“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
Teaching is a highly visible profession. How teachers present themselves in their mannerisms and dress are important not only in how their co-workers interact with them, but also how parents and students accept their authority as educators. Therefore, an acceptable dress code should not only be enforced by school systems, but teachers should choose to dress themselves in professional attire suitable to their position of authority as well as the grade level of students they are educating.
We are Professionals
For decades, teachers have pleaded their case to be seen as professionals. However, there are still those who dress counterintuitive to this request. In the corporate world, there is a high standard of professional dress, and in order to be taken seriously, a business person must adhere to these dress code standards. Even though teachers may not have to battle their way up the corporate ladder in order to advance their career, they should not be slack in their dress simply because they are working with the younger generations. Besides, teachers are setting the example.
The Grade Matters
Now granted the grade level of students will factor into how a teacher dresses. The elementary school classroom atmosphere is quite different from the high school classroom. In a child’s earlier school years, the focus is not only on learning the basic subjects (reading, writing, and arithmetic). Elementary school teachers must also be surrogate parents for seven, eight hours a day, instilling into each student life skills such as overcoming separation anxiety, organization, table manners, and even the proper canvas for finger paint.
It would be counterproductive then for a teacher to work daily in this type of environment dressed in a business suit and high heels (or a three piece suit and tie). Not only would the teacher’s dry cleaning bill be sky high, the students would also suffer from a teacher too well dressed to be a proper educator. In this case, the casual business dress would be more professional. (And on those lively art days, clothes that are easily spot-treated and a nice pair of tennis shoes are in order.)
Yet even in a high school classroom, there are times when the well-dressed teacher does not include the corporate business attire either. Take the science lab into consideration. In this environment, the lab coat and safety goggles are acceptable. This is not to say that the teacher not dress professionally, at least casually, underneath the lab coat. The teacher is not going to spend his/her entire work day around the lab. There are staff meetings and lunch duty, parent conferences and hall monitoring as well.
Respect the Educator
Talk to any educator today, and one of the main issues of concern that will surface is respect, from both students and parents. While respect is a vital social skill taught first at home, the position as teacher does not automatically command the same. If a teacher is to expect respect from the students, his/her dress should reflect this. Other adults are not the only ones who judge a person’s qualifications of authority by their clothes. Children and teenagers are prone to this judgment call too.
A proper level of professional attire is even more important for newer teachers simply because they are young and have more to prove in their ability to be excellent educators, especially those in high school since they are so close in age to their students. There needs to be an obvious separation in maturity between teacher and students, and how a teacher dresses is the first important step in gaining that respect.