Dress Codes for Educators: A Tough Sell When Wearing a Puma Sweatsuit.

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Puma was/is Cool.There is always talk about dress codes when you work in education.

Teachers are often concerned if a student can wear a particular shirt, a hat, baggy pants, etc. Most of these issues can be quickly addressed by a good handbook and fair enforcement by the staff.

I also think about dress codes. Except my thoughts often go towards what educators wear.

This issue first came to my attention when I was getting ready to complete my Master’s Degree in Educational Administration (yes, I have a degree… as far as you know).

My college advisor came to visit me at school.

He took time out of his busy day (????… this is a whole different blog discussion) to sit down with my Superintendent and me to discuss my future.

At the time, I thought it was a good sign that he felt like I had a future. In retrospect, I have come to realize he was just completing his part of the advising process so he could get paid.

As the meeting came to a close, the professor looked at me and said, “The best advice I can give you is to always, and I mean always, dress professionally.”

He felt that if you wanted respect, you had to look like you deserved it.

I thought this was great advice. And throughout the years, I have tried to abide by it.

If teachers or students are in attendance, I always wear at least a shirt and tie (and yes, pants).

Not every administrator does this, but it works for me.

The thing that has stuck with me about my college professor’s advice is that when he said this, he was wearing a white and lime green Puma sweat suit.

For those of you too young to remember, the Puma brand was cool way before Nike.

Back when tennis was the next great sport (we are talking the 70’s here… tennis was soccer before soccer), Puma athletic clothes were considered hip.

And not rapper hip, mainstream hip.

The problem with my college professor wearing this dapper outfit (he thought) was the year; it was in the late 90’s.

He looked like Jimmy Connors in his prime (actually, he didn’t look like Connors in his physical prime… just the outfit).

He wanted me to be appropriately dressed, but his best advice was given wearing a 20 year old sweat suit?

How was this a good idea? Why do people think rules are for everyone else?

I often think about that meeting when I hear or read about school dress codes.

If we want others (students) to present themselves in a certain way, shouldn’t we (teachers and administrators) lead by example?

Haven’t student dress codes become an issue just in the last 30 years? Isn’t that about the same time that teachers and administrators began to think that golf shirts, khakis, shorts, and tennis shoes are okay to wear to school?

And please, don’t get me started on wearing jeans on Friday. How did Fridays become less important than a Tuesday or a Thursday? Isn’t it still 20% of the educational week?

Unless, of course it is a shortened week but that is also another blog.

I could go on and on, but I have to go iron my dress clothes. Maybe I should rethink my thoughts on this topic.

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21 Responses to “Dress Codes for Educators: A Tough Sell When Wearing a Puma Sweatsuit.”

  1. Anne
    on Oct 19th, 2008
    @ 10:15 am

    I agree with you. Teachers are professionals and should dress the part. Now of course teachers who crawl on the floor with the little ones can still dress appropriately with a long skirt or nice slacks. I go into many schools and am surprised at the lack of professional dress.

  2. Elissa
    on Oct 19th, 2008
    @ 10:24 am

    I think dress needs to be taken in context.
    If I’m doing parent-teacher conferences, for example, I dress very differently than if I’m dissecting cats with a bunch of students.
    There is no way of getting cat juice out of dress suits. I’d rather sacrifice a pair of jeans than a wool suit.
    That being said, professionalism isn’t completely about dress, either; you can be a crappy teacher in a shirt and tie or an amazing teacher in a polo shirt.
    As long as it’s neat and clean, of course ;) Presentation is important, but dressing up isn’t going to magically make you a better teacher (or improve the students’ clothing… that’s a separate issue that has very little to do with teachers’ dress, in my opinion).

  3. Chris Wherley
    on Oct 19th, 2008
    @ 10:31 am

    As the technology guy, I am on the ground, behind desks, in closets, and in ceilings, but yet I am up and down hallways and in all buildings most days.

    I dress professionally as a technology guy minus the tape on my glasses. I retired those when I had LASIK. :-) Khakis and polo shirts and on occassion a long sleeve shirt, but rarely a tie.

    Everyone just tries to push the line. Students, parents, teachers, admin, staff, and even the technology guy.

  4. Ryan
    on Oct 19th, 2008
    @ 10:34 am

    The word “professional” is often used in one breath to describe dress, but is often absent in other contexts. So many times teachers are not treated as professionals. I think both of these equations needs to be addressed. I am willing to renegotiate the portion of my contract concerning dress codes if it means improved working conditions and salaries.

  5. Selena
    on Oct 19th, 2008
    @ 10:45 am

    I see your point, but what are we looking for by dressing a certain way?

    Respect as professionals?

    I have some students with hair in their face or goth clothes and they are some of the best students I have.

    There is a teacher in my school that follows the professional dress code, yet insults students behind the classroom door.

    One of my favorite teachers in High School wore hawaiian shirts and shorts everday to class. He was an amazing teacher and was respected by everyone.

    Google employees are sometimes dressed like complete slobs and I am still in awe of their innovation.

    Just some random thoughts on the topic.

  6. Sharon Elin
    on Oct 19th, 2008
    @ 11:19 am

    I think clothing, like it or not, makes a huge impression subliminally if not obviously. When a teacher shows up in jeans/t-shirt, my automatic response is, “Oh, are you off today? Getting plans organized? Who’s your sub?” And I don’t mean it sarcastically or judgementally, but it’s my first assumption based on the way they’re dressed.

  7. Kate Tabor
    on Oct 19th, 2008
    @ 11:46 am

    Well, I guess I don’t consider my jeans and coyboy boots as casual. I am always clean and well pressed. I wear my share of linen, silk, cashmere, rayon, and wool, but I’ll also wear denim. I never try to look like I’m 17 (I’m 50).

    Respect in my classroom comes because the students are treated with respect and they return the favor. I treat them like young adults; they have to defend their choices as rational young adults (as to what they wear, what they say, what they do). It works.

    But that being said, if I was head of one of the school divisions (upper, middle, lower) I would leave my jeans in the closet. I would assume interaction everyday with parents and administrators and would need the additional “armor” as it were because I would not have the time to build the rapport that I have with my students.

  8. Gina Bergman
    on Oct 19th, 2008
    @ 1:40 pm

    First, I love your blog. It adds much humor to my day. My principal likes to recommend it to people who enjoy “educational humor.” You are awesome!!!

    Now, on the dress code thing, I have a slight disagreement. I have worked for and with some people who “dressed up” everyday. Some of those people I had ZERO respect for, but I did not that they had exceptional taste in clothing. It was generally my first thought that perhaps they should wear some of their “nice” clothes on a job interview. Thirteen years in education and to me clothes have very little to do with the teacher, neither the one I am or the one I choose to respect. If clothing created an environment of respect, I think we do well across the U.S. to have “in-house” fashion designers at upper administrative levels instead of curriculum & instruction gurus.
    I’d like to meet anybody who has the nerve to rock a Puma sweatsuit.

  9. Karin Beil
    on Oct 19th, 2008
    @ 1:48 pm

    Teachers are professionals and should be allowed to dress as they feel they need to, depending on the activity for the day. I was once reprimanded by a principal for wearing jeans on a Wednesday (designer jeans – no holes). I also had on a good cashmere sweater, jewelry, nice shoes. I was clean, hair was fixed nicely and I had makeup on. We do not have a written teacher dress code. I never regained my respect for that principal because of the way she handled the situation.

  10. sheryl
    on Oct 19th, 2008
    @ 5:45 pm

    I think clothing does have something to do with the environment that you are creating. A professional attire can really create a professional environment. However, as a primary teacher, I am not necessarily trying to create a “professional” environment. I want my students to feel at home in my classroom, to cuddle up on the floor with a good book or lie on the tummies to write a good book. I want them to love up reading and literacy. I love to see them grouped together around a “coffee table” pouring over books. If I was dressed in a suit, I wouldn’t fit in my classroom. When the “suits” visit our room (district employees school board, etc…) they actually intimidate my kids. And my parents work in mills and industrial jobs. I want them to feel comfortable talking with me about their kids. I can’t stand it when a parent tells me that they are not teachers- they ARE their child’s first teacher. I don’t want them to see me as some “professional”. I want them to feel comfortable with me talking about their child’s progress- not intimidated.

    I get dressing professional- I do for conferences and presentations but not really for my classroom. It’s all about what you are trying to project and create and you have to think intentionally about that projection.

  11. Robert Rowe
    on Oct 19th, 2008
    @ 5:49 pm

    I’ve never had a dress code in any of the buildings I’ve taught in. You get an idea of the climate the moment you set foot in a building though. There are definitely exceptions, but I definitely think you have to look “professional”, whatever they means in your building/district/town.

  12. Dan Callahan
    on Oct 19th, 2008
    @ 6:27 pm

    I’m a shirt and tie guy myself. Every day, except for special days such as field trips. To me, it’s part of the professional look. But then, I went to a Catholic High School where I had to wear shirt and tie every day, and my father wore a suit to work every day as a businessman, so it’s pretty ingrained to some degree. It doesn’t really make much of a difference to my students, since I’m not all stuffy in the classroom, but I like to think it makes a difference in my interactions with other adults.

  13. Carolyn Myers
    on Oct 20th, 2008
    @ 9:11 am

    I think you have a good point. In the school district where I will be student teaching not much can be said about the way teachers dress because of the teachers union. I feel there are female teachers that are not dressing modestly. Do they not understand that these young boys are googling their breast and talking smack behind their backs. It is really sad to me that some teachers are wearing skirts and shorts way to short. As far as I’m concerned it is hard to show respect for that whether they are fabulous teachers or not. We are suppose to be examples for these students. They need to have someone to look up too and emulate because many of them do not have decent role models at home.

  14. Jeff Russell
    on Oct 22nd, 2008
    @ 4:26 am

    When I left the classroom, I went to the suit. The suit is even easier than the shirt and tie. (and most of the time pants) It is kinda like Geranimals. You do not have to think and it gives you a presence.

    Hopefully the teachers at our school are treating students respect and that respect is returned. I tend to hire people that do not need to wear a shirt and tie to gain respect.

    It is a trade off. As principal, you gain so many morale points from staff by allowing them the choice in dress. (within limits)There are very few perks in education. The question is does your campus need to gain morale or respect.

    The best teacher ever was Jesus. I am sure that in his day he was pretty casual. He changed the world without wearing a tie.

  15. Angie
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 12:47 pm

    Wow! I think this is the most comments ever posted here on one topic! Here’s my POV: if you build relationships, people will follow you regardless of dress. BUt, you need to present yourself well before those relationships are built. For some teachers, they need respect from their dress because they don’t garner it anywhere else. For some, their relationships in the classroom are so outstanding that they could wear the Hawaiian shirt and shorts and have 100% engagement. As with everything in life, it depends.

    BTW- Mr. Russell also rocks the suspenders.

  16. Joe Ward
    on Nov 13th, 2008
    @ 3:19 pm

    Me encantan mis jeans!

    I mean do clothes really make the man? Admin sets the precedent. Saying that, admin must, and I mean must give their faculty something…throw them a bone. It is amazing how the word “jeans” can boost the morale of a faculty.
    On the filp side, there are those who are just against jeans…period. 20 years ago, John David McPherson had the nerve, or guts, to wear jeans(black w/ gray stripes)during the JoAnne Kelly administration at WMS. He was sent home to change. Mrs. Kelly ran a tight ship. She had to. It was a rough campus back then. She laid down the law, we knew what was expected of us.
    I guess my point is you have to know your faculty and decide if jeans are a small thing or a big thing.

    Me encantan mis jeans!

  17. Chris Goulart
    on Dec 1st, 2008
    @ 12:47 am

    Wow, what a discussion!!! If I am hearing things right, some teachers snuggle on the floor with their young students. Other female teachers wear provocative shirts to arouse their older students.

    Can you guys hear yourselves!!!! We are here to educate, not put on a “let me see how far I can push the envelope” social commentary. For goodness sakes, if you are a good teacher dressed like a hobo you can probably be a better teacher in a suit. Wearing a shirt and tie won’t crimp your style and will probably earn you more respect and credibility.

    Am I the *only* one who likes to wear “grown up” clothes anymore?

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    @ 7:13 pm

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  19. iGuide
    on May 1st, 2009
    @ 11:26 am

    Its a job, so you have to wear whatever your bosses want. In college, the bosses’ bosses are students, so teachers (and everything else) has much more freedom. In public grade schools, the bosses’ bosses are uptight parents and often politically motivated governments. Education is a massive business, teachers are cogs in the machine, so do what you’re told, but try to have some personality within your narrow constraints.

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  21. Carrie
    on Nov 18th, 2010
    @ 12:33 pm

    I am doing a project for my creative writing class. and it is on Social Commentary. and im doing mine on how Dress Code in schools need to be Professional. so i totoally agree with this blog.
    All through out school teachers tell you that school is to prepare you for the working area… well you give me a job where you can get away with wearing sweats or PJ pants. ITs more than teachers its any job you will have.

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While this site operates with the knowledge and awareness of the Tuscola CUSD #301 School Board, Tuscola, Illinois, the content and opinions posted here may or may not represent their views personally or collectively, nor does it attempt to represent the official viewpoint of Tuscola CUSD #301 administrators or employees.