Your Image Is As Important As Your Underwear

Jose Vilson Jose

Captain Underpants

Today, I had the pleasure of attending the 1st prep meeting for a conference I’ll be attending this summer in Orlando, where we’ll be bathing in the sun next to a bevy of beauties and margaritas learning about teaching and learning from the likes of Jon Saphier and Robert Marzano. After attending last year, I’m ecstatic that they accepted my application to attend once more.

After the long meeting, I ran into a fellow teacher and colleague who I met while scoring state tests. After observing me on those dates and the prep meeting, she said, “Man, you really know how to play the game.” I asked her to expound, and she said, “Well, you got this Ivy League prep look going on, and your face is always so serious while working. But deep down, I also noticed that you’re a real Dominican, a real G.” I laughed. Because it was true, mostly. I wore my argyle blue-and-white shirt, black pants, marching Kangol and tie, and shiny shoes.

What I told her after is something to the effect of “Well, we can either work within the system or we can learn the system’s rules and codes and break them as deftly as possible.” I then made an analogy to Neo in The Matrix, who knew he couldn’t actually leave the system, but he could decode the system so well, he mastered his own destiny. It’s about time those of us wishing to see those 1s and 0s figure out the algorithms for their own matrices.

Words of advice: your demeanor is as important as your underwear. And it needs just as much upkeep.

Learn how to control your own image while still injecting your personality. This ranks amongst the hardest things to do when building yourself, but it’s so worth it. The way you carry yourself can make or break you. I know most of my readers are educators, but this applies to anyone new to their field or just trying to get by. Everything about your outer appearance and demeanor says what needs to be said about yourselves.

In that vein, you’ll never catch me in shorts at a business conference, even if it’s in Orlando. You’ll never see me in a suit at a Yankee game. You’ll never see me in a Yankee jersey in New England. Most of this makes sense to most of us, but the same people do things like this frequently without realizing it. They’ll use unprofessional language in front of their principals in the middle of a meeting. They’ll laugh too hard at a lady who they’re trying to date when the lady trips a little bit. They’ll sip loudly, smack their lips, and make that annoying “ahh” sound repeatedly when they like a drink. They’ll get far too loud about a topic that doesn’t merit that much energy.

Few people are perfect when it comes to this art, and I find myself wanting to break away from these codes of etiquette all the time, with a T-Shirt Day at school here, an anti-social day to myself there. I am reminded, however, that when people see my demeanor, they learn to trust me quickly not simply because of what I wear but how I act around them. I do try to stay open to conversation while clearly establishing boundaries. Many people never learn that and get burned early.

Sometimes, getting out of character is necessary. It usually falls within two cases: to show someone else how high you can go or how low you can go. Sometimes, you have to raise your voice to children getting out of hand to remind them that you don’t have to be nice. Sometimes, you have to brag about yourself in order to get that job interview or that next meeting. Used sparingly, these can work well in your favor. Yet these only come after you’ve established yourself and your personality early on.

As a math teacher, I had some room to make social mistakes; as a math coach, I have way less room. The amount of responsibility towards your image is proportional to how many people you’re representing. The more people your represent, the more you have to be in touch with people. For some, they’re comfortable right where they are.

But you’re not, since you’re reading this thinking, “Man, I really need to change my undies.”

Mr. Vilson, who doesn’t have to crack a smile to let people know he’s joking. Or at least he hopes not.