching or how the class would be conducted.

When I removed the mask in fall 2022, I said the hell with it. I had become comfortable (again, wearing pants and a nice shirt in Miami is miserable), it did not change the quality of my teaching (for whatever that is worth), and it did not change how students interacted with me in the classroom or their seriousness in preparing and engaging in class.

As Paul said, a classroom is not the U.S. Senate. And I dress "appropriately" in other contexts, such as commencement or when serving as moderator of a school-wide lecture with a visiting judge. I think about whether this is the wrong choice and whether to go back to wearing slacks (or at least jeans--which I probably would in a place that had seasons), if not all the way to wearing ties. The recent dust-up and the resulting discussion of "professionalism" puts this back on my radar. So far, my desire for comfort in hot weather prevails. 

S'lach li.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 21, 2023 at 10:26 AM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink


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