Dress Codes for Teachers
Schools have had rules governing what students can wear to class for decades. Now, it seems, many school districts have decided they need to regulate the teachers, too.
Teachers are expected to bear long days, challenging students and demanding parents. Now, apparently, some teachers are baring too much of themselves. School boards and superintendents increasingly are pursuing dress codes for teachers. At issue is the same kind of questionable attire most often associated with students.
In some districts, teachers can get dressed down for wearing skimpy tops, short skirts, flip flops, jeans, T-shirts, spandex or baseball caps. Spaghetti is fine in the cafeteria, but shirts supported by spaghetti straps are not welcome in the classroom. District 11 in Colorado Springs, Colo., for example, prohibits sexually provocative items. That includes clothing that exposes “cleavage, private parts, the midriff or undergarments,” district rules say. In Georgia’s Miller County, skirts must reach the knee. Elsewhere in the state, hair curlers are disallowed in Harris County and male teachers in Talbot County must wear ties two or three times a week.
“There’s an impression that teachers are dressing more and more Ã¢€” well, the good term for it would be ‘relaxed,'” said Bill Scharffe, director of bylaws and policy services for the Michigan Association of School Boards. “Another term for it would be ‘sloppy.'”
School administrators say inappropriate dress is most often an issue with younger teachers, whose trendy clothing and casual style can make it hard to distinguish them from their students.
Mark Berntson, who teaches high school band in West Fargo, N.D., wears a tie each day. It’s a tradition he began years ago to stand out from his students. He does not wear blue jeans to class often, saving them for occasions such as the first day of baseball season. “I don’t think I’m taken as seriously if I’m dressed down and I don’t think I take my job as seriously if I’m dressed down,” he said. “When I dress more professionally, I think I teach better, I think I’m received better, and I think I show more respect for my profession.”
Schools usually have exceptions, such as allowing gym teachers to wear shorts. But sometimes the trouble is in finding the line Ã¢€” literally. At the Tangipahoa Parish School System in southeastern Louisiana, the dress code was recently updated to let women wear crop pants that stretch almost to the ankle. But the school board still does not allow Capri pants because those stop only around the midcalf. In Houston, the Aldine Independent School District’s policy is cut-and-dried: Male teachers must ensure their hair does not go below the collar. Their sideburns cannot extend beyond the earlobe. Mustaches may not be of the “Fu Man Chu” variety.
This year in Alabama, Birmingham school superintendent Wayne Shiver Jr. tried to ban excessively tight clothing, see-through tops, blouses with revealing necklines and other no-nos. But city school board members have directed him to scale back his plan in favor of a more generic policy. They do not want their administrators to become the fashion police.
One would think it unnecessary, frankly. School teachers are, by definition, college educated adults in positions of significant responsibility. One would think they would have enough sense to dress themselves appropriately. Sadly, though, a sizable percentage do not.