Friday, October 24, 2014

Do Teachers Need Dress Codes to Know What to Wear at School?

June 2, 2014 by twalker  
Filed under Featured News, Top Stories


By Edward Graham

Although the vast majority of educators dress in professional attire for the classrooms and schools where they work, some schools districts are nonetheless drafting and implementing dress code policies for school employees. While the push towards standards may seem relatively benign, these efforts bring up renewed questions about teacher professionalism and what constitutes “required educator attire.”

Teachers in West Virginia’s Kanawha County School District are protesting a proposed dress code that’s currently being considered by the local school board.

The dress code would ban facial piercings, visible tattoos (teachers would have to cover them up), flip-flops, and “immodest” dress. Hair and nails are to be clean and neatly groomed, and those who work around moving equipment will be required to maintain shoulder length hair or secure it in place.

One of the more ambiguous inclusions is the prohibition of blue jeans, unless they are “dress jeans.” It’s these kinds of vague policies and stipulations that have teachers, who move from role to role within a school on a moment’s notice, wondering why standards are becoming a hot-button issue when the vast majority of teachers dress in a professional manner that suits their in-school role.

Several right-wing media outlets naturally have seized upon the episode in Kanawha County as a way to portray teachers’ displeasure as privilege and pettiness. The real issue, of course, is respect, says teacher Donna Hanshew.

“It makes you feel like you’re not considered a professional,” Hanshew told the Charlestown Gazette. “It’s just like everything else — you deal with the people who are the problem; you don’t need to punish the majority. It’s just like in school — you don’t punish the whole class for what one student did.”

“When you’ve got schools that are falling down — literally falling down around you — and then you’re making a big deal out of a dress code for teachers, what does that say about your priorities?” Hanshew added.

For Parents As Well?
In April, a school board member in Palm Beach County, Florida, suggested a new dress code – not for students or teachers, but for parents. Karen Brill said she was miffed at the sight of parents picking up or dropping off their children looking unkempt and wearing ill-fitting pants, pajamas or “short shorts.”
The idea failed to gain any traction as other board members said it was important that schools are inviting to parents, regardless of what they may be wearing.
Debra Wilhelm, president of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association, strongly opposed dress codes for parents, calling them a waste of time and impractical.
“Who’s going to enforce it?” she asked. “Are they going to have school police arrest parents?”

“Our association believes the administration should address inappropriate dress by professionals on an individual basis as opposed to throwing everyone under the bus,” explains Dinah Adkins, president of the Kanawha County Education Association. “The large majority of educators dress professionally and appropriate for daily activities. In our county only one board member actually supported the implementation of a dress code.”

Many educators object, not because they want to look unprofessional, but because they see this as yet another unnecessary and insulting attempt to limit their rights and demean the profession.

“We are professionals, and we don’t need somebody telling us what we need to wear to work,” says Bill McConnell, an English Teacher in Ontario, California and a member of the California Teachers Association. “We understand that we shouldn’t show up for work in sweat pants. We are adults and can make our own decisions. I dress in clothes that are practical for my job. I don’t need to wear a pair of $100 slacks to teach. It’s more practical and efficient to teach in blue jeans with a button-down shirt or a polo shirt.”

It’s true that being taken seriously as a teacher necessitates that one look professionally ready for the classroom, but what exactly does “professional attire” for educators look like? In a world where “business casual” can refer to a wide variety of attire, how should a teacher—who, it should be noted, often assumes other school responsibilities such as lunch duty, afterschool duty, and a bevvy of other impromptu roles that require mobility and comfort—be “professionally” dressed?

Almost every teacher has a basic understanding of what constitutes school-friendly attire. Dressing too casually sends off a blasé vibe to students and fellow faculty that might undermine their ability to teach from a position of respect and authority. But dressing too rigidly could have the opposite effect, creating a sense of separation between the teacher and students.

“It’s important to dress the part,” says Sherell Lanoix, a 4th grade teacher in Los Angeles, California. “Students, parents, and administrators take you more seriously when you come to work dressed as a professional.”

With almost half of all public school students required to follow dress codes, wouldn’t it make sense for teachers to do so as well? In fact, the overwhelming majority of teachers comply with the parameters of “professional attire,” knowing full well what their roles and responsibilities in school will require.

Teachers know to avoid revealing clothing and ultracasual attire; those who make that mistake are reprimanded by their school administrators. But stipulating that teachers follow an uncompromising guideline without understanding the required duties of the teachers isn’t the right way to go.

Teachers should have a say in defining their profession, and most already know what’s the best approach. The bottom line, says Dr. Janet Stramel, an Assistant Professor at the College of Education and Technology at Fort Hays State University in Kansas, is teachers should dress in a way that promotes respect and shows students that they’re the authority in the classroom.

“Dress like a professional. A teacher who wears jeans or sweats, or tops that show cleavage, does not promote respect.”


121 Responses to “Do Teachers Need Dress Codes to Know What to Wear at School?”
  1. Sarah says:

    We can argue all day long as to what professional attire includes. The best service we can do to teachers is to allow individual school districts to determine and define professional attire to suit the culture and needs of that teaching environment. When I consider K-12 educators, rural, suburban, urban environments, and the different regions and the cultural context of these regions, I simply believe that power should rest with local districts and how they negotiate with state/local NEA chapters. Trust the individual school. Trust the leaders of that district. And mostly, trust the teachers to know their professional roles. If they do not, they will certainly face conversations with their administration. I teach in a public high school–we have casual Fridays (jeans). I dress nicely during the week and enjoy doing so. However, I have colleagues across the district in another high school where jeans are the norm–and kids still learn. I have colleagues in another part of the district, in a detention center, who wear jeans and nice shirts–no ties allowed–and no heels for women–both for safety and comfort. The point: culture = context and that should be determined by administrative leaders in conjunction with classroom educators–and ALWAYS with the best interest of the students’ learning in mind.

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  2. E.G. says:

    Every workplace should have an agreed upon and codified standard of dress…that is all.

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  3. Dean Butler says:

    I agree that there should be some guidelines for how teachers should dress. However, with that said, I also believe many factors should be taken into consideration. For example, I teach in Hawaii where the weather is very warm and classrooms are oftentimes without proper air conditioning. Therefore, I do wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts to work. This is not just for comfort, but for my health as well. Even with air conditioning, I am often outside on yard duty during the day and before and after school running around campus on errands. With all of this said, I don’t wear cut off jeans or inappropriate shirts. As educators we do know how to dress for our school climate. I agree that dress code violations should be handled on a case by case basis and the guidelines should be agreed upon not only by administration but by educators as well. Mahalo!

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  4. Pat Hagadorn says:

    When we sweat the small stuff, like dress codes, we look foolish. Most working people must dress a certain way-even, and in some cases, especially professionals. Let it go.

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  5. Rosalie Bryk says:

    If we want to be treated like professionals, then we must project a professional image!

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  6. Ken Mussen says:

    What we wear doesn’t make us professionals. What we do on a daily basis makes us professionals.

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  7. Jill DeGrove says:

    Honestly…one more ridiculous “concern”?!? I agree…administrators are highly capable of handling any inappropriate attire. We have MUCH bigger fish to fry in our districts. A teacher’s attire should be one of the last things a district is worrying about. We go to work for students and each teacher’s role may be a bit different in his or her school. I think most of us can figure out on our own what is and is not appropriate attire for our daily responsibilities. The focus needs to shift back to students and their needs.

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  8. Jennifer Wilmetti says:

    The more restrictive the dress code, the more likely people are to look for and find loopholes. Our new dress code was implemented two years ago and failed to mention shorts. Now many of the teachers the dress code was trying to rein in simply wear shorts. And dressing “professionally” sounds great until my room is up to 90 degrees in the fall and spring and down to the 50s or 60s in the winter. “Professional” offices don’t do that.

    I believe in dressing APPROPRIATELY. Teachers must deal with so many situations that aren’t dealt with in a business suit.

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  9. Eryn Sutliff says:

    The expectation of a more professional attire should be supported by higher salaries. I work in Virginia, but my teacher friends in West Virginia barely make a livable wage. They should not be required to dress beyond their means. People argue that the cost of living is much lower in West Virginia, but from my personal experience it costs more for gas, food, insurances, and some services. I am in favor of both student and staff uniforms, it would save me money and solve dress code issues in the classroom.

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  10. Dale says:

    As soon as my school district provides me a clothing allowance, I’ll wear a tie, a tuxedo, or a clown suit. In the meantime, they get what they pay for.

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  11. Marcia Y Burton says:

    When i came up in school teachers had a certain respect for themselves and the students. The teachers dressed very professional. You could tell the difference between the teachers and students. Now days you don’t know who is who. What is wrong with that picture? I have seen some strang things that teachers have been wearing these days. We have to remember that we are role models. If we protray a negative picture the students will pick up on that. Teachers should remember that they are there to help shape and nurture the students and not to out dress them.

    Marcia Y Burton

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  12. Tim Mitchell says:

    Common sense should prevail. Facial tattoos and piercings are not acceptable in the classroom for professionals. Go to any business and apply for a position inappropriately dressed and see if you get the position you seek. Children learn by example and this is a terrible one to accept or promote.

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  13. Priscilla Nielsen says:

    Assuming that pressure from administration will maintain reasonable attire when someone is really out of line does not work if the district is so afraid of a lawsuit that they don’t really ‘administer’ any longer.

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  14. Tammy says:

    It is disconcerting that this discussion is even needed.
    With that said, I have witnessed teachers with attire that is beyond poor judgement or taste. As role models we must be expected to present ourselves professionally. That doesn’t mean pantyhose and ties. But should exclude what you would wear to the beach or movies.
    Children are given dress codes such as “no flip flops” for their safety. We too must adhere to appropriate dress codes. Teachers should be allowed input on what that should look like.

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  15. John says:

    Before becoming a teacher I was a computer programmer. We worked with other programmers, analysts, support and sales people. We dressed in jeans, shorts, sneakers, tee-shirts pretty much whatever. BUT, when we were going to a client site or had clients in to visit, we wore shirts and ties. I never heard of anyone getting taken aside to talk about their attire.

    Being a professional isn’t WHAT you do (or even how you dress) it is HOW YOU DO your job. A sanitation worker can be a professional and a doctor can be amazingly unprofessional.

    As for tattoos, if I’ve yet to have anyone say anything that wasn’t respectful about the U.S. Army tattoo on my forearm.

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  16. Inez goodman says:

    I am a guest teacher and I see the positive way students and staff at all the schools react to me when I come in dressed professionally. You don’t have to wear a business suit but sweats, sweatshirts, tees,old faded or stained jeans and flip flops do not present an authoritative image. Piercings, tattoos, unusual hair color or styles are a distraction. Maybe clothes don’t determine how you perform but it does affect how you are seen by students.

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  17. Alice. Kelly says:

    Yes we need a dress code.
    Since older teachers are being pushed out of the classroom, this is another area that has suffered. Modeling appropriate dress for younger teachers is needed. I have seen young females wearing the tights fashion around young males in H. S. To often. I’ve seen young male teachers who look like they just rolled out of bed and came to work. I’ve heard them say” why dress for THOSE kids. ” Teachers model dress for the work world, effort to look your best should never be an issue. The school can have dress down days, but even then there is a limit. You should not think it is alright to wear anything. We can’t expect students to dress in a respectable manner if we do not. I do not want my students focused on my attire for the wrong reasons.

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  18. Leslie Davis says:

    I don’t see a dress code for teachers as a sign of disrespect for the profession – many professions have dress codes because they recognize that how their employees dress does communicate something. I have been at schools where I cringe to see what some teachers wear to school (flip flops, sweatpants, revealing tops, etc.). Most teachers know how to dress professionally without a formal dress code, but for the few who don’t or won’t, a dress code can be helpful IF it is enforced by the administration. And I agree with other comments about how the dress code should be suited to the job responsibilities, climate and season – when I teach summer school in a non-air-conditioned building, I wear sandals and shorts because otherwise I’ll get heat exhaustion.

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  19. To dress “professionally” does not require a ton of money, nor does it mean so casual that one can go from school directly to weed the garden without a change in attire. It is not expensive, either, to project a “classy” image; pairing a blazer (Kohl’s, Target) with nice jeans achieves that effect.
    For school districts to rule regarding piercings and tattoos is far beyond their purview, however. Flip flops are a safety issue, and to ban them for faculty, staff, AND students would be wise, but probably will not happen.

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  20. Judy Evans says:

    In order to be effective teachers, the first thing we need to do is to make a good first impression on our students. This first impression is one that includes the way we speak, act, and dress. If we cannot engage the student with interest, respect, and trust our efforts will be fruitless. A person’s appearance sends out a signal of that person’s character as well as personality. Individual differences in students will also affect how they react to what they see and hear. If teachers want the personal best from their students, they should present their personal best to their students. I have been in a position monitoring teachers as they work with students. I have seen students not engaged and not respectful because their hormones were busy reacting to a teacher’s appearance. A Professional Educator Dress Code may produce more effective teachers. We all need to start with self-respect.

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  21. Roger Donohoe says:

    I just came from the RA…We need a dress code.

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