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My wife is the youngest of four sisters, and recently we had the opportunity to look through her oldest sister’s high school yearbooks from the mid to late 1960’s.  The clothes and hairstyles were, of course, a hoot.  However, I was struck by something else while we were flipping the pages.

The administrators, faculty, and staff looked so . . . professional.  Men in jackets and ties.  Women with neat hairstyles and stylish attire.  When looking at the group shots, it was quite easy to distinguish the adults from the teenagers without checking the captions under the photographs for the answers.

We make much of the inappropriate attire of the young men and women in our high schools (and middle schools and sometimes even elementary schools as well).  Anyone who has ever spent any time in a public school most anywhere in these United States will tell you they have seen much that should not be placed on public view.

However, perhaps we fail to pay enough attention to what the educators sometimes wear to school.  I realize it may be simply a function of what is currently considered stylish, but I’m not sure if our schools are well-served when the administrators, faculty, and staff often dress in jeans, tee shirts, sneakers, and (I’ve seen this) sweat pants when they come to work.  Enforcing a professional code of attire is, sadly, a problem with which many businesses are currently struggling—ask anyone who is running a college recruitment program for a major company how often they have to remind new hires that tattoos should be covered and nose rings removed before coming into work.  However, I believe the problem is compounded when your business is working with young people who, like it or not, look to you to be a role model.

There is, for example, a credibility factor to be considered.  You can’t tell a student to dress well when you don’t practice what you preach—your request for improved appearance will, most likely, be met with a smirk if you are not a good role model yourself.  Moreover, even if there is no direct exchange of words about attire, believe me when I say that students do very much notice what the adults in the building are wearing and how well they are groomed.  If you are not a frequent bather, young noses will figure that out right away.  If you have a visible panty line, it is noticed and derisively described at lunch time.  If you have a problem with extravagant nose hair, it will be all anyone remembers about your classroom for years to come.

In addition, adults should know they send a message about respect with their grooming and choice of clothing.  If I show up at a business meeting in shorts and with a piece of spinach stuck in my teeth, I’m letting those in the room know I don’t care a bit for them or the service they provide.  By the same token, if an administrator, teacher, or staff member is dressed in an inappropriate or slovenly manner, they are making very clear how little they respect the school where they work, their colleagues who look to them for support, the parents whose taxes pay their salaries, and the students who are there to learn.

Finally, it is ever more important in these times when our classrooms are roiled by a seemingly never-ending string of scandals about inappropriate contacts between students and school employees for the dividing line between the children and the adults to be cast in stone.  Perhaps we never fully appreciated the wondrous advantages of teachers looking older and distinctly unapproachable back in the day.  It may be the case that we would be far better off than we know if we had more ties and a fewer tight shirts collecting paychecks at our nation’s schools.  We need the adults to look—and act—as adults for the sake of the children in their charge.

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