Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dress Codes

Just as school began USA Today ran an article ( ) about teachers and dress codes.  I have such conflicting thoughts.  As a parent I love uniforms for kids, though I confess to finding rules about sock colors or what can be on a jacket a bit silly.  Kids in uniforms take away so many issues with expense, status, and self-image and puts the focus on education.  But for teachers?…. For my first three years of teaching I wore a tie every day and never jeans.  In my fourth year I wore a tie 80% of the time.  I think I had taught for six years before I wore jeans.  But by my 11th or 12th year….all jeans and never ties.  I dressed neat, but never dressed up.  I rationalized this by explaining that I had earned my credibility.  I was known, my hair had begun to gray and my students and their families frequently knew me before they started class. I honestly do not think my teaching was remotely impacted by not dressing up.  And I was comfortable and happy; I was ready to mix it up with the kids no matter what they brought.  Now?  After 20 years in the classroom, I dress better than I have since those first five years - a change of attitude and atmosphere.

On the other hand, I have had many colleagues who explain that they firmly believe that dressing well changes one’s attitude and one’s reception.  I cannot disagree.  If teachers want to be received as professionals they need to dress the part.  Will it improve student achievement?  I can’t say.  Will well-dressed teachers have some positive effect on the classroom and the building?  I have to believe they would.    

What should the elements of a teachers’ dress code be?  How do we define what is appropriate?  Can tattoos show?  Does it depend on content area?  Do we define width of straps and lengths of skirts?  Do we get into shoes?  Jewelry?  Are there safety issues to consider?  Do we ban or accept political buttons?  Religious symbols?  

Anyone who has ever tried to write, interpret or enforce a student dress code knows it is wrought with danger.  How complex does it get with teachers?  Consider also that on one staff you might have teachers as young as 22 and as old as…well, let’s just say experienced.  

While I can agree that having some professional expectations for attire is entirely reasonable and with merit, getting it done might be quite difficult.  

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