Too Cool for School: Young Teachers and Dress Code Infractions
As the academic manager rounded out our tour of the facilities, we stopped by a high school classroom to observe the day’s happenings. The teacher stood outside the door to greet students and playfully banter with some before the bell rang. Her youthful appearance did not surprise me. I was once a young teacher among peers on a college campus. Her outfit, however, caused my inner schoolmarm to flare up. This cute, slim, African American teacher with her trendy braided hairstyle donned a long, body-hugging black skirt with a low-cut, equally body-hugging top to match.
Old Lady Hampton felt compelled to spank her hand with a ruler or a fly swatter and yell, “What are you wearing?!” Instead, I graciously nodded and shook her hand as the manager introduced us. A smug superiority swept over me as I attempted to diminish the judgment seeping through my squinted eyes and raised eyebrows. She revealed way too much cleavage to be taken seriously as a colleague. Ms. Muffin Top was clearly not on my level.
When did teachers lose their sense of appropriate and inappropriate dress for the classroom? No amount of boob is ever acceptable in a classroom setting, especially among hormonal males. Do we actually need to spell out “professional dress” for young teachers with pointed language and visual aids? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” The acculturation of the Kim Kardashian Effect into female consciousness has led to questionable wardrobe choices in the workplace.
Boobs bursting from a business jacket look sexy and often lead to million-dollar deals in the entertainment industry. However, in the real word, excessive boobage leads to embarrassing reprimands, termination, or at the very least, accusations of sexual harassment.
Yes, this same cute teacher relayed to me the story of how some female students reported her for allegedly harassing a fellow male student. She simply touched his long, flowing curls once he removed his hat, but the girls described this contact as unseemly caressing. Is there a link between this teacher’s style choices and student perceptions of sexual misconduct? How can a teacher effectively instruct under the weight of this enormous elephant in the room?
In my day, time upon time before Beyonce and Iggy Azalea, everyone readily identified ‘teacher’ clothes as garments purchased from the Sear’s or Spiegel catalogues, Casual Corner, Dillard’s or M. M. Cohn’s retail stores. You know…the ugly floral and animal print blouses and baggy slacks in the Misses or career gal section?
Instead of tasteful corduroy jackets and ruffled blouses, modern teachers are wearing Old Navy cropped pants, jeans, wrinkled T-shirts and flip-flops in the classroom, which are as equally unacceptable as the racy rompers. The impeccability of my English teachers in their clothing and overall comportment heavily influenced my perceptions of the entire field of education. What do people think of the teaching profession now based on the physical appearance of its members in the classroom?
In 2013, the Little Rock School District in Arkansas revised the dress code for teachers under much heated debate, vociferous ridicule and fiery resistance. The more salacious details flooding national news outlets included:
Foundational garments shall be worn and not visible with respect to color, style, and/or fabric
No see-through or sheer clothing
No skin shall be visible between pants/trousers, skirts, and shirts/blouses at any time
No T-shirts, patches or other clothing containing slogans for beer, alcohol, drugs, gangs or sexual references
No cut-off jeans with ragged edgesNo midriff tops
No cut-out dresses or spaghetti-strapsNo flip-flops
No jeans (except on designated days)Tattoos must be covered if at all possible
No jogging suits (P. E. and dance teachers excluded)No hats in buildings, except religious head coverings
No hip-huggers that reveal flesh
No spandex or leggings
Footwear must be worn at all times
No slippers, house shoes or thongs
No casual tee shirts (faded, sheer, out of shape or inappropriately sized)
Some teachers publicly took issue with the directive to wear bras and panties. Really? Others found this particular commandment offensive and unnecessary, because all teachers cover their boobs and butts in the classroom, right? No, they do not, and must be ordered to do so in a memo. According to the superintendent at the time, the above inclusions to the dress code originated through observation. School officials actually saw teachers dressing this way and felt the need to directly address these wardrobe mishaps.
Based on the items in the list, it seems the entertainment industry has influenced young female teachers in the worst way. From scantily clad video girls to no-iron hipsters, the trends of a laissez-faire American youth culture have unduly infiltrated the classroom. Teachers are imitating student fashions instead of upholding aspirational standards of professional appearance. For the record, cool, millennial teachers face more disciplinary issues than traditional, Cheryl Tiegs Collection teachers, in my experience. I wonder why?
While substituting at a charter school, a young female Caucasian teacher asked me for classroom management advice, since her students frequently yelled at her and refused to follow directions. I immediately responded, “You have to dress up a bit more; at least business casual.” At that moment, she was wearing an over-sized white shirt, jeans and tan Birkenstock sandals. Basically, I conveyed to her that a teacher’s style of dress determines how he or she will be treated by students in the classroom and colleagues in the teacher’s lounge.
Because young people in general, and young teachers in particular, lack a clear sense of boundaries and propriety in almost all aspects of their lives, school administrators must not be reluctant to delineate and enforce strict dress codes for educators who shamefully must be reminded to wear shoes and underwear to work. Doing so establishes authority in the classroom and rekindles the admiration and respect shown to educators in times past.
Ashan R. Hampton has worked as an English instructor in higher education for over 20 years. She is a proud graduate of the Donaghey Scholars Program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock under the direction of Dr. C. Earl Ramsey, Emeritus. With her doctoral studies on hold, Ashan has found success in online education. She is also a published author of 14 nonfiction books on grammar, writing and inspiration for women. Get ordering information and view samples of her work at: www.arhampton.com.
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