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DRESS FOR SUCCESS OR FAILURE?

Posted by Tim Bryce on July 21, 2014

BRYCE ON SOCIETY

– What would happen if we instituted a dress code in school…for the teachers?

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

I recently had the opportunity to visit a local elementary school where I attended their assembly for a presentation. I’ve known the school and principal for a long time. The school is modern in design and impressive to visit. Students there should be proud of it.

As the children filed into the assembly hall, the standard dress appeared to be t-shirts, shorts, socks and gym shoes. The teachers lined the outside perimeter to keep an eye on their respective classes. One of the first things I noticed was how poorly the teachers dressed. I counted only three teachers, out of dozens, who dressed professionally. The remainder looked rather slovenly and didn’t seem to care. I saw at least two teachers wearing faded Superman t-shirts and shorts which didn’t look particularly clean. Some wore jeans, and there were lots of t-shirts. Aside from the three teachers, the rest looked unprofessional. Frankly, I was surprised how badly they looked. I was expecting, at least, a “business casual” dress with collared shirts and slacks on the men, and something clean and feminine for the ladies. Instead, I got the uneasy feeling nobody really cared how they looked, and it showed. It is pretty bad when the students look better than the teachers.

It has been my experience that teachers are an important role model for our youth. If they say or do something, the kids are likely to follow suit. This caused me to wonder what messages the teachers were sending by their dress. Is it, “To succeed in life, you must look like a slob?”

The school was located in a middle-class neighborhood, certainly not a ghetto. The students represent a cultural diversity consisting of whites, blacks, Latinos, with a few Asians also in the mix. Although some may require food assistance, there didn’t appear to be any below the poverty line. The kids seemed to respect the faculty and, as such, the students likely respond to the image the teachers project.

We’ve been talking about dress codes for several years, only to be rebuffed by parents who believe it stifles the creativity of their children. Instead, maybe the dress code should be devised for the teachers who represent authority figures to the students.

Shortly after visiting the elementary school, I had an occasion to drop a friend off at an auto collision shop. His car had been in an accident and he was taking it in for service. While my friend was inside processing paperwork, I waited outside and observed some of the company’s estimators working with customers. This was a standard procedure whereby they prepare estimates for approval by the customers. As the face of the company, and wanting to project a professional image, the estimators were dressed better than the other employees, but not much better. The service technicians worked in clean jumpsuit uniforms. One estimator wore a collared shirt and slacks. However, I noticed the shirt was faded, and the trousers looked like they had been balled up as opposed to hung-up. They certainly were not pressed and cleaned. The other estimator was a woman who wore a rather tight skirt which wasn’t exactly flattering. In their mind, they looked presentable; in mine, they looked like bums.

This may come as a news flash to some, but customers want to have confidence in the vendors they are doing business with. It is in the vendor’s best interests to project a professional image in order to attain and keep the customer’s loyalty. It is just plain good business.

As the one estimator looked to be in his late twenties, I started to consider why he thought he was presentable. Three influences came to mind: his boss, his parents, and his teachers. You could also blame the media, but I was looking at the authority figures in the person’s life. Maybe his boss thought the estimator was presentable. If so, this doesn’t speak well for the company. Maybe his parents dressed him when he was younger. If so, this doesn’t speak well for the parents. Or maybe it was the teachers that influenced his taste in clothes. Hmm…quite possibly.

From what I saw at the school’s assembly, a whole generation of poorly clothed workers are in the offing. It could all change if the school’s management insisted the teachers clean up their act and display some pride in their appearance, which would then influence the students, and the rest of us.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2014 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

NEXT UP:  THE OBAMA JUKEBOX – The president’s rhetoric has become rather predictable.

LAST TIME:  BIG FISH IN SMALL PONDS  – Beware of the egos involved with big fish.

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5 Responses to “DRESS FOR SUCCESS OR FAILURE?”

  1. Tim Bryce said

    A B.H. of Boulder, Colorado wrote…

    “I think we might be dealing with more of a “chicken-or-the-egg” syndrome here. On the one hand, it is easy for me to say: if you want teachers to dress professionally, TREAT them and PAY them like professionals. I don’t know of many teachers who make a “living wage” on JUST their teacher income (unless, of course, you are a university professor) – most either having to take a part-time job or rely on spousal income to make ends meet.

    Now, on the other hand, we could argue that we would pay them as professionals if they would act like professionals, but you and I know that’s not the case. NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE, wants to raise their taxes to pay teachers more, even though we SAY we want more teachers, more contact time, etc. The mantra to justify these low salaries is that they “only” work 9 months a year, which is patently false and we all know that, even if we don’t want to admit it.

    When I was still working, as a degreed engineer – on numerous government contracts – I was paid well and enjoyed the work. If I was embedded within the government site I would typically wear clean jeans, tennis shoes, and a collared shirt. Why? BECAUSE – that is the way the military (in fatigues, dungarees) and civilian employees dressed. I was there to WORK, alongside with the kids – not be their “supervisor”. If I came dressed in slacks with a tie or even a coat and tie, I was immediately labelled as “the man” or “management” and looked upon with suspicion. By blending in with them, I was able to get more things done than the folks from DC (HQ) who showed up now and then in their coat and tie to impress everyone. Now, when the contract customer would come to our office for reviews or conferences, I would be dressed appropriately – either in business casual or a coat and tie, depending on what the boss indicated the purpose of the meeting was. I let him make the call.

    Kids in school play on the playground, get dirty, sometimes tear up their clothes. I can sort of understand why some parents (especially lower income) might not want their kids to dress “up” for school. If even SOME of them needed food stamps for assistance, that tells me that they don’t have the disposable income to impress people by the way they dress. Of course, once I got to Junior High (which we don’t seem to have many of those any more), if you were “playing outside” it was in gym class and you had to wear the gym “uniform” shorts, tee shirt, and tennis shoes – and then when we were done, we had to shower and put our regular school clothes back on. Same in high school. But, as you say, once we set the expectation and style in elementary school, it is difficult – if not impossible – to change the mindset of the kids even when they get older. THEY are not impressed by dress. Isn’t it interesting that as children, we focus on the “internal” of our friends, not the external. And, as masons, we CLAIM the same thing, yet we routinely demonstrate just the opposite by focusing on appearance (expecting members to dress UP for meetings – who are we trying to impress? Ourselves? (don’t get me wrong. I’m in the Consistory Line and I show up in the “recommended/expected” tuxedo for most meetings, or in relaxed dress when it is specified by the SGIG BECAUSE I’m in the line and expected to set an example). MEMBERS, on the other hand, will show up in everything from full-blown kilts to clean jeans (especially if they are working in properties or stage crews) but most will be in coat-and-tie.

    Private schools have dress codes, perhaps for this reason (and you would probably notice a concomitant dress code for teachers and administrators, by the way) … but then, private schools typically pay their teachers a bit better (although not all that much) so they can actually afford to buy and wear better clothes in the course of their job.

    The REASON most private schools say they have the dress codes, and the reason Japanese school children typically have uniforms, is to PREVENT class distinctions whereby SOME kids have better clothes than others or they try to “one-up” some of the others. Also, it defeats the gang-ism of wearing certain colors or items of clothing to identify you as a member.

    After all, I spent 20 years in the military – I certainly had no objection to wearing a “uniform” at work.

    Oh, by the way, while I was on active duty, the POLICY while stationed in DC was that you did NOT wear a uniform to work UNLESS you were on the hill testifying to congress. That’s because they did not want the public to know just how many military persons were stationed in the area. President Reagan came in and said, we should be PROUD of our military in the capitol region, and mandated that we wear uniforms EVERY DAY, unless there was a specific reason not to do so (usually that was associated with being involved with a classified contract, or a classified customer where you did not want the public to know the military and the contractor were associated with each other – but the haircuts usually gave everything away, so I was never sure why we bothered in the first place.

    My conclusion is that there is NO ONE SOLUTION FITS ALL for “dressing for success.” You need to be aware of the job, any dangers (to your life and/or your clothing), as well as how you will be perceived by those you will be interacting with (and whether that makes a difference to you being “successful” in doing the job) and dress accordingly. I doubt seriously that I would ever have been considered for a “management position” in the company solely on the way I dressed. That’s because I was more valuable to them as an engineer who got the job done, than a management person sitting in an office wearing a business suit and looking nice for outsiders.”

    Like

  2. Tim Bryce said

    A J.S. of Skidway Lake, Michigan wrote…

    “When school children started dressing in play clothes for school, the prediction was that they would lose respect for the importance of education and they have. Some of them are now sloppily dressed teachers. It’s sad.”

    Like

  3. […] DRESS FOR SUCCESS OR FAILURE? […]

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  4. […] Dress for Success or Failure? […]

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