I believe teachers are professionals. All of us are educated; many of us have the official declaration of being the “Master” of our fields hanging on our walls. We strongly care about the fruits of our labor. We arrive to work on a daily basis, including Saturdays and Sundays, and we all know we sacrifice our personal time away from our families and homes, often without pay, for the sake of accomplishing our goals with the kids.
I don’t doubt we care about our work.
Why, then, do so many people not do everything in their power to act as a professional? This discussion can lead several different directions. However, I would like to focus on one simple behavior we all have direct control over. This behavior has a large positive impact on students, parents, other faculty, and administrators. This behavior is so simple to enact, one would hardly have to change a daily routine to enact. Frankly, this behavior I feel slightly irritated and ashamed is an issue to address: teachers dressing like professionals.
I often hear teachers complain about bring treated like children or prisoners by administrators. I don’t disagree. However, when people dress as nationally board-certified teacher and author Brian Crosby states in his book Smart Kids, Bad Schools: 38 Ways to Save America’s Future
that teachers often come dressed for the beach. I wish his analysis wasn’t true. However, I notice casual Friday has become casual Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday as well. At my school’s parent teacher conferences a week ago, only a handful of teachers dressed up to meet with parents. I consider parents to be the CEOs of the clients I serve. I couldn’t imagine talking to a CEO of a company without looking professional. This week I saw a teacher in shorts during the school day. I was baffled for a couple reasons: a) I’m not sure shorts are acceptable for casual Friday, let alone for casual Wednesday, and b) the weather was in the 40s and 50s here in Southern Missouri; I figure shorts would be rather cold. People treat professional looking people different. People treat professional people with more dignity and respect; like professionals.
Both Google and Microsoft have met with the city of Los Angeles abo...
I wonder, when the business representatives made their appeals and presentations to the city council, did the representatives wear t-shirts and jeans? Google won this battle. Maybe the Google reps showed up with a tie. I consider my job of teaching children to be more important than selling an e-mail server. The business leaders, however, I doubt would even think of not looking as professional as possible.
As a speech and debate coach, I teach my students about the importance of professional dress and appearance. Dress and appearance is important. Students who consistently win always look professional the entire tournament. When one of the few students who is in pants with holes hanging below their waistline places, those students look like buffoons compared to the five other professionals on stage.
I require my students to be in their tournament dress from the time we enter the bus on Friday to the time we exit the bus on Saturday. Students ask me if they may take their suit coat off: no. Students ask me if they can wear their “nice looking tank-tops”: no. The best part? I don’t take my tie and suit coat off either. I hold myself to the same standard I hold my students too. I appreciate when students from other teams comment on my dress or on my students’ dress. I’ve had students not listen to me about appearance (usually in the form of sneaking off to the bathroom and changing), and the judging pool, mostly parents and business representatives from the community, has rewarded those students with low ranks and losses. I once had two students follow the professional dress standard on Friday and perform their piece at a tournament and qualified to semi-finals in two events on Saturday. When they appeared on Saturday, they had hot-pink hair. They lost in semi-finals in both those events. The comment appearing on the ballots: lose the pink hair. I guess people can’t take people with hot-pink hair seriously. People treat and perceive others differently based on how those people dress.
At these same tournaments, the dress of the teachers and coaches are just as interesting to examine. Frankly, Missouri is a powerhouse in competitive speech and debate. Missouri is proud to boast three of the most competitive districts in the country. About half of the top 20 schools in the nation come from Missouri. At tournaments, you will find coaches dressing in two ways: a) professional dress and b) hoodies and jeans. I am ashamed to admit I used to be in the hoodies and jeans category, even though I know the research I’ll cite in a moment and I always dress like a professional at school (apparently in my mind, tournaments wasn’t part of my job?). I, however, took a look around the holding pen of coaches and students at the tournaments. I started looking at the teachers and coaches I admire because of their success with students. These schools rank in the top 20 in the nation and place in the sweepstakes at nearly every tournament they attend. They all are in suits and dresses. They look like professionals. They demand people treat them like professionals. Other coaches treat them with dignity and respect, and the other coaches listen to their words as if their words were gospel. Most important, their students succeed. This year, I brought my professional dress to the tournaments. The coaches who don’t dress up had a mini-intervention with me. After explaining why I’m dressed up they said, “Oh, you’re going to be one of them.”
Darn right I’m going to be one of the successful teachers. Not surprising, the same teachers who hound me about dressing up are the same coaches who mock me for watching my students perform at the tournaments and coaching them between rounds instead of hanging out in the hospitality room and eating doughnuts all day. Silly me.
Perhaps my strongest argument comes from decades of research on teacher dress in the classroom. May I lead everyone to two books: The Handbook of Instructional Communication: Rhetorical and Relational Perspectives and An Introduction to Communication in the Classroom: The Role of Communication in Teaching and Training. The first book includes a thorough summation of all the research (including references to the primary sources) on communication and human behavior in the classroom including the summation of research on teacher dress in the classroom. The second book is a companion book to the handbook providing a brief explanation of the research and findings. The research shows students view teachers who dress professionally as more competent, caring, and trustworthy. The students tend to view professionally dressed teachers with higher affect for the teacher professionally and higher affect for the content the teacher teaches. Students view professionally dressed teachers as more nonverbally immediate. Students also perceive teachers who dress professionally as committing less teacher-misbehaviors. All of these concepts are correlated with student perceptions of self-achievement. If anyone would like an online resource to these concepts, then visit the website of Dr. James C. McCroskey
who has a page of links to decades of the research posted.
Use the find function in your browser to narrow the search.
I have several students who saw me in public in my regular clothes, and their shock of seeing me in regular clothes is priceless. A current student who saw me at the mall buying glasses in a polo shirt and khaki shorts was nearly speechless. A former student saw me at a theatre in late Spring, with temperatures in the 90 degree range, told me I was not allowed to wear shorts and forced me to pose for a picture in my “normal” clothes. These examples just show me the students perceive me with value, dignity, and respect; all of these perceptions are requisites for higher student success.
If ironing a shirt in the morning will help the kids, then I’ll leave my ironing board and iron out, sitting in the ready to serve the kids.