Teachers Need to Dress Appropriately to Set the Tone in the Classroom

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Ironic that on the day we celebrated our independence from England an article should appear in the Montgomery Advertiser which perhaps takes away some of the “freedom” classroom teachers have attempted to exercise in recent decades.

You see, some teachers have sought to “relate” to their students by dressing as the students do, that is, in districts which do not require students to wear uniforms.

This has caused some consternation on the parts of some teachers, but has brought action by various boards of education.

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Essentially, nevertheless, just what do we really need and should we demand of teacher dress and decorum in the classroom?

There are teachers’ unions which simply state that to stipulate a well-defined dress code for teachers seriously inhibits their ability to truly “educate” their students.

This is an issue which has long perplexed me, but there are some very real and practical considerations which classroom teachers absolutely must understand and uphold if they ever hope to maintain a cogent learning atmosphere in their classrooms.

Historically, the declension of teacher dress began in the 1970’s when liberal views toward education, along with everything else, began to edge its way into the philosophy of American learning.

When the movement gained momentum in the latter part of that decade, we had male teachers eschewing the long-standing tradition of wearing neckties in class and female teachers dressing as if they had just returned from the gathering at Woodstock.

All this was a manifestation of their perceived “freedom” of expression, and on the collegiate level was grouped with “academic freedom.”

Whatever we were forced to name it, the result was the same – classrooms became laboratories for those particular teachers’ personal agendas on social reconstruction, and it was right out in front of their students with the garments they chose to drape on themselves for classroom presentations.

Now, I am not speaking of those classes which do, in fact, demand a different dress, such as physical education, technical shops, or agriculture.

Those teachers must dress appropriate to the nature of their subject matter, and, traditionally, they have done a fine job of presenting themselves.

The purported polarization of some teachers and their school districts when it comes to dress is really a function of our lackadaisical attitude toward overall standards in the classroom.

While we espouse higher test scores and better performances by students, teachers whose dress becomes a distraction set a tone for apathy and lower expectations.

Can some teenaged boy concentrate on his algebra lecture if the teacher is wearing a halter top revealing not only midriff exposure but emphasizing cleavage?

I know I could not have done it with my algebra teacher!

Yet, this is what has become of education in some districts.

The situation has prompted some school districts to adopt teacher dress codes.

For example, a Colorado Springs, Colorado, district prohibits “sexually provocative items, including clothing that expose cleavage, private parts, the midriff or undergarments.”

In Miller County, Georgia, skirts must reach the knee.

The point is this:

youngsters in the classroom do not miss a thing!

We may think they are hibernating when they seem non-responsive, but in reality they are processing and taking in the totality of their environment.

What they see immediately when they enter that classroom sets their attitude toward expectations of learning, and if they see their teacher, the “leader” of the learning efforts, saunter in wearing sunglasses, a tee-shirt, flip-flops, and jeans the students will form a rather definitive, if not apathetic, opinion of the expectations of this class.

Male teachers can set the tone immediately when they enter the classroom wearing a necktie.

In effect, it is part of their “uniform” and I have subscribed to that form of sartorial accoutrement during my three-plus decades as a pedagogist.

While it may not be the dress for that teacher outside the classroom, it speaks volumes to students.

It says that the teacher takes pride in what he is doing, that he has standards which transcend social trends toward a “relaxed” atmosphere for learning, and that he has a confident self-command.

At the same time, studies have shown that more discipline problems arise in the classroom in which the teacher has a laissez faire attitude not only toward the class subject, but toward the standards of learning and education as well as is evidenced by his dress.

Students are keen information gathering systems.

They soak up everything with which they come into contact and how they process what they see is the final arbiter of what kind of citizen they eventually become.

But while they are still being exposed to all the diversity of the world around them, their cognitive processing helps them form conclusions about their society, their education, and their personal responsibilities.

If the teacher comes to class looking like he just left a poker party, doesn’t it stand to reason that the students will question his commitment to their education?

We cannot allow ourselves to be deceived by yet another formulation of “freedom” based on our American model which will sacrifice long-held and well-functioning standards of behavior and decorum.

While it is true that the ultimate profession of teaching ability is in the words and actions one expresses, it is just as true that the outward expressions of self-perception sets

the tone in any atmosphere – and in the classroom the consequences have far-reaching effects.