Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Benefits of School Uniforms

In celebration of the end of the year, the school administration declared that students can abandon their school uniforms (khakis and a polo shirt) in favor of student-selected clothing.  The one stipulation to this announcement was that students must abide by the county's dress code (no spaghetti straps, skirt/shorts must touch fingertips, pants must fit and a good amount of skin must be covered).Naturally, the students were rejoiced by this announcement and the teachers cringed knowing that we were in for two days of battling students over the question of how much skin is too much.  As a student, I had heard of school uniforms, but always thought that they were a silly idea.  When I first started teaching, I was neutral on the topic.  Now that I have a dozen years of teaching under my belt, I will come out and declare it: I love school uniforms.

I spent today watching dozens of students parade through the front office to have the staff judge whether or not their outfit of choice complied with the dress code policy.  Most days, this is not a problem as students have a limited choice over which articles of clothing to wear.  In cases of accidents or lack of a clean shirt, the students are given a spare and quickly sent back to class.  Today, students deemed in violation of the dress code policy spent the day in the detention room, which took away from the instructional setting as well as interrupted the duties that office staff normally conducts during the school day.

While the students appear to be happy to be able to express their individuality through their choice of clothing, I know that there many students that are happy that this event lasted only two days as they own few articles of clothing beyond their school uniform.  I already saw dozens of students that mixed and matched their uniform shirt with a pair of jeans or their uniform pants with a t-shirt.  Some may consider uniforms to be boring, but when it comes to teaching in a Title One school, they are the great equalizer as they are easy for families to obtain.  Students receive many of their clothes from church groups or other family members and wearing a school uniform reduces the stigma of wearing hand-me-downs at an age when students are very conscious about their peers' impressions of them.

The topic of the school dress code came up in class today, so I used it as a teachable moment. I explained that even though I as a teacher have the freedom to choose my outfit everyday, there are clothes that are inappropriate for the school setting.  I told the students that part of growing up is making good choices.  Hopefully, they took this lesson to heart and there will be less violations tomorrow.  If there are and tomorrow seems long, it shouldn't.  The silver lining is that the district (mercifully) decided to make the last day of school a half day for students.

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