I'm wearing jeans today. It is a Friday. It is jeans day.
In many schools, jeans are not professional enough to wear as a teacher unless it is a special occasion.
Jeans day. Jeans pass. Special jean allowance. I wish I could wear jeans. Did you see Ms. So-and-so...she is wearing jeans today! Are you going to donate $5 so you can wear jeans next week? Hurry up, Mr. Smith...if our whole team completes this task, we all get to wear jeans on Monday! College t-shirt day means jeans! The temperature is under 32 degrees which means jeans! Holiday break jeans week! Field trip = jeans.
With all of the millions of things teachers could be talking about, I am surprised at how often the topic of conversation turns to jeans. It is almost funny that it is such a big deal. Moreso, the fact that jeans are still an issue is silly.
My current district's dress code in the employee handbook is simple:
"An employee’s dress and grooming shall be clean, neat, in a manner appropriate for his or her
assignment, and in accordance with any additional standards established by his or her
supervisor and approved by the Superintendent."
It says nothing about jeans, but I don't know of a campus in this district that allows jeans, or better stated, I don't know of a campus in this district that has made jeans a non-issue.
Another local district is much more specific. Their employee dress code has fourteen specific points for teachers to follow. It spells out what can be worn and cannot be worn. It also offers suggestions. There are four, well-written exceptions to those fourteen rules too. The best part of that dress code states that males are encouraged to wear ties, but dress shirts with turtlenecks are acceptable. When was the last time you saw a male elementary teacher wearing a turtleneck in lieu of a tie!
Why are jeans an issue? I ask this all the time. I hear three answers the most:
1. We should dress professionally.
2. Better dressed teachers get more respect from students.
3. It is a good way for the principal to build relationships
I'm an elementary guy. I have spent three years at the middle school level, but most of my time has been in the lower grades. I don't know a single teacher that doesn't plop down on the floor with kids. I know lots of teachers who are constantly getting their hands dirty throughout the day with various learning activities. Many teachers get through the 10,000 step barrier by 11:00 a.m. Most elementary teachers are constantly getting down to eye level with their students. I know that teachers are somewhat less-inclined to get down on the floor and get dirty during learning when they are dressed nicely. Last week, I heard a teacher say, "I only do real science on Fridays with my jeans on." This is only one person, but it isn't wholly untrue for many teachers.
I'm not sure who thinks that teachers wearing wrinkled khaki pants and tennies with a school t-shirt is any less professional than jeans with the exact same shirt and shoes. I'm also not sure who thinks elementary kids are any less respectful due to the teacher's clothing. I have yet to experience a teacher who can base the level of respect they get from their students on the clothes they wear.
Another consideration is the comfort level that some kids have with ties and jackets. A few years ago, I sat down with a focus group of 4th and 5th graders. I was asking their opinions on all kinds of school-related things. I asked what they thought about the student dress code and the teacher dress code. One student said that he was glad I didn't wear a tie like the old principal. Most of the other students agreed. I asked why. Another student piped in, "Other than him, the only suits I have ever seen were at a funeral." A third student said, "I don't actually know anyone that wears ties."
Do jeans passes and jeans days build relationships between teachers and principals? I think not. I have never heard a teacher say, "My respect for Principal Jones goes up every time I am allowed to wear jeans." I have heard plenty of teachers say, "Good. I can wear jenas tomorrow!" That statement is never followed by, "Thank goodness for my awesome principal for this opportunity to make my attire more comfortable." If the relationship-building logic made sense, wouldn't it build relationships even better if teachers could wear jeans anytime they wanted???
Part of the constant conversation about jeans makes me laugh. If jeans are not professional, are teachers unprofessional on jeans day? Are they less professional when they use a jeans pass on a Tuesday and everyone else is not wearing jeans? If jeans are not professional enough, why do principals offer jeans passes at all?
Carrots. Principals offer jeans passes as an incentive. They know teachers will do a little extra for a jeans pass. They sell jeans for work. I bet there are some principals that wouldn't give a flip about teachers wearing jeans regularly if it didn't take away their biggest carrot!