We often talk about the pros and cons of student uniform. It’s one of the few areas of education where I’m just below a shrug on the opinion scale.
But what about teachers?
One evening a few months ago I went out to see some friends. I was wearing a pair of dark jeans and a faded red t-shirt, with some red trainers.
“Wow, have you had time to go home and get changed?” They asked.
I hadn’t been home to get changed.
My friends were a little taken aback. Firstly, that I was allowed to wear such casual clothes, and secondly that I chose to. Now I admit, it’s pretty rare that I wear jeans and t-shirt to school. Usually its a pair of chinos and a shirt. The last time I wore a suit was at a parents evening, and most of my students looked at me weirdly and asked me what I was wearing.
First, I’m quite lucky that my school are flexible with our clothing. There are, of course, limits, but practicality trumps formality. I’ll a reasonable amount of time bending down, crouching or sitting on the floor on any given day. I’m aware that secondary schools are more likely to have a dress code for teachers, with business dress the expectation.
Business dress, incidentally, was the expectation during my teacher training. During school visits, I soon became aware that my suit and tie was drawing suspicious looks. I broached the subject with a gentle looking teacher in a staff room. “Are your going for the head teacher job or what?” she replied, “there’s no need.”
So for my first year of teaching I left the suit for weddings and court appointments. I did try and make sure my shirt was ironed on observation days, or at least held under the hand dryer and palmed down.
This year, I toyed with the idea of starting to wear a suit. I’m teaching older children and thought that they should get used to seeing a teacher in smart dress. There is also a vague notion in my head about aspiration, and showing children that not all people that wear suits are faceless city-dwellers. Lastly, and this is probably what underlay the non-judgemental surprise of my friends, it seems like a lack of respect. For the children, the job, and yourself.
I enunciate, articulate and stretch my vocabulary when I teach. I dress up my language. Why shouldn’t I also dress up myself?
Wearing a suit sends a message. I take care in everything that I do.
On the other hand, I don’t want people to think that I want to be headteacher, partly because I really don’t, but mostly because primary school is largely about relationships, and if formal dress alienates you from colleagues and students then your job of teaching the children things will be harder. And that’s what I’m there to do.
So you decide. Suits in primary school? Slick, silly, or supercilious?