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Necessary Reruns: Teachers Dressing Professionally

It isn't as expensive as it looks.

Google Analytics, Feedburner and a few other programs give me solid data about traffic on this site. Some pieces tank, some get consistent attention – and it’s anything but an exact science.

One of the posts that has truly surprised me was a brief bit on teachers dressing professionally [re-posted below]. I wrote it in March of last year after spending a day in a public high school and it’s as true – if not truer – today as it was a year ago.

But I did leave something out of the original post.

The day that I wrote it, three separate students asked me if I was rich. It happened frequently at this small-city school.

What made me look so wealthy? A white shirt, a tie, slacks – all clean and pressed properly – and polished shoes. That’s it. Nothing fancy.

The most basic standards of professional dress were so far above and beyond what passed for normal teacher attire in this school that many of the students assumed I was wealthy. I felt bad for the district when I realized that.

Jeffrey S. Solochek of the St. Petersburg Times has followed up on a 2006 blowup about whether teachers in Pasco County, Florida should be subject to a dress code:

A committee of teachers and administrators convened by superintendent Heather Fiorentino, who identified the issue as a problem, completed its review of teacher dress Thursday by deciding that there really is no problem.

The group agreed that attire matters, even suggesting that it deserves a prominent mention in new teacher training. But it deemed the district’s current policy, which says the staff should dress in a manner that “will add dignity to the educational profession,” as quite sufficient.

The committee suggested that the rare cases involving inappropriate attire can be addressed by the principal.

General George Patton said that you must, “Always do everything you ask of those you command.” Maintaining a professional appearance and demeanor in a school is an important part of education. If a teacher doesn’t demonstrate the utmost pride in their appearance and respect for themselves, no one should expect the students to follow suit.

That means a teacher must:

  • Dress neatly, wearing professional attire that shows students that you care about your appearance and are proud of it.
  • Wear clean, ironed clothing. Dirty, wrinkled clothes are the most prevalent (and needless) problem I see in schools. If you don’t like ironing, buy a bottle of wrinkle releaser. It’s $3 and works in 30 seconds.
  • Have a variety of outfits – don’t wear the same thing every day. You need not have an extensive wardrobe, just some standard tops/bottoms and a basic knowledge of how they can go together. If you don’t know how to do this, ask your sister, mom, or stylish co-worker. They’ll be glad to help. [If you're a male teacher, make use of ties to mix up your appearance.]
  • Conceal any obnoxious additions to your body, e.g. tattoos and piercings. This is not as obvious to many as it ought to be.
  • Wear clothes that fit. Clothes that are too tight, loose or revealing are distracting and reflect poorly on you.
  • Avoid “business casual” attire when possible. It looks lazy. It’s the equivalent of getting a grade of C. You know, just enough to get by without taking too much heat for it.
  • Keep current. You don’t need to read GQ or Elle every month to look good. If your clothes are out of style, stop wearing them to school. Students don’t take you seriously if you wear badly outdated clothes.

If you want respect, you’d better look and act as though you deserve it. A well-dressed teacher suggests (actually, it’s more like “screams”) that there is an important purpose for his/her presence in the class. To most adults, clothes reflect a person’s seriousness of purpose – and they’re right. Kids think in more simplified terms; they’re even more likely to equate a well-dressed teacher with seriousness.

There is no excuse – none – for being a teacher and not dressing well. It is a necessary part of the job with which you are charged (and which you have chosen). Your personal preferences and comforts mean far less than the students’ rights to encounter positive examples of adult behavior. Think you can’t afford to dress well? Saturday I spent $95 at Macy’s and got a suede jacket, a tweed suit coat, a microfiber windbreaker, two pairs of dress slacks and two chic ties.

The Education Wonks sum it up well when they say, “Maybe it would be a good idea if those who wanted to be treated as “professionals” dressed professionally.”

If you don’t want to take it from me, take it from the high school girl who last week called me “divalicious.

16 Responses to “Necessary Reruns: Teachers Dressing Professionally”

  1. Miss Profe says:

    I hear you about blog posts, Matthew. The ones that people read over and again on my blog amaze me.

    Anyway, about teachers and dressing professionally: As an independent school teacher, many of my colleagues look as if they are going on a hike or to the grocery store, or lounging around the house. I remember my first year at my current place of employ, there was a social gathering for teachers following the school day. One of the teachers, who has been at the school for about 20 years, shows up to the event in a pair of ragged, wrinkly bermudas and an equally ragged, wrinkly shirt. And those ugly Keens. Yuck! Many teachers in the independent school world believe that no boundary exisists between work and non-work hours. And, many don’t seem to own a nice outfit for more formal occasions.

    I have worked at four such schools, and each one is worst that the previous with respect to wardrobe. The kids don’t look much better, but, as the saying goes, that’s another story.

  2. Miss Profe,

    It’s a headshaker and believable at the same time. I wish more people popped into schools, from rural publics to suburban independents to massive urban schools, to see those everyday things – how people dress, how they act, etc.

    I can’t help but think of a female teacher I once knew who wore oversized flannel shirts and jeans every single day. And, of course, her administration couldn’t be bothered to address the situation properly.

  3. David says:

    I agree, teachers should hide tattoos and piercings. They are not appropriate for work. But why the need to judge them as “obnoxious?”

  4. David,

    Here’s what I wrote:

    “Conceal any obnoxious additions to your body, e.g. tattoos and piercings.”

    There aren’t too many additions to your physical body that aren’t piercings or tattoos.

    I advised to conceal obnoxious additions – I didn’t say that tattoos and piercings are categorically obnoxious. We all know that some are subtle and others are not.

    But really, even if I had said they were obnoxious, is it a big deal?

  5. Right. Because the big problem facing the education system is sloppy dressing by teachers.

  6. Stephen,

    It isn’t “the big problem” – and I didn’t say it was.

    I doubt that you would say this Blackboard debacle is *the* big problem in education, yet I follow it closely and you certainly cover it on the OLDaily. It’s just a small piece.

  7. The Blackboard case actually has the merit of bing a problem. Which this doesn’t.

  8. Well, now that Stephen has weighed in, I suppose we can close this topic and move on to the next issue.

  9. Michael says:

    Dress as if you care; sloppy dress signals clearly that you don’t care about yourself or your students. The only exception to that dictum is the delightful eccentric, and if you think you’re one of that rare breed, you’re not.

  10. Michael,

    “Dress as if you care” is a great way to put it. I love it.

    It’s such a quick, easy thing to do, too. It’s also cheap if you want it to be.

    It isn’t too much to ask, but there’s still plenty of protest.

  11. Michael says:

    You may find the following article of interest:
    http://www.aft.org/pubs-reports/american_teacher/sept99/feature4.html

    Note what he has to say about dressing professionally.

  12. Modestine Whitehead says:

    I also believe that teachers should not be allowed to show their body to the public, not only teachers but anybody.
    Low cut, thin, tight,non-ironed, or torn clothing is a no. Teachers should be allowed to wear what is comfortable for them to do their job. Teachers in grades K-6, should be allowed to dress to be able to accommendate their grade level of students. How can K-3 work with their students with “Dressed Clothes” on for 180 days of the school year and be successful in teaching the skills that require them to sat on the floor or run around the build or jump up and down?
    Do you think that teachers wil go outside and run, play, or walk with the students with dressed clothes and shoes on everyday? The answer is no. Outside is a part of school as well as the classroom.
    Denim should be allowed. You have denim suits, jackets, and pants. I see nothing wrong if it is ironed like the dressed clothes. They say dressed clothes, those too can also be not ironed as well as denim.
    Students ask questions, “why are you dressed-up everyday” or “are comfortable in those clothes”. When students see you dressed like that everyday, they feel you are too important to talk to you about a promblem they are having. They can not relate to somebody they feel are too high for them to reach.
    Student shy away from the office personnel because they are always dressed-up. Most students will talk to male or female teachers who looks comfortable to them, than someone in a siut and tie everyday or walking around in heels.
    When you dress-up, you are watching to see if you got anything on your suit or dress. How can anybody teach like that for 180 days or more, with only two or three dress-down days in a school year?
    Give teachers credit for knowing what’s right and what’s wrong with their dressing.

  13. Modestine,

    You’ve asked several questions rhetorically – despite you having already answered them, I think I will, too.

    “How can K-3 work with their students with “Dressed Clothes” on for 180 days of the school year and be successful in teaching the skills that require them to sat on the floor or run around the build or jump up and down?”

    One can look professional and still be able to move around with ease. The last time I competed in a professional athletics event, I was required to wear dress slacks and a polo shirt tucked in with a belt… and that was a sport. I know a woman in Southwest London who dresses quite professionally despite teaching kids 4-7.

    “Do you think that teachers wil go outside and run, play, or walk with the students with dressed clothes and shoes on everyday? The answer is no.”

    Yes, I do. Why you think a pair of loafers precludes someone from any physical activity [walking - really?] is surprising. If your shoes just won’t cut it for the activity, slip them off and slip on something else.

    “Denim should be allowed. You have denim suits, jackets, and pants.”

    I’ve never seen, and don’t want to see, a denim suit. I’ll concede this point to you – denim can be tasteful and appropriate.

    “Students ask questions, “why are you dressed-up everyday” or “are comfortable in those clothes””

    That’s a perfect opportunity to explain to them how important it is to take pride in your appearance and your job. And yes, I’m comfortable in those clothes.

    “When students see you dressed like that everyday, they feel you are too important to talk to you about a promblem they are having. They can not relate to somebody they feel are too high for them to reach.”

    This is ridiculous. Then you write:

    “Student shy away from the office personnel because they are always dressed-up. Most students will talk to male or female teachers who looks comfortable to them, than someone in a siut and tie everyday or walking around in heels.”

    No, students shy away from adults because they don’t always know how to approach them or have a conversation with them. Their nerves don’t come from a man wearing a shirt and tie, they come from not knowing what to do. When many students walk into the main office in a school, they’re encountering people they don’t know and have no clue how to talk to them. It isn’t what those employees are wearing.

    “When you dress-up, you are watching to see if you got anything on your suit or dress. How can anybody teach like that for 180 days or more, with only two or three dress-down days in a school year?”

    That’s a bit neurotic. Most people don’t operate that way, darling.

  14. Mary says:

    Thank you for your helpful article. I have been teaching for years. I used to wear skirts all the time; slowly, the culture changed. I now have been guilty of the occasional flowy skirt with flip-flops or nice slacks with less than crisp-looking shirt. Our wonderful principal made a general announcement at the first faculty meeting to dress more professionally, and I am making a concerted effort to do so. I think that it’s needed and that the casual look has gone too far. Thank you for the tips!

  15. I remember a teacher at school that would dress inappropriately for an all-boy’s school. The headmaster never said anything about it because I think he enjoyed it too, but as a young boy it was quite a distraction.

  16. Suzanne M. says:

    I believe dressing professionally / with a class/style/taste is important for teachers at all levels when students are at school. This year, during the the preparation days before the official first day of school , I have ended up wearing a v-neck t shirt and a pair of below the knee tailored walking shorts with cargo pockets and a pair of loafers due to the weather at my location in Asia. We have had heavy rainfall with extremely warm temps. The school sprawls over a huge campus so we’ve had to walk outside to meetings etc.through all of this wet weather. This morning I had no jackiet (just an umbrella) and had to borrow a plastic tablecloth from a colleague in order to prevent myself from getting drenched.
    What do you think about days at work when students or parents are NOT there? In weather conditions such as these? I just couldn’t bring myself to be “dressed up” while preparing the room, moving heavy furniture, moving around in extreme weather. I do not have a weight problem whatsoever and my attire this week remained casual, but modest.

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