A fitting way to end 2016 is to look forward to what the most pressing educational issues of 2017 will be. What can we expect to be on the minds of educators as the year unfolds? Will federal-level initiatives meant to further the propagation of charter schools dominate education news? Could changes in funding create additional staffing shortages as early as fall 2017? Will wrangling over the Common Core remain a principle concern? What will the coming spring look like for parents seeking to opt out of state tests?
While something unanticipated could emerge to become a focus for educators and others on the periphery of the field, chances are the most significant issues will be a continuation of those in place at the end of 2016. We’ll likely see more discussion of classroom concerns such as the nature and purpose of grading and homework. Schools will wrestle with how to address intolerance and violence on and off campus. Districts, state departments of education, and lawmakers will examine the strain of pensions on budgets. Issues such as these aren’t approaching resolution. Some aren’t going to have clear resolutions.
I have my suspicions regarding what will on the minds of those in the field in 2017. Have I missed anything? What do you think will be most critical to education over the next twelve months? What will be solved? What will get worse? Share in the comments and best wishes for the new year.
The question I’ve posed is difficult to answer in any satisfactory way. A few considerations obscure the original question. Does a reliable tool for measuring freedom of speech or expression exist? If such a tool exists, how readily can one apply it to the words and actions of teachers? Additionally, in what contexts should one measure the speech and expression of teachers? Do we only consider the classroom and what is said in the course of instruction? Do we include a teacher’s use of social media outside the workplace? Do conversations at a grocery store matter?
Beyond these initial qualifiers, the essential question is whether or not teachers have the license to express their views with impunity while employed by a school. Precedent suggests they do not. Examples are plentiful of teachers losing their jobs over off-hand comments and opinionated tweets. Similar examples abound in other fields, so this isn’t merely a concern for those working in education. Might the threshold for tolerating aberrant or challenging comments made in or out of the workplace be lower for educators? Should it be?
Most schools have policies meant to answer these questions. As school employees, teachers are beholden to these policies. Repeatedly, circumstances have arisen that have tested established policies. From teachers launching into unsolicited sermons exposing their political views, to students taking umbrage with seemingly innocuous banter during homeroom, recent and ongoing situations have muddled conventional understanding of acceptability. The threshold for tolerance might be changing.
I turn this discussion to any readers who care to comment. What I’m seeking are thoughts on the parameters of speech and expression that should apply to teachers.
Continuing with my series of questions meant to stir conversations about the field, I ask the titular question: does teacher attire matter? The question comes at a time when controversies regarding student attire make news almost monthly. Less attention is paid to teacher attire, but this fall saw an exception when a teacher from Georgia found herself scrutinized on social media for what she apparently wore while teaching fourth graders.
Examining the question and attempting to answer it throws into relief the nature of the controversy. Few are concerned with what male students or teachers are wearing. The issue repeatedly involves what female students or teachers wear. Is this a problem for the females in question or for the males around them? That could become a larger discussion. Keeping the conversation grounded to education, the fourth grade teacher from Georgia posted pictures of herself on social media showing outfits some considered to be too form-fitting to be appropriate for her job. Were they? Who decides this?
When I saw the pictures, my only concern was whether or not she’d be comfortable all day wearing such high heels in an elementary classroom. If she could pull that off, good for her. Beyond that, I saw little that likely would violate typical standards of professional dress in a school. A few commenters mentioned how she might distract the nine-year-olds she taught. Perhaps. Would she distract them (or even high school students) to the point of disrupting learning? Probably not.
All that should matter is whether or not she (or anyone else) can effectively perform her duties as an instructor in what she wears. These duties include interacting with parents and other stakeholders, but primarily involve building literacy and math skills in her students. If student performance slipped in her class alone and every other variable could be ruled out as a cause, I’d still question whether or not her attire was making the difference. Parents might object to her attire, but they’d need to have solid grounds for their objection before any action would be justified.
My take: as long as teachers of any sex or gender are abiding the code of professional dress in their respective schools and aren’t dressing in a way that demonstrably disrupts learning, they should be able to dress as they please. Sure, they have some obligation to set positive examples, but I don’t know that form-fitting attire necessarily sets a negative example.
Thoughts? Should anyone care deeply enough about teacher attire to pitch a fit about it if a teacher wears something slightly snug? Discuss in the comments if you wish.