Dress codes in school is a hot button topic these days.  No, not for the students, for the teachers!

A few schools around the country are cracking down on how their teachers are dressing for class.  The days of jeans, flip-flops, gym clothes (for the non-gym teachers I expect) and sneakers on teachers may be ending, and if you ask me, it can’t come any too soon.

There are some people in this world who are worthy, just by virtue of their profession and their level of authority, of our respect and appreciation.  They are law enforcement personnel including emergency service providers, judges, military servicemen and women and teachers.  But that respect is not infinite; it needs to be maintained and continuously earned on a daily basis.  A police officer automatically commands our reverence, but that same police officer arrested for abusing his wife has lost that respect.  Teachers are the same.

I have always held the belief that if you want people to treat you with dignity and respect and, more importantly, take you seriously, you must dress the part.  We are a shallow and superficial society and first impressions may be all that we get, so it has to be a good one.  Want people to listen to you, give you a job, or just treat you politely, your appearance controls a great deal of that. 

Teachers are no exception.  If they want to be taken seriously, if they want to continue to maintain that respect, if they want to be a good role model for their students, they must dress the part.  What message are they sending to the students if they come to class in flip-flops and gym shorts?  If they don’t take their job seriously enough to get dressed up for it, then why should the students take school seriously?

Did you know that there is a dress code for lawyers appearing in court in Los Angeles County?  Los Angeles Superior Court Local Rule 3.43 states the following:  “Persons in the courtroom may not dress in an inappropriate manner so as to be distracting of usual sensibilities.  Attorneys and court personnel should be dressed with current customs as to their business or work attire.” 

Why is this the case?  Because judges and the judicial system demand respect and the easiest method of showing such respect is to dress appropriately.  Teachers who do not dress appropriately for class are not showing respect for themselves; they are not demonstrating to their students that they are entitled to and command respect by virtue of their profession.

Think of it this way—you are in charge of hiring the new employee for a position which will require public appearances and promotional events for your company.  Two applicants apply.  One appears for the interview in a suit and tie while the other appears in jeans and sneakers.  Without having looked at either one’s resume, which one do you think took the interview seriously?  With no other criteria on which to base your decision, which one of the two would you hire to represent your company?  If you wouldn’t hire the applicant in jeans and sneakers to represent your company, would you be comfortable having him or her educate your children? 

I accept the fact that my argument does not take into consideration the qualities of the teacher.  For every burned out teacher with no incentive to work hard but who wears a suit to class there is a teacher who busts his or her hump every day to be an educator but who wears jeans and sneakers and wouldn’t we as parents want the excited and dedicated teacher educating our children?  Hands down, no question, of course.  But is it that difficult to expect that teacher to dress it up a little bit?

In Milwaukee, a retired high school teacher of 33 years wrote a scathing letter to the editor, criticizing a teacher’s dress code as style over substance with too much emphasis being placed on what someone wears as opposed to the skills that one has.  Her major argument, however, was flimsy at best.  She queried where the teachers were supposed to get the money for the new clothes.  She snidely suggested Goodwill.  Really? 

You may think that I am wrong and I very well may be.  I would much prefer the teacher who is energized and sloppily dressed to the one that is spiffy but enervated.  But this is not a situation where changing the dress code will change the product.  Requiring teachers to dress appropriately for class will not be tantamount to cutting Samson’s hair.  They will not suffer a power outage and thus be unable to teach anymore. 

Remember I spoke of those commanding our respect simply by virtue of being in positions of authority?  Who are the first people in authority that our children interact with?  The teachers…

I go to court many times a month and it never ceases to amaze me how inappropriately attired some of the non-lawyer attendees are.  Shorts, baseball caps, flip-flops, baggy jeans, t-shirts, unkempt hair, unshaven faces.  I see it every time and this is when they are appearing in front of a judge who will be making a life-altering decision about them!  Where is the respect?

Teachers are our children’s first exposure to authority.  Do they want their students to respect them?  Then they need to dress like the respect that they command.

Even Mr. Belding wore a suit every day!

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