An odd news story showed up in my newsfeed in this morning claiming that the New Zealand Schools Trustees Association (NZSTA) has sent out a number of directives to schools that include instructions teachers to dress more ‘professionally.’
What strikes me as odd about this article, if it is true, is that the NZSTA has way overstepped their boundaries. The association itself is there to give support to boards of trustees to execute their role as governors of schools. Issuing management edicts is usually the role of the principal and senior leadership team of the school.
The second thing that is the advice the NZSTA are dolling out is Teachers College 101. One of the tips passed on to student teachers, particularly younger ones, when they are about to go out on placement is that you need to dress professionally. Don’t wear anything you can see up, down over or through.
Of course this inevitably opens up a huge can of worms as to what professional dress for teachers actually is.
Some schools, at least in New Zealand, don’t particularly care if teachers have tattoos, dreadlocks and flip flops while others think that professional dress is nothing short of teachers showing up in business attire every day.
As someone who has shown up to school on regular occasion in hoodies, jandals, jeans and tshirts I can only assume I have an outstanding warrant from the fashion police for the crime of unprofessional dress.
Certainly the children that I taught in New Zealand would be shocked to see me in a dress. I think I wore a dress once the entire time I taught there. Yet I tend to wear dresses most days now that I’m teaching in Singapore.
But I am quite literally teaching in a different environment.
The average New Zealand classroom is not for built for comfort. In the summer teachers and children spend their days sweltering due to a lack of fans and air conditioning. In the winter any meagre heat is often the minute anyone opens the door and a blast of icy wind comes in. Keeping cool in the summer and warm in the winter is usually first and foremost on teachers minds.
Moreover New Zealand primary teachers tend to spend a lot time sitting on the floor. There’s PE classes which may or may not involve trudging across a muddy field in depths of winter. I also did a lot of practical subjects like art and cooking that involve materials like paints and eggs. Add 30 kids to the mix and your clothes are going to get dirty and disgusting.
Who exactly are teachers dressing to impress?
Politicians, parents, students and other teachers are quite happy to weight in on teachers dress code given half the chance.
Ultimately teachers have got to be relatable to families and more importantly the kids from all walks of lives. A public school teacher in New Zealand might have a conversation with a lawyer, a gang member and 30 five year olds over the course of a day.
They need to approachable and relatable to all three.
And that’s the key.
Ultimately teachers success isn’t down to whether they wear jandals or jeans but in the relationship they have built up with the kids and their families.
I don’t think what I wear would make one bit of difference to some of the kids coming to school with major behavioural issues. Nevertheless I’m known by the kids around my school for my crazy shoes.
Fitting into the community and treating others with respect speaks far louder than any offbeat fashion choices.