(Picture courtesy : skidmorecassieedm310.blogspot.com via Google)
I read this article in the NY Times the other day when I came across this link which one of my friends had posted on Facebook.
To be honest, the first time I read the article, some portions left me with the feeling that the kids’ priorities were misplaced. But then, I read the article again – this time through a pre-teen or a teen’s eyes – and to a some extent, I could see where they were coming from. This article has indeed raised an important question : “How important is it for teachers to dress well ?”. There could well be two schools of thought here. One that says that it is absolutely essential for teachers to be well dressed and the other school of thought that says that kids go to school to study and that is that. How teachers dress is not any of their business.
I, for one, would say that it definitely matters as to how presentable teachers are. Yes. Teachers (for that matter, people belonging to any profession or not belonging to a profession, per se) need to dress well. In saying dress well, I do not mean to say that teachers should go into the classroom dressed in tuxedos and ball gowns. But there indeed needs to be some decorum to their sense of dress and style.
That said, it is a given that teachers need to dress suitably depending on the age group they teach. If one were to walk into a primary school dressed in totally formal clothes, it would indeed make it very difficult for the kids to connect with them, not to mention involve oneself in the kind of activities that form an integral part of teaching the lower primaries.
Yet again, if one thinks that “anything is OK” just because they teach little kids in the lower primaries – I speak from personal experience in saying – “think again”. Even little children, as young as 6-7 notice what their teacher wears. They do !
I’ve had seven / eight year olds – sometimes even six year olds come up to me and say – your dress is very nice or I like the colour of your dress or some such. So yes – it definitely matters and when you are standing there at the head of the class with about 30 -35 pairs of eyes focussed on you – it would be safe to assume that your dress sense or the lack of it (as the case may be), is indeed under scrutiny.
One might argue that the kids in the article were being judgemental - too judgemental when what they really should be doing is studying and learning. That is primarily what they go to school for. This was my initial reaction too, when I first read the article. But just give this a think – how would you react to a sloppily dressed teacher in the classroom ? An important aspect of teaching that one always needs to bear in mind is the fact that teachers are role models. Teachers are the people parents entrust their kids with, for about 8 hours a day and if children are expected to attend school in neat uniforms and a good degree of personal hygiene, is it but natural that the same be expected from the teachers too.
I’m not saying that I am judgemental when I see sloppily dressed people. Yes, the thought does cross my mind as to whether the other person could have paid a bit more of attention to their clothes or to their general appearance but that’s about it. I do not categorise people or look down upon them just because they look sloppy. But then again, that kind of an attitude does not set in when one is a pre- teen or a teen. For a non- judgemental attitude to set in takes a lot of mellowing and maturity which come as one walks down the path of life. To expect that kind of an attitude from a pre- teen or a teen is, in my honest opinion, asking for too much too soon.
I was taken a bit aback by the nastiness of some of the comments like “my teacher looks like an ayah” or “her nail polish is always chipped”. In the first instance, making that sort of a generalisation is a no-no and someone needs to tell the kids that. In saying that a teacher dresses like an ayah, not only is the kid putting the teacher down but is trodding upon all the ayahs as well. It is equivalent to creating a stereotype and that needs to be addressed.
As far as chipped nail polish goes, I never wear it, precisely for that very reason. Nail polish chips ! Chipped nail polish has never ever appealed to me and I guess it never will. But that said, if I see a lady brandishing her talons on which the nail polish has merrily chipped away, I will most definitely not say anything to the lady in question. In this respect, as in many others, I would rather keep my opinions to myself. But then again, like I said before, I am forty plus and life has taught me a thing or two about not being judgemental. A teen will not think the same way. The statement “her nail polish is always chipped” is the kind of talk that I usually attribute to the brashness of youth and no, I’m not going to be judgemental on that count either. I am not going to judge that teen for having said that because at that age, looking at things through their eyes, it makes sense.
A teen’s priority or priorities are definitely not going to be the same as that of a person who has seen a lot of shades to life. As we live life, as we battle with situations, as we learn to accept wins or defeats with grace (or otherwise), as we learn to juggle and balance the many little facets of life, as we learn to look at our choices, make our decisions and accept responsibility for the same, life adds lots of shades of grey (God No ! That was not a pun !) to our attitude, our outlook, our thoughts, our mind-sets, our opinions and in general, our approach to a certain situation. We still very much have the blacks and the whites to our spectrum of opinions but there are many grey pages in there as well. As life progresses, one finds oneself riffling through those pages much more than one did when one was a teen.
Teaching is a profession which is a highly visible one. Teachers are “seen”, are “observable” all the time – be it by students, be it by parents or their co-teachers. Ergo, it does make it important that teachers be presentable – in terms of their dress sense and in terms of their mannerisms. It also presents the teacher as a suitable authority figure when it comes to dealing with students and if needed, the parents concerned too.
Teachers are not expected to dress in extremely formal clothes or designer outfits when at school but it would be safe and logical to assume that children and parents who walk into school expect to see teachers dressed for work and not looking as though they are dressed for the disco, a prom or a day at the farm.