Teacher Attire A Touchy Subject

chic on a shoe string summer casual weekend wear jeans
AP
Teachers are expected to bear long days, challenging students and demanding parents. Now, apparently, some teachers are baring too much of themselves.

School boards and superintendents increasingly are pursuing dress codes for teachers. At issue is the same kind of questionable attire most often associated with students.

In some districts, teachers can get dressed down for wearing skimpy tops, short skirts, flip flops, jeans, T-shirts, spandex or baseball caps. Spaghetti is fine in the cafeteria, but shirts supported by spaghetti straps are not welcome in the classroom.

District 11 in Colorado Springs, Colo., for example, prohibits sexually provocative items. That includes clothing that exposes "cleavage, private parts, the midriff or undergarments," district rules say.

In Georgia's Miller County, skirts must reach the knee. Elsewhere in the state, hair curlers are disallowed in Harris County and male teachers in Talbot County must wear ties two or three times a week.

"There's an impression that teachers are dressing more and more - well, the good term for it would be 'relaxed,"' said Bill Scharffe, director of bylaws and policy services for the Michigan Association of School Boards. "Another term for it would be 'sloppy."'

Regulating dress is touchy, teachers say.

Teachers may view policies that get too specific as restrictive and demeaning. And what to do about broad policies that are enforced inconsistently? What works for a physics teacher may not fit a kindergarten teacher who sits with students on the floor.

"Because we work with children, and we're trying to relate to them, sometimes we need to have guidelines that say, 'You know folks, here's the line, and you really need to stay on this side of it,"' said Karen Moxley of Grapevine, Texas, who teaches gifted seventh-graders.

But, she added, "I don't know that it needs to go down to what style of outfit you wear."

Moxley spoke during a group interview with The Associated Press at the annual meeting of the National Education Association, which got under way over the weekend.

School administrators say inappropriate dress is most often an issue with younger teachers, whose trendy clothing and casual style can make it hard to distinguish them from their students.

Mark Berntson, who teaches high school band in West Fargo, N.D., wears a tie each day. It's a tradition he began years ago to stand out from his students. He does not wear blue jeans to class often, saving them for occasions such as the first day of baseball season.

"I don't think I'm taken as seriously if I'm dressed down and I don't think I take my job as seriously if I'm dressed down," he said. "When I dress more professionally, I think I teach better, I think I'm received better, and I think I show more respect for my profession."