Individual Dressing Rooms: Excerpts from Michel Anteby’s new book, Manufacturing Morals

Individual Dressing Rooms: Excerpts from Michel Anteby’s new book, Manufacturing Morals

Manufacturing Morals

“Along with meeting in teaching groups and sharing teaching plans, faculty members also prepare their sessions individually. Though choreographed and performed privately, these are School-specific routines in which much uniformity still prevails. Whether at home or at the School, time is always set aside to review a case and fine-tune a session’s teaching plan. Some faculty members recommend doing this the evening prior to the session, so one can “sleep on” any insights or outstanding questions. Others deem it better to review right before entering the classroom, so the effort remains fresh in the mind. Regardless of when and how the preparation is done, all faculty members would agree that every session needs to be prepared. […]


Dressing the part is another step in one’s individual preparation. Academics tend to pay little attention to their attire, but most senior School faculty members have a clear sense of proper dress in the classroom. […] Many entering faculty members receive a call from an “executive clothier” within a few weeks of joining the School. (The clothier has long done business with the School’s faculty but is not on staff.) When I received the call [in 2005], I recall thinking that the person calling was probably a tailor. “Soon you will start to teach,” he told me, “and you need to be properly dressed. I have worked with many HBS professors and I can help you make the transition.” “You’ll need a certain number of suits,” he explained. “You might also need to attend formal events that will require a different set of clothes than your daily attire.” […] The clothier offered to help me find a limited number of color and fabric matches to “facilitate” my life.


Help was indeed needed. With close to thirty teaching sessions looming, two or three per week over the course of the semester, a large wardrobe would be required. “Go to Brooks Brothers for shirts and suits,” a pragmatic colleague advised. “You can never go wrong.” This was good advice, but I could have used more specific guidance. Color choices, for instance, must be partly dictated by practical considerations. Solid black shows chalk marks, and lighter-colored fabrics lack the decorum expected in the classroom. Nonsolid dark colors are therefore a common choice for suits. […]


Another step in individual preparation entails reviewing the seating chart to select students to call on in the upcoming discussion. Students who want to participate raise their hands, but typically more than enough hands are raised.… [But] someone who has not spoken for several sessions often gets priority. In addition to the large color seating charts adorning the walls of most faculty offices, smaller, session-specific printouts of the seating chart serve as calling reminders. These printouts are automatically generated after each session, once a faculty assistant or instructor enters the names of those who just spoke and some comments on their interventions. Colored circles classify students for the coming session (green for the “call list,” orange for second-priority students, red for those who have already participated often), and instructors often add their own idiosyncratic annotations, such as happy faces to signal students with relevant case experience. My own calling patterns initially ended up very different than I had hoped. Many students I wanted to hear from did not speak. Others who had already spoken proved quite aggressive at again entering the discussion. This invariably resulted in an epidemic of green circles on the next session’s calling chart. Keeping the epidemic under control is an unexpectedly daunting and tiresome task for inexperienced faculty.


Memory exercises facilitate the calling routine. Most faculty members memorize some of their students’ names and faces before the start of the semester via online or paper “class cards” bearing their names, photographs, and other biographical information. A student’s undergraduate institution, past employer, and home region, for instance, might jointly create a memorable portrait. Tricks are then used to memorize seats and faces. Some faculty members hand-copy students’ names and the seating chart to imprint a visual memory of the section’s layout. Others browse students’ online or printed profiles. I make flashcards listing students’ names, with my own cues to their memorable attributes written on the back (e.g., “looks like my cousin Roni,” “square glasses,” “long hair”). The cards make the exercise feel a bit like a trivia game. Memorizing students’ names and faces prior to the start of classes can mean that strangers begin looking (unilaterally) familiar. Once, right before Labor Day, I killed some time by flipping through my flashcards while waiting for a visitor at the Boston airport. Suddenly I saw someone I believed to be in my deck walking out of the gate. I held up the card to compare the photo to the person who had just exited. My notes read “enjoys karaoke, sideburns, from Arkansas.” Bystanders looked at me suspiciously, as if I might be tracking a criminal. It was a false match. I returned the deck into my pocket…


With students’ faces swirling in my mind, I head to the restroom mirror to adjust my tie. The gesture reminds me of a comedian checking his makeup before taking the stage. Upon exiting, I generally bump into colleagues who will be teaching the same case the same day. […] Students use the phrase “cracking the case” to mean figuring out what a case is about, but before this happens, the instructors also need to crack the case (not to mention the sequence of cases).This largely happens in the teaching groups, but it occasionally continues on the way to the classroom. […] Thus walking alone to class is often dreaded.