Sunday, July 03, 2005

Teachers Getting Dressed Down for Not Dressing Up

Since it's a holiday weekend, I wasn't planning a long post, but a story I read this morning caught my attention. I've talked before about my opposition to strict school dress codes, and that was for students. Now, districts are starting to do the same thing for teachers:
In some districts, teachers can get dressed down for wearing skimpy tops, short skirts, flip flops, jeans, T-shirts, spandex or baseball caps.
Some of that stuff should certainly not be worn by teachers, but jeans? Even on "casual Friday?"
District 11 in Colorado Springs, Colo., for example, prohibits sexually provocative items. That includes clothing that exposes "cleavage, private parts, the midriff or undergarments," district rules say.
OK, that one certainly makes sense.
In Georgia's Miller County, skirts must reach the knee. Elsewhere in the state, hair curlers are disallowed in Harris County and male teachers in Talbot County must wear ties two or three times a week.
Ties? Youch. Is it me, or is that just so 1960's? Do they have to wear a fedora hat too?
"There's an impression that teachers are dressing more and more - well, the good term for it would be 'relaxed,'" said Bill Scharffe, director of bylaws and policy services for the Michigan Association of School Boards. "Another term for it would be 'sloppy.'"
Wait a minute...aren't they in danger of becoming the fashion police here? And, even more importantly, won't this take away time from actually educating students?
Teachers may view policies that get too specific as restrictive and demeaning. And what to do about broad policies that are enforced inconsistently? What works for a physics teacher may not fit a kindergarten teacher who sits with students on the floor.
...or art teachers that are around messy paint and clay all day, and so on. One-size-fits-all approaches don't work any better in this situation than they do in most of the rest of education.
School administrators say inappropriate dress is most often an issue with younger teachers, whose trendy clothing and casual style can make it hard to distinguish them from their students.

Mark Berntson, who teaches high school band in West Fargo, N.D., wears a tie each day. It's a tradition he began years ago to stand out from his students. He does not wear blue jeans to class often, saving them for occasions such as the first day of baseball season.

"I don't think I'm taken as seriously if I'm dressed down and I don't think I take my job as seriously if I'm dressed down," he said. "When I dress more professionally, I think I teach better, I think I'm received better, and I think I show more respect for my profession."
Hmm, I think that's pretty subjective. Personally, I teach better when I'm more comfortable, but part of that has to do with being in stuffy little practice rooms all day. Or maybe there's just a little too much college professor in me. Since I do both jobs in one day, one philosophy has to predominate.

(I also have practical reasons for liking blue jeans over khakis: Since I go between schools several times a day, and often park far from the entrance to the school, I sometimes have to deal with rainy weather. When I wear khakis, I become a mud magnet; it just flocks to me. On jeans days, it never seems to become an issue, even if the weather is equally bad. At my "standardized dress" middle school [thankfully, there's only one of those], I feel obligated to wear khakis, so I'm not dressed more casually than the students, but many times I ended up a muddy mess.)

OK, here's one more that I doubt would get an argument from anyone:
Teachers set the example, said Scharffe, the Michigan official and former director of school personnel. That is why he once sent home a teacher whose belt buckle featured a marijuana leaf.
Yeah, that's a little too "cool" for any educational situation (even art school).

My personal take on this whole thing is that the whole "clothes make the man (or woman)" thing is a little overblown; it may work well in the business world, but creative types will balk at it more often than not. As I said in the previous post, there are some control issues in this as well.

So what do you think? Musings readers include teachers, students and parents, so it could be quite a lively debate. Please chime in below...

Blowing out the candles (celebrity edition): Happy Birthday to Dave Barry! He may have missed being an "All-American Boy" by one day, but he's still one of our finest humor columnists, "hiatus" or not.

1 comment:

Jazzy G said...

At LD, both students and teachers had to adhere to the same dress code policy. Of course, the enforcement was almost nonexistant. On occasion they'd enforce it on one of the of the students lower down on the HS popularity food chain. Never Ms. HS Princess who had worn "illegal" clothing the whole year (yes, even during the winter months).

I'm so glad the school dress code thing isn't something that involves myself anymore. I doubt the students in some of those districts mentioned have their dress codes enforced as strictly as their teachers. Actually, I even doubt they enforce the teacher dress code. It's an endless cycle of actionless whining.