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Dressing Teachers

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Nashville’s 75,000 public school students must now adhere to a strict dress code. Collared shirts are mandatory; hoodies and jeans are no longer acceptable. But what about teachers? Nashville parent Rebecca Willocks thinks there’s a double standard. "I saw a teacher’s navel piercing last year and was surprised," she says. "Students can’t get away with that." Nashville’s school board doesn’t think teachers should either. They’ve suggested a teacher dress code, but some, including the union, think it’s excessive. Lisa Soronen, an attorney with the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va., says, "Having a dress code for everyone is kind of overkill when a simple conversation with a co-worker and administrator or chair might be appropriate..."

However, Michelle Soto, a 23-year-old 5th grade Nashville teacher with tattoos of a butterfly on her back and tarot cards circling her waist, understands. "The clothes in my closet are school clothes," she says. "The clothes in my dresser are what I wear in my free time. They don’t mix." Other school districts around the country—including, New Jersey, Texas, and California—have proposed teacher dress codes with varying degrees of success.

42 Comments

Teachers have often complained that they are not treated and respected as professionals. To be treated as one, one should act as one, that includes
appropriate professional attire. However, there should be some flexability where content being taught
dictates form/style of dress.

I pretty much agree with what Mr. Stephens said about dress in the classroom. Students really do notice.

I also agree with Mr. Stephenson - a teacher's dress sets the tone for the class and the classroom. Students have been noted to comment when I 'dress down' in a polo shirt and khakis instead of my usual shirt and tie. However, some latitude must be provided, especially during the warm early fall and the end of school year.

It is encumbent upon teachers to dress and act as role models for our students. This should be stressed to those teachers who wear clothes that do not befit their profession. In my capacity as a field supervisor for a college program designed to mentor new inservice teachers, I have reminded a few of my teachers as to what attire is appropriate for teaching. However, contractually, school supervisors are not permitted to make these types of comments.

Female teachers should have neck to toe covered with pockets everywhere and coordinated to the seasons or holidays. Male teahers should dress like Steve Harvey in the old Steve Harvey show. Or....a statement should be presented about appropriate dress to the staff by administration on the first day of inservices. If an administrator cannot run their school with the appearance of excellence by everyone, then they should not be in a postion of that magnitude.

I agree. I am always asked by my colleagues "why are you dressed up?" It's not that I'm dressed up, they're dressed like students. We expect to be treated as professionals, yet we look like we're cleaning the house (worse case scenario) or we all look like we teach physical education and we don't.

Teachers should wear comfortable clothes appropriate to the job. A woman who has to stand most of the day shouldn't have to wear heels. A man who takes his science students outside on hot days shouldn't need a tie.

Clothing should enhance and not detract from the message of the day. You want to look and feel your best, and that will vary with season, age, region, and the events of the week. If in doubt, more conservative is generally better, and NEVER show your underwear!

As a parent my 7th grade daughter came home one day and asked why the female teachers didn't have the same dress code as the female students. As an involved parent involved in many district workgroups I picked up the phone and called the principal to inform him that he may want to talk to this staff member about this. He said he's given up. The female teachers said he was sexist and wasn't treating them professionally. He said he's picking other battles!?

Ugh!

Thank heaven that there are still teachers out there who recognize that professional attire should be a requirement for all educators. It is necessary not only to raising the bar for what others think about education and educators but also helps in the maintenance of classroom discipline and pride in learning. Teachers should be role models in every way, not flash-in the pan fashion statements.

I work in a private school where students are required to wear uniforms, minimal jewelry, no nail polish, etc. One student asked me why I could wear dangly earrings and she couldn't. My answer? I have been there and done that. I have been through grades K-12 and 5 years of college. I am a 41 year old professional who would be insulted if I was told I had to dress in a specific way simply because the students do. I dress professionally and appropriately. As a parent, I cannot imagine calling the principal because my daughter thought it was unfair that the female teachers didn't have to follow the student dress code.

Ok, so I'm a new teacher, but I think it is fair for a student to ask why teachers and students don't have the same dress codes. If there is a dress code, there is a reason for the dress code. Therefore, it would be very hypocritical to say that just because I am a teacher, I don't have to follow the rules. If there is a dress rule that teachers are not willing to follow, then maybe the rule should be reanalyzed. If the rule is there for a good reason, then maybe the teacher should reanalyze his/her position as a teacher.

I have taught preschool special needs classes for 26 years. My "uniform" is made up of jeans, T-shirts (appropriately sized), long-sleeved turtle necks, and tennis shoes. It is my philosophy (and luckily my administration agrees)that it is more important to address the needs of my students, than to worry about protecting my clothing from paint, glue, or a variety of bodily excretions.

I believe that how a teacher dresses communicates how that teacher views him/herself. A teacher who values him/herself as a competent PROFESSIONAL will dress in a manner that conveys that. The male teacher who wears bright whimsical ties, the female who wears vibrant colors, flowing skirts, unique vests or sweaters...students love that! Obviously, suits or high heels are not necessary, but I always wonder about that teacher who comes to school in a sweatshirt....doesn't he/she care? Or the teacher dressed like a junior high student....doesn't he/she want to grow up? We teachers are constantly under public scrutiny. I hope that teachers at all levels think about that and dress in a manner that conveys the ultimate in pride and professionalism.

Teachers are the ultimate role model. Aren't we supposed to be teaching responsiblility, respect, fairness, and good character in addition to subject matter? If we ask students to treat us with respect, we have to look like we deserve it. I agree with verbal dress codes for teachers. If it's Jean's Day at our Catholic School - teachers can wear jeans, too. If it's Spirit Day, they can join the kids and wear school sweatshirts, too. Otherwise, it's professional attire. That doesn't always have to mean shirt & tie and dresses, but cover up and look the part of a teacher with a job to do...not like part of the student body. I'm an art teacher and agree with the pre-school teacher (as well as others) onpractical dress for your situation. And POO! on that unprofessional Principal who wouldn't enforce the same standards for students as teachers. Picking his battles?? What kind of Leader is that.....

I agree with Nashville's efforts to establish a dress code. Students do notice when teachers are dressed as professionals. It seems to bring a measure of extra respect. Also, the concept of establishing a dress code provides a measure of respect for the profession of teaching. Too many of us have entered the profession with a "dress down" approach. I think this lessen the respect from other professions and speaks volumes about who we view our own profession. Finally, I think it is rather hypocritical for educators to advocate that students adhear to a dress code, but are unwilling to do the same thing. One of the best ways to encourage good learning and school citizenship is to lead by example.

I am in Nashville, and I think it is a shame that you have to tell some people how to dress. I agree that we are professionals and should dress in that way. I know we are role models and I think we should follow the dress code to a point, but not to the point of the same school uniforms. I think we are supposed to stand out as authority figures and dress assomeone the studentscan look up to. I also think it encourages them to strive to succeed now and encourages them to think about what they want to become in the future. I want to continue to wear my professional clothes which some peers do consider "dressed up." Students cannot wear denim, saggy pants, revealing shirts, so neither should teachers. I don't think uniforms are necessary to dress properly; in fact, I would not want to wear them. If I wanted to wear a uniform, I wouldn't have gone to college and I'd just drive a truck!

With the proliferation of school uniforms or "dress codes" that mimic uniforms (dark trousers or skirts with white shirts), it is only reasonable to impose the same on teachers. You cannot teach what you do not know.

That said, I personally have little faith in such approaches. Not only is there very little research to connect uniforms to the desired outcomes, but the top-down approach is generally labor-intensive to enforce and serves to avoid rather than respond to conflict. It is no wonder that the principal gives up on enforcement.

Far better to have the lengthy discussions and study required to draw in all of the stakeholders to determine the desired school culture and arrive at a determination with sufficient buy-in to carry it out. This doesn't generally mean an "every man for himself" policy that avoids the needed discussion. Certainly at the high school level it is very appropriate to involve students in discussion of what kind of attire is appropriate and fits with the school culture.

Most of the views posted above have nothing wrong with them (neither the comfortable shoes, clothing appropriate to the task nor the "professional" clothing to set the tone). It is problematic when a staff cannot have the needed discussion to come together on what makes sense in their school, and to be clear on why flip-flops or visible navel piercings fit into neither of these categories. It is a simple enough issue, and one that seems to have plenty of opinions. The fact that the discussions are not taking place is symptomatic of the culture of teacher isolation in schools. Good place to start making a change.

I agree that teachers should dress professionally. I like to wear ties when I CAN. Unfortunately, we are not always able to. When was the last time a business person was told we need to save money, so no air conditioning. Additionally, how can a principal in an air conditioned office enforce a stringent dress code with a staff that is trying to teach students in 90 degree classrooms?

Give us the conditions that we need to comfortably and successfully educate our students and I will be more likely to wear the professional suit and tie. But, if it is 90 degrees, I am wearing shorts and a light shirt or tshirt.

I'm not overly fond of regimentation, but I do see the need for guidelines. I used to wear a tie when I was a secondary teacher, but since moving to primary, I wear clothes appropriate to working on the floor. A colleague appeared in her classroom with her thong clearly displayed. She was told to make better selections. This was justified.

Okay, let me get this straight. In most schools teachers have a dress code that they should follow. If they deviate from this code, they should be spoken to. That makes sense. In a public school, I can understand parts of the faculty and student dress code being similar, although I do not think they should be the same. As a (new) teacher and a mother of two, I do not want my children feeling that they are on the same playing field as their teacher. As far as private schools are concerned, I do not believe that the teachers should have to wear uniforms simply because the students do. Someone earlier said that you cannot teach what you do not know. I wore uniforms for 12 years in school. Believe me, I know. Yet it never once occured to me to question why my teachers were also not wearing uniforms.

Has everyone lost their minds! Since when have we ever wanted to be like our students. We are supposed to model professional ADULTS not middle or high school students. I agree that teachers should dress in a professional manner, but make a teacher adhere to a uniform policy to match that of a students is most ridiculous. How could you expect a student take me seriously wearing a pair of "knee socks." Yes, there is a reason for a dress code in school. It is to keep the students on a socially and economically balanced playing field so that fashion does not interfere with the learning process. We were all taught in our education classes that one of the biggest mistakes we can make, especially as a new teacher, is to become a "friend" with our students. We have to separate ourselves; not cross that fine line, and one of those ways is in our attire. We are different than our students and they need to know that if we are to get the respect that we deserve from them. If we have to adhere to their dress code, what makes us different from them? Why would they look up to us. Think about it!

As an elementary music teacher on my feet all day, I have learned that I need to wear walking shoes with support in order to avoid back and knee pain. I would love to be able to dress more professionally - suits, dresses and pumps. But I pay for it dearly with pain. I'm thankful that my principal understands my need to dress in this manner. Plus in Florida, we are now required to have 150 minutes of P.E. per week for elementary. Since we were not given another P.E. teacher, the media teacher, computer teacher, art teacher and myself "cover" additional minutes in our activities. I do wear pressed khakis and a school/music themed polo shirt with a collar. Fridays we are allowed to wear nice jeans.

When I was doing my student teaching (7 years ago), I was horrified by the girls who were wearing low-cut tops and mini-skirts with high heels in the winter. "Are seniors exempt from the dresscode?" I asked my mentor.

When she finished laughing, she said, "Those are teachers!"

Until then, I had no idea that schools had the same problem as corporations: employees who don't dress appropriately. Although I wouldn't wish for anyone to impose a uniform-like dress code , some administrators and teachers DO need help figuring out a professional wardrobe - just as corporate interns do.

While I agree that "profession attire" is dress code enough, it does need to be defined for those who wear skirts/dresses with a length that barely cover their undergarments, or show enough cleavage that one would wonder if the 'girls' might fall out if the teacher leans over a student desk to help. Same goes for hole-y jeans, stained T's and sweatshirts...

Our school district adopted a "standard dress code" for our students. It's amazing how great everyone looks with their shirts tucked in and pants that fit! Teachers in my school have always been very professional when it comes to dress, but I can see having guidelines on what is acceptable in the classroom. Beachy flip-flops have become very fashionable but as someone in my school said, "If you can wear it to the beach, it's not appropriate for school." We should dress for success.

As a Long-Term Substitute Teacher in Maryland for grades K-8 I have seen the need for all teaching professionals to dress appropriately. I have actually over-heard middle school children commenting on their teacher's revealing clothing. Our society is so sexually stimulated by the media, children should not have to shield their eyes all day in the classroom due to their teacher's lack of discretion. Principals should be held accountability for setting and maintaining the dress code in their respective schools.

I’m another Nashville teacher, and feel I need to clarify the new provisions for student’s school clothing. Our students are asked to dress based on a set of guidelines, standard school attire. They don’t wear uniforms. The standards were set to insure safety, level the fashion playing field for disadvantaged students, and to support a learning environment. There was good reason to respond to student dress issues. We didn’t have one student with a pants waistline drooping below their genitals, we had hundreds. We didn’t have one student hiding weapons in bagging clothing; it had become a serious problem. We didn’t have 20% of our students suffering self esteem problems because they couldn’t afford the latest fashion, we had over 80%. If the district can provide a list of the same sorts of problems related to teachers’ attire, on the same scale, then a set of guidelines for professional dress are certainly reasonable. Staff dress guidelines should respond to problems, not assuage student or for that matter parent concerns that we have different attire rules than their school age children. If building administrators aren’t responding to reasonable concerns such as the parent calling about an exposed navel ring, then their supervisors need to step up to the plate. Otherwise provide those of us who have the good sense, and grace to dress professionally at work the respect we deserve.

A dress code actually makes life simpler for everyone. You know what is expected, and it's easy to do. Everyone can express their individuality at home or wherever they are outside of work. At work you are part of a team, and shared expectations are part of working together.

Regarding jewelry: I was also asked by my students why I could wear dangling or hoop earrings and they couldn't. The answer: safety in PE classes as well as eliminating a convenient thing to grab onto or get hooked on clothing in a fight or even in mild horseplay that may cause a very nasty and bloody torn ear.

As a former administrator who has returned to the classroom, I agree teachers need a dress code that should be followed. How can students learn what is appropriate without role models that they see every day? I have been questioned often about why I always wear a tie (and sometimes a jacket as well) and my response is, "I am a professional, and this is how I dress". I once dressed down on a Friday and my students were quite upset, telling me they appreciate and look up to the fact that I set a dress code standard.

I agree a teacher should appropriate and
in a professional manner.

In a perfect world, dress codes would be unnecessary, but alas, dress codes are desirable to avoid undesirable excesses. For example, sexually revealing clothing and jewelery or clothing that is disractive are counterproductive to education.

While I think uniforms are silly, I do advocate a dress code for students that is designed to minimize distractions, sexual activity and gang activity. Beyond a teacher "looking professional" I do not advocate dress codes for teachers, but once we impose a dress code on the students, we, as teachers, are obligated to set that dress code as the minimum standard for our own dress.

Our job is both to teach and to lead by example.

My husband IS a professional truck driver, and he wears a uniform. It consists of a collared, button down shirt that has his name embroided and an American flag patch attaced to the sleeve. His trousers are like the "Dickie" brand at stores like Wal-mart. He shines his boots every day. He tells me he sees other drivers who dress like slobs, and that it's an embarrassment. His company does not require uniforms, he prefers to present himself to his customers and colleagues as a professional driver, not just a steering-wheel holder. Some people just don't get it, and they'll be the ones who wonder "why the &@#! did administrators implement a dress code," and the rest of us who are professionals will already know why!!!

Educators need to dress professonally and appropriately for their discipline. I am a educator in a middle school. Most teachers do dress professionally. However, I do observe some teachers showing their stomachs and too much bust. Boys at this age are unable to concentrate on academics if females are causing their hormones to soar out of control. Girls will be confrontational because the adult females are dressing on a level that's not in the students dress code.Females please give the "girls" enough covering so the boys can concentrate and try to make AYP. Show your midriff and belly buttons after school hours. We don't need dress codes for teachers. Just allow mentors,coworkers and administrators to delicately explain appropriate dress attire for school. Old School Folks remember school clothes,work clothes,church clothes and party clothes? Well some new teachers don't know the difference. It's up to the old heads to gently guide them.

Educators need to dress professonally and appropriately for their discipline. I am a educator in a middle school. Most teachers do dress professionally. However, I do observe some teachers showing their stomachs and too much bust. Boys at this age are unable to concentrate on academics if females are causing their hormones to soar out of control. Girls will be confrontational because the adult females are dressing on a level that's not in the students dress code.Females please give the "girls" enough covering so the boys can concentrate and try to make AYP. Show your midriff and belly buttons after school hours. We don't need dress codes for teachers. Just allow mentors,coworkers and administrators to delicately explain appropriate dress attire for school. Old School Folks remember school clothes,work clothes,church clothes and party clothes? Well some new teachers don't know the difference. It's up to the old heads to gently guide them.

I am a 27 year old teacher in a private nursary school. I am spoken to often about the way I dress, reason being not because my clothes are torn dirty or sloppy in any way ... when i wear clothes such as leggings jeans t shirts sweaters etc.. that we are allowed to wear (let me say)it seems i get picked on and someone 50 yrs of age in the same sweatsuit tshirt or jeans does not . i have acollege degree and i take my job very seriously time after time i leave my house feeling"covered up" and appropritly dressed and in still have my boss come to me with comments , in my case i firmly believe this is a form of discrimination, clothing fits everyone differently and it seems because i am a younger teacher and may be bulit differently compared to a 50 yr old i dont feel this is fair to attack a person because of an "opinion" or how i look at it jealousy. if anyone has something to add please do i would love to hear your advice

I would like to respond to Taylor Reese. Are you sure that the older teachers are not getting comments as well? Perhaps they too ignore the suggestions from your principal.
I have never worn jeans, t-shirts, or sweatshirts to school. I do not think it is appropriate for a teacher to dress that casually. I try to look nice every day because not only am I a role model, but also I am on display in the classroom. If people are looking at me, then I should show respect for them by dressing up a little. I don't mean a suit and high heels, but a put-together look.
If I were an attorney in court, I would want to show respect to the judge and the jury. Can you imagine a lawyer speaking to a judge while wearing jeans and a t-shirt? I dress up because I want to show respect to my students and to the profession.

I am a student and I don't have any problem with teachers dressing up and looking good. In fact, I love it. And I really hope that teachers will not be asked to wear uniforms because that will definitely make school a boring place to be. Of course, I agree that the classroom is not the runway but if teachers wear nice but not exposing attire, it will definitely be something to look forward to. I mean, having teachers wearing uniform is like switching back to the black and white TV. It's monotonous and isn't that why we switched to coloured TV? Yes, I'm just a student and I don't have a degree to back up my argument but I'm a student and I know what I would want of my teacher. By the way, teachers who wear mismatched colours are a distraction. No offense but students are bound to try and figure out a better piece to go with the outfit.

I am a student and I don't have any problem with teachers dressing up and looking good. In fact, I love it. And I really hope that teachers will not be asked to wear uniforms because that will definitely make school a boring place to be. Of course, I agree that the classroom is not the runway but if teachers wear nice but not exposing attire, it will definitely be something to look forward to. I mean, having teachers wearing uniform is like switching back to the black and white TV. It's monotonous and isn't that why we switched to coloured TV? Yes, I'm just a student and I don't have a degree to back up my argument but I'm a student and I know what I would want of my teacher. By the way, teachers who wear mismatched colours are a distraction. No offense but students are bound to try and figure out a better piece to go with the outfit.

I've been volunteering at an elementary school (JK to grade 6) and I see teachers wearing jeans and leggings. They look perfectly fine and it's not like they look really casual, the female teachers all wear nice tops to go with their jeans/leggings. Is it really that inappropriate?

As a teacher with seven years experience, I have found that teachers who cannot command respect from their students could dress in a tuxedo and the students would still disrespect them. I can dress in jeans and a Hawaiian shirt and I have absolutely no discipline problems. If you feel that you need to dress professionally to receive respect from your students, then by all means "dress up." But do not presume to tell me that my casual style is "unprofessional." As far as dressing like a lawyer: if I wanted to dress like a lawyer, I would have become a lawyer. I also would be making as much as a lawyer, and I'd be able to afford to dress like a lawyer. Studies suggest that teacher dress does not gain teachers respect, but paying teachers respectable salaries gain teachers respect. Actions, not dress, command respect. I can be a role model and still dress casually. Again, some teachers could dress in a different tux everyday and never be an appropriate role model.

"It makes sense that teachers dress the part as a matter of professionalism and to help reinforce the notion of respect." Obviously the gym teacher and studio teachers have different dress needs froma math teacher. Studio teachers have a most physical job. Their responsibilities include any day to be able to lift heavy boxes, and buckets of glazes and or wet clay, climb ladders, stand on chairs, bend over tall kilns, crawl on floor, scrub sinks and mop the floor. The studio art/vocational/shop teachers are expected to be able to work any day with a variety of tools. Some of these tools may include a variety of hammers, files, snips, screwdrivers, exacto knives, cutters, as well as power tools such as dremels, drills, saws, and torches.
Therefore a dress code should allow for the safety of the teacher to lessen the chance of injury while on the job. They must wear material that is durable, stain resistant and protective of the skin. Dressed for safety means that consideration for not only chemicals that will be encountered on a daily basis but also must evaluate the appropriateness of the personl protective equipment that could be used such as goggles, masks or aprons. OSHA standard for basic safety dress is to wear denim or heavy cotton pants because these materials are best suited for shedding sparks, flying shards of metal, chips of wood, polishing compounds, ceramic dust and glazes.
Good judgment and common sense has to used. Clothing should be compatible with a professional and safety conscious work environment. It will be modest and conservative in style. These teachers need to dress in a manner that is professionals and distinguishable from the attire of the students.
NO blue jeans. NO t-shirts with logos. No high heels.
Capri length pants, khakis, colored denim jeans, and sneakers are acceptable.

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