Monday, July 04, 2005

Teacher Attire: Too Hot For The Classroom?

Forget about what the kids are wearing for a moment, the clothing worn by teachers has become an issue in some districts:

Teachers are expected to bear long days, challenging students and demanding parents. Now, apparently, some teachers are baring too much of themselves. School boards and superintendents increasingly are pursuing dress codes for teachers. At issue is the same kind of questionable attire most often associated with students.

In some districts, teachers can get dressed down for wearing skimpy tops, short skirts, flip flops, jeans, T-shirts, spandex or baseball caps. Spaghetti is fine in the cafeteria, but shirts supported by spaghetti straps are not welcome in the classroom.

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.

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.

"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.'"

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."

On the Hawaiian island of Oahu, where Aaron Paragoso teaches music, neat and casual clothes are the norm. He wears a tie when sixth-graders graduate from his school, telling them: "I'm congratulating you by dressing up in this manner. It shows that I'm very proud of you."

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.

In the California elementary school district where I work, teachers are expected to dress in a "neat and professional manner." Nevertheless, there are a number of teachers (mostly in their 20s) in our district whose miniskirts, plunging necklines, and stiletto heels produce a "look" more suited for a Friday evening date than an elementary school classroom.

Since the racy dress has been a feature in our district for a number of years, I suppose that administrators must have reasoned that this attire makes these teachers look like "professionals."

Among male teachers, I've seen some wearing (sockless) Birkenstocks with tshirts and denim shorts. Most don't wear slacks, (jeans are the most popular) and dress shirts are a rarity.

And let's not forget the male substitute teacher who wore black leather pants, a mesh "muscle" tshirt, and told the kids all about the local "alternative" party scene.

My own personal thought is that if teachers wish to be treated as professionals, they should start by being dressed professionally. This means that both men and women should dress for the classroom, and not for an evening at the local dance club.
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