The Hairy Interview

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Should a teacher get a new haircut right before applying for jobs?

Dear Miriam,

I’m about to begin interviewing for jobs as a teacher, and I’m also considering getting a kind of radical haircut. In part, I want to change my hair as a reaction to what I’ve seen as the heteronormativity in schools I’ve visited, but I don’t want my hairstyle to have a negative impact on my ability to secure a job in education. What do you think?

Signed,
The Hairy Interview


Dear Hairy,

I have great respect for teachers and great respect for educators who want to push at traditional boundaries to make educational institutions more progressive. However, I’m not sure a haircut is your most-effective means of making a strong statement about heteronormativity and education. The best way you can support and encourage progressive education is by being a supportive and progressive educator. You will lead your students by example, and while your appearance could be part of that example, your actions will be even more important in the classroom. Just as you would presumably want to teach your students that what’s inside them is more important than what’s outside, I hope you believe that about yourself as well.

I wish I could say people aren’t judged by their appearances, but we know that we are judged all the time based on how we look. That’s why people have work clothes and dress up for a night out and wear make-up and try to remember not to post drunk photos of themselves on Facebook. Presumably, you have clothes that you would wear specifically for an interview in order to make a good impression, so it’s worth considering whether your hair also exemplifies the kind of professional you intend to be.

I also wish I could say that it would be illegal for an employer to discriminate against qualified candidates based on their hairstyles. However, last month, a high-profile case made headlines when a court ruled that an employer could refuse to hire a woman who wears her hair in dreadlocks. In your case, if you don’t get a job offer contingent on changing your hair, as the woman did in this case, you may never know why you won’t get any particular job. One reason is that there are likely to be more qualified candidates than there are job openings. Another may be your inexperience, as it sounds like you are applying for jobs for the first time. You should want to give yourself every possible advantage to start your career in the best possible way. If you think this haircut does that, then go for it. If you think it may be an impediment (even if only because it puts doubt into your own mind as you head into an interview), then it’s not worth it.

An obvious solution would be to wait until after you get a job to change your hair, though, at that point, you would probably want to discuss it with a supervisor or least have some information in hand about dress codes. Another option would be to apply for jobs at schools that you believe fit your views and into which you believe your style and beliefs would fit. Get a sense of how the teachers look and dress and interact and how their appearances may be regulated. If you don’t think you’ll fit into a school, don’t apply simply as a way to make a statement about your educational views; even if you did get the job, you wouldn’t be happy there, which won’t make you an effective teacher.

Finally, I was asked this question in person and, as I walked home through Center City thinking it over, I saw half a dozen people with what could be called non-traditional haircuts. I realized that if I hadn’t just been asked this question, I would not have even noticed. Totally anecdotally, I’d say the range of acceptable looks, styles and haircuts today is much wider than if you were applying for teaching jobs a decade ago. What you’re considering might be a big change for you, but it’s possible that it might not actually seem that unusual to most people around you if they didn’t know what you looked like before.

Best of luck with your applications and interviews, and be well,

Miriam

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