A hand raised, “So I guess limiting distractions also means paying attention to the colors of our clothing, doesn’t it?”

Inwardly, I groaned as I looked at my adult trainee. She had flowing red hair, a bright, vivacious smile, sparkling eyes, and unrestrained expressions. Her clothing matched her personality – bold colors, sweeping patterns, energetic pulses. Marcia was compassionate about becoming an Academic Language Therapist, embracing the practice with full force, willing to make whatever changes were necessary. Her instincts were absolutely correct, yet I hoped that the advice to tone down her wardrobe would not diminish her passion and energy. I never imagined the reverse could also be true.

Her question hit me at a time when I was mulling over my own clothing choices. I had long ago gone to mostly solid color shirts, although I certainly had days when I would succumb to the playful patterns of a favorite blouse or dress.  Yet, especially on days when my students seemed very distracted, I wondered if wearing all black would make a difference.

With thoughts of Morticia Adams, funeral directors, baristas, priests, backstage crews, and 20-something fashionistas, I recognized my resistance to a black uniform. I imagined feeling bored, restricted, confined, morose, out-of-place. Yet as school returned for the fall session, I committed to the experiment.

After a week, I was hooked. As anyone who wears a uniform will tell you, a uniform simplifies life. My new ensemble consists of well-cut black jeans, a scoop-neck, black blouse, and a simple black jacket or sweater.  For color and personality, I often add a scarf, which easily comes off as I work with a student. My earrings are my only jewelry, usually studs or simple gold hoops. That first week, I noticed that rather than feeling stifled with the lack of clothing variety, I felt more freedom and creativity. The effort I was putting into choosing clothing could now go to other endeavors. I discovered wearing black gives me energy.

img_0366     But what is the student benefit? I have a long list of environmental distractions to avoid: clutter, perfumes, peeling paint, food odors, squeaky chairs, fluorescent lights, bright white paper, changes to routine and structure. For many of my students, seemingly small annoyances can make the difference between reading correctly or incorrectly.  Wearing black avoids any subtle color clashes with reading materials.  What I am wearing becomes unimportant to the lesson.

As I was recently getting dressed for work, I smiled as my eyes fell on a pair of cat earrings. “Such fun cats,” I thought, as I impulsively pushed the wire hoops into my earlobes. I looked in the mirror, gave my head a playful shake, and watched the cats dangle and dance. I thought about a student and how she would probably love these cat earrings with their mismatched colors and expressions.


“quilt… snatch…creek,” intensely, carefully, rhythmically, Mark read his words. My own breath was shallow; my movements subtle, my voice silent. He was in the zone.

Then it was over.

“Hey, Mrs. Spear! Are those cats? Oh wow! Do those cats have different colors? They are so cool! My mom, she has a dog pin that is two dogs. They have really shiny eyes. Do you have a cat, Mrs. Spear?”

Jolted from my own sense of success, I sighed and smiled, remembering my feelings of playfulness that morning in the mirror.  I took out my dancing, dangling cats, set them to the side, and promised dear Mark that he could look at them more closely at the end of the lesson. Perhaps because I was wearing black, the earrings were more noticeable. Yet it was also a powerful reminder that small distractions make a big difference.

Now, when training adults new to Academic Therapy, my discussion about distractions includes talking about our clothing.  Academic Therapists can control the setting to highlight the lesson and maximize student opportunity for success. Our clothing choice is yet another way to make this happen.



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