Should Teachers Wear Jeans?

Moving Day, Saturday June 8, 2019. Boxes and Teachers wearing Jeans, what a combo. 

Let me say this, about that.

Should Teachers wear jeans every day? Hmmm. Hot topic. Never thought much about it.

I never knew this is such a big topic for teachers. I read a great We Are Teachers article by Kristy Louden on June 6, 2019, posted by ‘We Are Teachers’ on Twitter. “Teachers Should Be Allowed to Wear Jeans Every Day & Here’s Why”. I thought it was an interesting read, so I shared it. That tweet now, as I conclude my thoughts, has nearly 65,000 impressions (hits), (update, Sunday morning, 84,000 impressions) so I am honored and grateful to have the opportunity to write for us.

The common thread for me, my takeaway goes right back to school culture, and likely, Maslow, basic needs, personal self-care needs being met. Perhaps we can go no further than to recognize a whole lot of teachers want to self-determine what they wear to school every day to perform at their best. Perhaps this whole discussion is really all about teacher autonomy and need for trust in our professionalism and decision making, I’m really not sure.

Who cares?

A lot of people, apparently. As I put my thoughts together, nearly 65,000 pit stops (and steadily climbing as I bleed at the typewriter) on that post, and a lot of comments back to me, ‘We Are Teachers’ and to each other. So far, I haven’t seen many administrators chiming in, but teachers have loud voices and I’ve been listening. So have you, apparently. That’s a lot of jeans or no jeans conversation.

“You look professional by what you do, not how you look”. 

I originally thought I would quote individual teachers, but I decided to just put this all together, best as I can for now. I still want to think some more about this, and hope you do too. This would be a most interesting podcast and or teacher chat, as an extension of our collaborative life lesson.

Early on, I shared my perspective, that I have no problem with jeans. Yes, I am biased because I have always worn jeans, in classrooms at all levels, leading seminars, team teaching with teachers, everywhere but Keynotes, where I really dressed, tripping on heels more than once. I don’t think anyone thought less of me, just the opposite. I fit in. Walk the Talk.

Because I built collegial relationships, we laughed and cried together, it didn’t matter what I was or wasn’t wearing, I don’t think. In classrooms my uniform varied, depending where I made my “housecalls”. I usually wore one of my teaching aprons, and one or more of my collection of teacher pins. I also still have my funky teaching vest. These were my uniform.

Costumes, hats, too. All respectful. Moreover, when I modeled a demo. lesson on the ‘Giver’ in high school English classes, I wore my gray pantsuit, giving more meaning to the book’s Story Grammar. Building rapport starts with ME, modeling everything. And that we can also do, by what we wear, as well as what we say and do. We are setting the tone, staging and branding for success, but that can look like a lot of different pathways to get there, wherever that Vision and Mission take us.

I also mentioned, my first year as Principal I wore suits and heels to school every day, setting the tone. But that was when we were turning around a Mean School, as Jeff Kubiak would have called it, a dying school, waiting to be transformed. It was so impractical, I finally got out my jeans, put tennies under my desk and everybody who wanted to wear jeans, did.

However, let me say this, I totally respect those teachers and other stakeholders reading, commenting, generally respectfully to one another, that they are 100% against teachers wearing jeans every day. Compelling reasons were offered, with others dissenting back, as their wont and personal beliefs, sharing this significant collegial conversation. Early on, I read a couple things like “I thought we ended this discussion decades ago?” Guess not.

Somebody else wrote  “Shouldn’t we be discussing more important topics?” Guess not, this is obviously important. “My doctor wears jeans and he’s professional”. “My friend is a lawyer and wears jeans to court.” Etc.

Has society gone too far in sloppy dress?

The flip side, some teachers commented that there is a general loss in society of wearing classy clothes, meaning more upgraded than jeans, I guess. Dress jeans? Rips ok? Length? Mom jeans or skinny legs? Unpacking last night, I laughed when I found a stash of panty hose and fancy hankies, also kid leather gloves. My teacher self laughed; I wore this stuff. Since I’m not on Pinterest, couldn’t figure out more than sock puppets, so I Marie Kondoed.

Saved the hankies to show Morgan and Sierra, this summer, on a special day. Then we’ll read about “Grandma’s Hats, and Crab Cakes Later”, and put on my on Mom’s old hats and fancy shoes made in Hong Kong so many years ago. My Mom and Dad were sharp dressers. I was too, back then. But today is different.

Who decides what’s ok to wear?

Here where I live, we see everything. Hippie, weird stuff like the guy around town who wears a tail, a lady who carries giant stick puppets at a blues dance venue I like, people who look like they are wearing Halloween costumes, but it’s daily street wear now. Topping everything here, last week I saw a woman walking down the street wearing a box on her head (looked custom fitted). Beards tied in knots, man buns. All ok. Many ways to express our individuality, and I believe teachers stand out by uniqueness, sense of humor, empathy and of course, lifelong learning along with kids.

Who in society decides our personal best, what we need to learn and grow as professionals? And be seen as professional, equal to doctors, lawyers? ‘USA Today Weekend’ states in today’s headline piece, “The Higher Cost of Learning” Most new teachers can’t afford to rent where they work”.

Those who can, teach, and do so admirably. It seems to mean giving one’s all to life purpose, fueling that passion with art and craft of teaching, certainly qualifies us to be professional, action researchers and teacher leaders. And does it matter, do we have to look like authority figures in a shifting of norms and school cultures?


This morphs into comments I took as meaning to be positive role models for future leaders, teachers should be dressing the part, looking sharp, as professionals. #neverjeans.

I really appreciated this comment, which was echoed by many others. “I 100% disagree. You worked hard for a degree to be a professional uniquely qualified to change the future for kids. When you show up looking like you’re about to garden or clean the garage that sends a message. You can be comfortable and & still be classy and professional. NOT in jeans.”

So there you go. You decide, not me, not tonight, anyway.

I’m also for floor circle time every day for every classroom. Meditation and breathing, yoga or Pilates, Brain Gym reaps great benefits, ah, flow state. But not in clothes we can’t move around in.

What does a teacher, as professional wardrobe look like? There are websites.

Does an extensive, expensive wardrobe make a better teacher? What is a good teacher, anyway and does looking a certain part mean one is a “good teacher”? Are colored hair, beards, tattoos, piercings, other forms of self-expression not ok, either? How far does it go and who decides what an “authority figure” looks like? Are we still considered authority figures, anyway?

I realized that this is a multi-faceted issue revolving around teacher dress codes (or not), what makes a teacher professional, do clothes matter? Shouldn’t teachers have enough autonomy we can decide what to wear to be comfortable, yet looking more than presentable for work? What constitutes that?

And more than jeans. How far does appropriate dress go? Sweats? Yoga pants? I heard from female and male teachers who are allowed to wear leggings, too. One teacher wrote he wears shorts and crocs to work. A couple guys wear chinos, (I had to look that up).

Why do teachers want to wear jeans every day?

Most teachers stated the same basic reasons why they wear jeans, noting they make sure they look sharp, put together:

First, in the changing school environment, the day of “pencil skirt and heels”, lecturing at front of the class has been replaced by more active facilitation. Teachers are sitting on floors, at tables, doing brain breaks, engaging in more active and interactive learning, sitting with kids of all ages and stages at eye level, and need to be comfortable for engaging classroom activities. And how do you practice mindful breathing on floor mats in unyielding clothes?

Second, we are not talking just jeans in preschool, kindergarten and primary grades here. All levels of teachers reported wanting to decide what makes them happiest, to perform best, and that generally means wearing jeans every day to school, in our context. Can’t fault that. Whatever it takes, but a problem if there is in fact, a dress code.

Is this a bargaining issue? If school or district weighs in, what would be the take, or is this already an enforceable, contractual issue or permissive, it’s there but look the other way, non-issue? Is it a topic in the staff lounge, or parking lot? I am not being vague, just attempting to stand on my head and figure out various perspectives and parameters, why wearing jeans to school as part of our natural uniform of sorts, resonates so hard core, when other teacher issues like scripted curriculum and testing, other subjects I routinely write about, never saw response like this, one way or another. It just stimulates my thinking, I’m not judging in any way. Not at a time like this when we need to be our most united selves as servant leaders, for our scholars in waiting. We can do no less.

Jeans on Fridays only?

School culture may be more permissive, allowing teachers to dress casually, meaning jeans on Fridays and special days. But I have no way of knowing how many schools actually do this. In fact, do most districts have a dress code? Do most schools still have “Fun Fridays” and allow jeans? Crazy hair days, pj days. Are unions involved in determining what teachers wear on a daily basis? If dress codes, are Superintendents, Principals, School Boards and local site planning teams and various stakeholders aware this is a hot topic to teachers on Twitter, at least?

Many teachers wrote that their districts just care about scores, that they need to deliver quantifiable data, it didn’t matter what they wore.

Some teachers commented just the opposite, that jeans are a big NO. Reason behind this, if we want to be treated as professionals (enough to strike over) then dress like one. Business attire, business casual.

When I joined the preschool staff a couple years ago, I not only bought stretchy jeans, also trike proof shoes, a big puffy jacket for outdoor time, etc. It cost me money to prepare for school, just in getting ready to be loved and slimed. Teachers get love slimed, and glue and worse, jeans it is, no dry cleaning. Not to mention flu season, like every day. Tosss those jeans in the washer.

For those teachers who want to dress up, just do it. For those teachers who want to wear jeans, just do it. I wonder now, has any time ever been given for staff to discuss feelings about proper attire for school? Are we talking about the PE teacher wearing shorts as the same attire needed as a classroom teacher?

And what constitutes a uniform, if kids are wearing them, should teachers? What would/do they look like?

School shirts, maybe to go with those jeans? And what does an administrator do if somebody does indeed look less than put together, and what happens?

On the flip side, I told my daughter I needed to get back home to unexpectedly write this blog that came up. I asked her what she thinks about teachers wearing jeans. Peanut’s school has a very relaxed climate. I see many hued hair, a lot of tattoos, nearly everybody wearing jeans including the Principal. Kids call their teachers by first names.

But Rebecca also said she is surprised the Principal doesn’t dress up, it’s hard to spot him on campus. Exactly, not only in my opinion is he bullding relationships with staff and students, he is in on the action. More than one teacher commented by dressing in jeans, backpacks, looking casual, blending in, lots of interesting conversations overheard in hallways!

Another view, read this: “Many professional offices, including my husband’s office at a multi- billion $ company have people who wear jeans. Jeans are just another type of pant. Why should it even matter? It’s not 1950.”

Salient issues, in summary, in my opinion:

  1. Dress Code.
  2. Professionalism.
  3. Autonomy.

Leaving footprints on your reading hearts, Rita

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