I actually came to Cincinnati with the intent of finding a teaching job (with my newly earned M.Ed.), but I ended up in the corporate world instead. While I was still pursuing a teaching profession, I, like you, worried about appropriate dress. You don’t want to be taken for a student, but you also don’t want to dress like your mother. You want to be modest and comfortable and professional, yet express your personality.
Modest: Avoid low-cut tops, short skirts, short shorts, tight clothing, sleeveless styles, and low-slung pants (unless paired with a l-o-o-o-ng top). Use caution when incorporating elements that may be interpreted as “sexy,” like open-weave stockings and lace tops. Layering is a great way to make a revealing outfit less so.
Comfortable: You’ll want to wear comfortable shoes. Your clothing should be comfortable sitting at a desk, standing in front of the classroom, and doing any light manual labor required (erasing the chalkboard, moving chairs, etc.)
Professional: Avoid clothing and accessories that are associated with your students (i.e. hoodies, backpacks, flipflops, logo wear, etc.) Take a cue from business casual wear and incorporate blazers, blouses, skirts, and slacks into your wardrobe. For instance, top a sundress with a blazer and add ballet flats and a smart bag for a youthful, yet pulled-together look.
Faking Good Breeding also addressed this topic in her Appropriate Outfits for a New Teacher entry.
Enough with rules. I assume you already knew those. I think what you are really looking for is INSPIRATION. I turned to Wardrobe Remix and searched for some stylish teachers. My hands-down favorite goes by the handle “Middleagedteacher.” I gather from your message that you are not middle-aged, but women of any age can take some inspiration from this lady! She’s a bold pattern mixer and makes much (if not all) of her own jewelry.
You can check out her entire Wardrobe Diary 2008 on flickr.
As a substitute, you aren’t teaching every day and may be asked to teach with little notice. I can imagine it is stressful to put together an outfit different from your usual style at the last minute. Instead, plan ahead. Take a half day to put together some basic teaching outfits you can use next time you’re called in. Ask a friend to help you. She can give advice, tell you if you are revealing too much when you bend over, and take photos for reference. Don’t worry if you’ve only come up with four or five outfits. With infrequent exposure, and possibly a different group of students every time, no one will notice!
Admittedly, I’m not a teacher, just a wanna-be-teacher. Are there any teacher readers out there who can also offer advice? Links to pictures are a bonus.