On Thursday, my debate class coffee talk was about dress code for the first time. This year. Cumulatively, it feels like it was the 1000th. It impacts our students a great deal, and I think it is high time that we as adults looked at it.
When I was in high school in the 90's in Mart, Texas, we had a pretty strict dress code. Even for guys. A friend of mine had really thick facial hair by the time he was a junior, and our school's rule was no facial hair. He would shave in the morning, and be given a warning and a razor by lunch.
My first day as a teacher at College Station High School, I mistook a sophomore for a teacher because he had a FULL beard. Like, Paul Bunyon would be jealous, full.
Times have changed, and in some ways, our school dress codes have as well. But now, I am seeing them not just as a former student and a teacher, but as a parent. While I was invested in my students' voice before, now that it is a personal connection, I am hyper invested.
Now, I am not writing this to complain about the dress code itself. I generally have no problem with what the dress code is consistent of. How it is interpreted, generated and applied, however, I do have questions about. And maybe some suggestions. But I also really want feedback. So, I want to briefly share my questions/suggestions, and then I would love to hear how various districts address this.
I have seen and heard stories of students reduced to tears by being dress-coded. I have also seen teachers and administrators make every effort to protect the emotional state of a student. It is an embarrassing thing to be called out for the way you dress, so we need to make sure we are still treating a student with respect and dignity. I think privacy and obviously same-gender dress-coding is most appropriate. What conversations do we need to be having about guarding our students hearts- and teaching them how to protect their own?
The most common complaint I hear is that the dress codes are heavy handed towards female students. I cannot deny this, as I have tried to reason it out. I cannot. So much of what is deemed out of dress code seems directed at female fashion. Beyond that, I hear the accusations that enforcement is not equal. There have been conversations about equality in how we discipline our students based on race and ethnicity as well as socioeconomic status, it may very well be time to devote similar energies to our treatment of students based on genders. Are your boys being held to the same expectations as the girls? If not, how can that be balanced out?
My daughter asked this, and I did not have a response: if we have not been dress coded by 3rd period, but suddenly are in 6th period, is that fair? I saw it as an issue that we have at our school- a student walks past dozens of teachers and three or four class periods before being coded, despite the best efforts of teachers. This creates an atmosphere of inconsistency for students, but it also can lead to friction between teachers. One teacher is seen as overly strict, another too lenient- and then judgment of each other is imminent. How can we address this issue effectively?
How is dress code developed in your district? I would imagine most come from the school board, or maybe even district administration- especially in larger districts with multiple campuses. One student asked me this in class, during our discussion. When I told them where it comes from in our district, one responded- "Why don't they ask us?"
Why don't we have student input on the dress code? I am not saying students design it all, but I think they should definitely be allowed to air their concerns.
As a teacher, a parent, and an aspiring administrator, I like to ask the questions about the systems we operate under. Like our students, I think we need to understand the why's behind our rules. Sometimes, when we ask the question, we realize that our why is not relevant any longer- or more relevant than it has ever been.
We cannot be afraid to talk about the issues that impact our schools on a day to day basis. In some ways, it is easier to talk about school finance or STAAR or teacher unions than it is things like dress code. All of those things have an effect on students, no doubt. But things like dress code are the things that the students are aware of, and therefore are the things THEY care about.
And if students care about it, so should we.
I teach Psychology, Sociology, World History Honors and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team, sponsor the TED Ed Club, and I am the Lead Innovator for LEADS CSISD (A student leadership empowerment program for 5th-8th graders). I am an aspiring administrator.