Is it Worth the Fight?

With the arrival of the dog days of summers comes the end of summer break for teachers and students across the area. The first partial week is under their belts and the start of the first full week of school means they are back in earnest. Any new school year brings its challenges and any time there are changes in school administration the mountains and valleys appear more steep. Such was the case with the birth of school year 2019/20.

While students were still in the final seconds of summer, the word was already out that there was a new teacher dress code in town and the inevitable fall out had begun. Don’t get me wrong, teachers and staff need to look professional but I am not sure that a “new” dress code was necessary. Let’s face it, teachers and staff already feel like they are under fire because of state and, yes, some local, mandates. Too much mandated testing and paperwork; never enough supplies or money. They deal everyday with the regular “kid” stuff and that is to be expected. They also deal with some things that are beyond comprehension for those of us who only see the classroom and students from the outside looking in. Teachers see poverty in forms that most of us know exist but never personally encounter. And they deal with the fall out from that poverty. One teacher recently explained it like this “ it is really hard to expect a student to care about some random test when the burden they carry is so much heavier than any child should carry. Issues like little or no food at home, dangerous living conditions, parents( one or both) in prison, multi generational poverty, those things trump school testing every time.” Yet, teachers are expected to communicate to students that testing is of the utmost importance. In the face of what daily living is for some students, even pretending that testing is in the top ten of the most important things going on is just foolish and both students and teachers know it. Unfortunately, sometimes administrators, who just by the sheer duties of their jobs have distance between themselves and the daily plight of students, forget that some things really are more important than test scores. Or, for that matter dress codes.

I have a real issue with dress codes for students and staff. As long as no private body parts are showing and no words that would make the George Carlin top ten are adorning clothing ( as well as tobacco, drugs and alcohol logos) then what is the harm in allowing a little freedom of expression? Frankly, if a student or teacher wants to color their hair blue and it is alright on the home front, what difference should it make to the school? If we back off a little in some areas where we hold so tight, yet really are of no importance, maybe we will get a better response when we ask for compliance on the truly important things. The really silly part is that the system uses the “ can’t be a distraction” reasoning for the current dress code. Students today live in a rainbow colored hair world. Perhaps some staff and administrators are distracted but I really doubt that any students even register an “unnatural hair color” or a hole in the jeans. Please. I grew up in the age of long hair bands and parachute pants. When I was a senior in high school I had the top of my long hair sheered. Did it look great? I thought it did-for about three months then I moved on to the next phase of life. My parents, who were both educators, may have cringed but they wisely said nothing. As far as self expression and phases go, hair color or clothing style are benign.

Perhaps, if we were to back off a little bit on our students and school staff we would find that most rise to the occasion. We may not love their pink hair or their choice of leggings but so what? Are they really hurting anything? Is the “system” using too much administrative clout on something silly when it should be saved for something real? If everything is an issue then nothing is an issue and we have too much to lose to make nothing an issue in the minds of students and staff. If the rogue student or staff member just can’t keep it between the navigational poles and end up showing off more than just their personal sense of style, call them individually on the carpet. Students and staff aren’t cattle, they don’t move as a herd and shouldn’t be treated as one.

From the cheap seats, it looks like the new dress code for teachers is as archaic as the current dress code for students. Heaven help us if we were to give folks a little independence and space to express themselves as an individual. Maybe we wouldn’t have so many trying to express themselves in inappropriate ways if we could just let go of the reins and give the horse a little lead. Oh. And as far as girls distracting young men-I have it on good authority that a teenage girl could wear an all black gunny sack and they would still be a distraction just by virtue of their existence. No matter how many rules come and go, some things never change. And some, like the current dress code, really, really should.