Sunday, December 9, 2012

Dressing Up and Dressing Down Teachers

Much ado has been made about a proposed teacher dress code for my school district as non-teacher leaders formulate a new employee handbook to replace the expiring teacher contract.

A few weeks ago, school leaders unveiled a three-page draft of a proposed dress code for school employees to replace the current one-line (“wear appropriate dress”) policy. The proposed draft has been met with some push back from educators. The push back has been met with some push back. The teacher dissent is viewed as much ado about nothing by some school leaders. The dressing up of teachers feels like a dressing down.

Undoubtedly, the current employee handbook discussions distract all of us from the eight ball of school reform. Nonetheless, between nothing and the eight ball is a worthwhile discussion about professionalism in public education.

The local push to “codify and standardize” the teacher dress code syncs with the national trend to make public education more like the business world. Understandably, the external image is important to those in market-driven fields. First impressions are essential for repeat business. Encounters with repeat customers and clients can be sporadic. Even in markets frequented often by repeat customers--like grocery stores or coffee shops--relationships with customers can be superficial with the focus on the exchange of goods. I do not cast stones at businesses and other professionals that follow a prescriptive dress code.  In a money-goods/service exchange, the exterior image is essential to survival.