The school I work at has quite a detailed dress code for teaching staff. Basically, we are expected to be smartly dressed at all times with male teachers expected to wear a suit, plain shirt and tie except in the warmer months when we are graciously exempted from having to wear jackets. This was quite a contrast to my first job teaching adults in a language school. No dress code existed there and it was often the students who were better dressed while the teachers strolled about in worn jeans and faded t-shirts!
In fact, one thing that put me off moving to my current school all those years ago (apart from having never worked with kids before) was the need to wear a suit and ‘shiny shoes’ every day. Nevertheless, I ‘suited up’ and went to work, having little choice in the matter it seemed.
Ooh! Image courtesy of dailymail.co.uk
It all seemed a bit formal though and I, together with most of my colleagues, was always looking for ways to bend the rules by wearing more comfy shoes, ‘smart-casual’ trousers, jumpers/sweaters and so on. After all, you will see and hear many people advising you to dress down and be prepared to get messy when working with kids so the less formal, the better, right?
Only this week, with warmer weather here, a jumper (even a sleeveless one) seemed too much but it was a bit too cool in the morning to go without a jacket so I donned a suit for the first time in ages. I then thought I should wear appropriate shoes to match and off I went. I wasn’t quite prepared though for the reaction I would get in my first class of the day:
“Ooooh!” said a student in my first class. “Very smart, teacher. Very nice!”
“Are we having a business meeting today?” joked another.
“Teacher, in this suit, you look very handsome” said another.
Then the best of all (for anyone who watched The Fast Show on BBC in the 90s at least): “What is yakışmak in English?” a boy asked. I told him we could use ‘suit’ as a verb and he said “Suits you, sir!”
But the strange thing was, after this initial burst of reaction, we started the lesson and the atmosphere was different somehow - the students were listening a lot more carefully than usual, taking turns, getting on with their work… quite unusual, especially as the summer holiday gets ever close! I asked why they were so keen and attentive and one boy proclaimed “You are wearing a suit so today’s lesson is very serious!”
It seemed me wearing a suit and dressing more formally had made some kind of impression on them. This was confirmed in the next class as there was a similar reaction when I walked in and then they got on with the lesson very studiously. I used the chance to chat with them about uniforms and appropriate dress for different circumstances. What surprised me was that these 10 year-olds were basically saying they thought a teacher should dress smartly. They also said that the more casually the teacher dresses, the more they feel they can ‘get away with things’.
So, maybe dressing less formally to seem more approachable is not actually the right way to go. Maybe that sends out the wrong signals about being less serious or more lax. Or perhaps it’s a cultural thing with the norm in Turkey for male teachers being smart suits. Anyway, I’ll suit up once again tomorrow and see if it has the same effect!
And what do you think? Should teachers dress smartly or casually? Do you have a dress code at work and do you agree with it? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.