• Mon, Jul 30 2012

Dress Codes For Teachers Aren’t Demeaning, They’re A Part Of Professional Life

So, the dress codes aren’t just for students anymore. At least, that’s how a bunch of creative writers are saying it. School districts everywhere are enforcing dress codes on their teachers, and some of them remind us of our favorite high school rules to break. Straps on sleeveless shirts have to be so thick. Tattoos cannot be visible. I bet shorts and skirts have to reach the end of your fingertips, though I don’t know that for sure. Some, like the awesome ladies at Jezebel, are calling this “denigrating” and saying that it’s just another example of our lack of appreciation to the profession of teaching.

Normally, I’m all about the support of our teachers. I completely agree that the job is thankless and that we’re very quick to blame teachers for all of our children’s problems, then take millions from educational budgets and complain some more. My mother is a teacher, and I’ve spent plenty of time volunteering in her Early Childhood Education center. I have the utmost respect for teachers. But I have to say that on this single issue, I just don’t see it as being disrespectful.

Listen, every professional job I’ve ever had came with a dress code. No, they weren’t strictly forced, but they were sitting in the back of company handbooks all the same. I’ve worked for companies that didn’t allow shorts or jeans ever. I’ve worked for companies where tank tops were considered inappropriate. I’ve worked for companies that had a length limit on men’s facial hair, demanded all tattoos be covered and only allowed single ear piercings on women, none for men. These dress codes exist for plenty of people in the professional world. Is it really so horrible that teachers are made to abide by the same rules as countless other professionals?

I actually had this debate with a group of teachers who were under a new dress code. There were kindergarten teachers and elementary art teachers who had to dress “business casual.” No tennis shows, no jeans, and no sweats. For these teachers, whose clothes were constantly covered in paint and clay, or who had to get up an down off the ground approximately a billion times a day, I could understand the complain. Teachering 5-year-olds is different from presenting yourself to clients all day long.

But I’m sorry, the high school teachers who just wanted to be comfortable sitting in front of their classes discussing Romeo & Juliet, I have so little sympathy for that situation. I do not understand why it is such a huge burden to ask that these teachers dress professionally. They are, after all, professionals.

When my bosses gave me dress code rules, I didn’t consider it an insult to my personal self-expression or my ability to make my own decisions. It was simply a code for those who represented their company. Teachers are professionals who represent their schools. It makes sense that administrators would ask them to give off a professional image.

I’m not saying that the dress codes shouldn’t take the teacher’s jobs into consideration. And if you’re going to ask them not to wear tank tops, for Heaven’s sakes, you need to make sure that the air conditioners work. But all that being said, the idea of some basic dress code rules for professionals is not in-and-of-itself offensive or insulting. It’s a part of professional life, one that all of us have to deal with. There’s no reason to exclude teachers from this typical professional requirement.

(Photo: bofotolux/Shutterstock)

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