Tuesday, July 20, 2010

what not to wear

Clothing police is my least favorite, least rewarding, biggest pain-in-the-rear, and absolute lose-lose job as middle school teacher.

Some reasons why I teach: to make a positive difference in the world, to help children learn the power of language, to help children grow up with the sense of independence and interdependence, and the list goes on and on.

Clothing police is one of my jobs because children need trained professionals to build a positive learning environment in which they feel safe enough to learn and grow. Children need such trained professionals to set guidelines and boundaries within which they develop identity, seek knowledge, and grow healthy relationships. "Do whatever/whenever/however you want" is the OPPOSITE of "the real world", the world in which they will one day rule.

True story: We visited a family (parents our age in their, ahem, 40's, plus two teenage children) in early July in the Washington, DC area. We were very happy for this rare chance to catch up with each other, and the father shared this lament. He often chides/admonishes/yells at his 16 year old daughter for wearing revealing clothes, and his daughter's response is, "But what you want me to wear makes me look like a NUN!" One day he acquires the task of driving her to school, and when they arrived, he remarked, "Why are all these prostitutes hanging out at your school?"

Yes, this friend is very sarcastic, but his point hurt my heart so much! I knew EXACTLY what he meant and what he saw (do YOU know? underwear worn as outerwear, essentially), and I feel like we (aka trained educators, aka parents, aka adults who by our mere existence are models for our children) are failing our children!

What I don't mind: setting standards (by my own example, by stating the rules, by explaining the rules), reminding students who stray/forget/push the limits because that's their nature, enforcing the rules, and following through on consequences.

What I HATE: being responsible for CATCHING wayward clothing choices because it's a CATCHING game to students, being alert at all times to judge too low/too short/too revealing, being pitted against my colleagues because supposedly "other kids do it!" and "my other teachers didn't say anything!", and getting absolute grief and whining and "that's not fair!" nonsense from students and sometimes parents.

After seven years of the clothing police job, I seem to be in a middle school building that works to push back at kids who relentlessly push past the limits of our dress code. It's very exhausting work. When our students go to the high school, they can wear whatever they want. I start to protest, then I look at other public high schools and hear the "true story" I shared above, and I think, this problem is systemic, this is our society, our teens live in a world where the girls are expected to expose as much skin as possible without being arrested by police, ie acquire a sexual identity at an early age. (Boys don't seem to have the same problem about clothing and sexual identity.)

But modesty (thanks, Sal, for the timely topic!) is not the only concern. Students (and parents) want to be able to chew gum, use cell phones and iPods, drink coffee or soda pop in the hallways, wear hats, flip flops, bandanas, pajamas and sunglasses in school. So why are those items (and many others) prohibited in school? I know safety is one standard answer that actually responds to most of those complaints. But here's what I say to students:

YOU ARE IN SCHOOL. SCHOOL IS YOUR JOB. You're not at the beach or in the mall. You're supposed to FOCUS on learning, so stop WHINING about your lack of freedom. You think uniforms are a bad idea? I think all the t-shirts that splash expensive store brand names are tacky and annoying. What do you think jeans, hoodies, logo Ts, sneakers, flip flops, athletic sandals worn with ankle socks are anyway? UNIFORMS. Yes, some teachers drink coffee in front of you, and yes some teachers may use cell phones during the school day, hopefully not when they're supposed to teach, and yes some teachers chew gum while other teachers yell at you for doing the same thing. SO WHAT? Get over the "injustice" of it all and learn something new!

1 comment:

Kathryn from Schoolmarm Style said...

Here, here sister! I have spent six years as the "bad cop" on the clothing issue. According to my students I am "the only one who cares about the dress code!" and to make matters worse I've been reamed out by parents who I have tried to enlist the help of. It is by far the worst part of the middle school job.