Teacher Dress Codes

For years now, teachers have decried the inequitableness of their pay in comparison with that of other professionals. The battle cry has usually gone something like: “We’re college-educated employees who receive the same pay as high school dropouts.” There is some truth to this argument, but when we take a closer look at why teachers are paid so little, one reason that immediately sticks out is education’s general lack of professional attire.

In his book “The First Days of School,” Dr. Harry Wong tells new and veteran teachers alike to dress for success, meaning men are to wear at least a dress shirt and tie with appropriate pants (not jeans) and accessories. For female teachers, Wong suggests a professional-looking pant suit or dress. Donning such apparel sends a direct message to students: “I am the teacher, and I know what I’m doing.”

However, if we look into any typical public or private school classroom on an average day, one will notice an alarming trend: Not only do teachers fail to dress professionally, often they are clad in the most inappropriate garb possible. As a member of the profession, I see this trend in action daily.

One teacher who frequently clothes herself in t-shirts and hip-hugger jeans complains that her students are unruly, defiant, and out of control. The problem, she says, is that the kids don’t respect her. Why should they, when she looks no different than the majority of the pupils themselves? One solution to classroom management issues is to illustrate that you, as the teacher, are in charge. Donning the same items that one might wear to a garage sale fails to send that message.

All of the latest research is telling educators to develop meaningful relationships with students. The problem now is that many teachers have confused camaraderie with an appropriate teacher-to-student bond. Part and parcel of this confusion is the propensity for so-called teachers to dress as though they are 13 years old, rather than an adult professional. The aforementioned clothes are worn with the best of intentions: “getting on the kids’ level” or perhaps “being liked by my students” are both rationales used by those instructors who buy their fashions from vendors that typically cater to adolescents.

News flash, school teachers: Kids of all ages expect you to be the adult, and that means wearing your ripped and wrinkled attire from Abercrombie and Fitch is out of the question. Be the grown-up; your students will thank you for it.

Please don’t mistake the intent of this article – it is not a platform in favor of a mandatory, universal, administrator-enforced dress code for educators. It is, however, a call to action for teachers themselves. If we want to be paid as the professionals that we are, then it’s time we dressed to fit the part.