When I was first hired at my school back 16 years ago, I was told that there was a teacher dress code, which kind of suprised me, since at my previous school there wasn’t.
Male teachers were to wear shirts and ties along with dress slacks or casual pants. Wearing jeans was frowned upon.
I was told that since this school was considered a “fundamental” school, there were certain standards of dress that were to be met by the staff.
Basically, our fundamental school was to be a second option for parents who wanted to send their students to another school other than the one designated as their home school.
The condition, however, was that this school was going to have more rigorous requirements, a strict dress code and higher expectations.
After 16 years, however, many of the higher standards have fallen to the wayside. Although we still require that students adhere to the strict dress code (shirts being tucked in, hair being a natural color, etc. ) the dress code for the teachers is no longer enforced. The reason is because the union will not support the school’s position on the teacher dress code. As in everything, politics play a big role in school administration.
I still come to school wearing my shirt and tie, however, not because I want to follow the school’s dress code rule, but because of the message that it sends to the students.
I remember when I first began my career over 20 years ago, I worked in a school located in the bad part of town. Many of my students were part of families where drugs and gangs were part of normal life. Although there were no guidelines for how a teacher was to dress, I always came in a shirt and tie. Many of my fellow teachers would come in t-shirts and flip flops, looking like they just fell out of bed. I couldn’t do that.
Here’s the way I saw it: For many of my students, especially my Hispanic students, the only Hispanic adults they knew were their gang member relatives. Their image of an Hispanic adult was a negative one. This was what they had to look forward to.
I knew that if I could offer them a different image of an Hispanic, a positive one, then maybe they’ll think twice about accepting their gang member future.
I would tell my students back then, “My Dad worked in a warehouse and came home sweaty and dirty and tired every day. I wanted something different. I wanted to work in a place where I had air conditioning and people respected my opinion, and where I could wear a tie, because people who wore ties were important.”
I would tell them that’s why I got my education, so I wouldn’t have to work as hard as my Dad did. So I wore a tie everyday.
Twenty years later, although the union says that I don’t have to wear a tie, I still do.
I’m still sending my message to my students, even though I don’t have to.
I would encourage any new teacher to take note of how you’re dressing for work. What message are you sending to your students? Some may complain that it’s uncomfortable to spend all day dressed up. Well, you know if you’ve read enough of my posts, teacher comfort is not one of my priorities. We need to do what’s best for the kids, even if it means sacrificing a little of our comfort.
What do you think? Is how we dress for work significant? Does it matter? Do kids really care? Should there be a teacher dress code? How would you define professional dress? I’d like to hear from you.
By the way, I wrote a little poem about how I felt, and I sent it to all the members of the staff. I’ve had some positive replies and a few not-so-positive glances from some of the male teachers. Here it is:
By Sam Rangel
My mind fondly returns, when I close my eyes,
To a time when the men at this school all wore ties
When visitors arrived to easily recognize
The pride that our neckwear did symbolize
But alas, as this writer mournfully sighs
There are too many men who no longer wear ties
Have our necks grown too large? Do we need exercise?
Do we need to cut back on the burgers and fries?
Other than that, all that I can surmise
Is that we’ve forgotten the message we send with our ties.
A message that words just cannot verbalize
One that each unbuttoned collar denies
That a man with a tie is successful and wise
Have we come to the end? Should we say our good-byes
To that commitment to excellence with no compromise?
Can lower test scores come as any surprise
When the men at this school no longer wear ties?
I plead with the fates, my face turned toward the skies
Oh how the role model inside of me cries
I wish all the men would just realize
The effect on this school if we all wore our ties?
Is it so hard to conceptualize?
Should I just wear a t-shirt and faded Levis,
And thereby contribute to this school’s demise?
No, I will not become one of those guys
Who choose chest hair exposure over wearing their ties
And though I become one who my colleagues despise
The teacher who they choose to all ostracize
I here declare; on my soap box I rise
I will not abandon wearing my ties.
So as I come to a close, my rant I finalize
I speak to those men to whom this applies
Make that decision at the morning’s sunrise
To suck it up, and put on your ties.
Except on Fridays when you can wear a spirit shirt or something casual, but not too casual.