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Derek McMillan

Role model for our young charges?

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In school today we received the most pompous announcement I have ever seen. "Staff should maintain a reasonable standard of dress. Remember that we are role models for our young charges."

Some confusion between "role model" and "fashion plate" here I think. I imagine my pupils turning up with clothing like mine. I shudder.

This evening I received an email from a member at the other end of the county who has received the same pompous message so perhaps this originates with West Sussex or the government :tomatoes

This is absurd. In the first place no teacher in the school dresses in a remotely outrageous way (T shirts with unedited comments about colleagues for example!)

More importantly if my pupils learn nothing else from me they learn "no role models." There are several reasons for this but the main one is that they ought to be thinking for themselves not following like sheep.

Another reason is exemplified by one of my sons. He had posters of the unlikely triumvirate of Che Guevara, Bob Marley and American comedian Bill Hicks. These were all dead men and could therefore not betray. Any living role model can betray. Don't have any. Think for yourself

To quote The Life of Brian

Brian: "You are all different."

Chorus: "Yes master we're all different"

lone voice: "I'm not!"

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Surely the only thing a teacher can be reasonably expected to role model to his or her students is a positive attitude to learning and study??? Any more smacks of senior management teams without enough to do or think about.

I for one would find it difficult to role model dress sense to my pupils being that they are all girls - however, I am told than Evans has a nice range of gear for the more amply proportioned lady so perhaps I need to think again :D

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I think the term 'reasonable standard of dress' could do with some examination in this context. Is it, I wonder, acceptable to show our students that any old thing will do when attending one's place of work in a professional capacity? Crop tops and slashed jeans for women, for example, or vest type tops and beach shorts for the men? When teaching adolescents I would think that most teachers would prefer not to be on the receiving end of lewd comments, giggling embarassment and ogling by their students, and yet some invite such attention through their own fault! One amply proportioned primary teacher of my acquaintance insisted on wearing tight or revealing tops with no underwear. Not only did her pupils make frequent, giggling comments, parents also commented and were most embarassed at meetings with her. Her headteacher could never bring himself to say anything to her and escaped the issue by retiring!

Teachers have long been a bit of a joke regarding their standards of dress. Professionals, in the public eye in particular, should take a pride in their appearance by being, at least, clean, smart and decent. This does not mean being, as you both suggest, a fashion plate and children do not expect this from their teachers. They do, however, have the right to feel comfortable about being with their teacher and not to feel distracted in any way by over revealing, scruffy, dirty, or casual dress.

Andy suggests

Surely the only thing a teacher can be reasonably expected to role model to his or her students is a positive attitude to learning and study???

Not the only thing Andy! They also model professional standards of behaviour within society and that includes how they present themselves to those they encounter in their professional capacity.

The trouble with any such announcements, such as in Derek's post, is that they are generally directed at one or two individuals who might be 'pushing the boundaries' but everyone else gets given the same message. Result - offence always taken by some, but most others ignore it because they know it doesn't apply to them! :)

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I agree with MJ that perhaps should model decent standards of behaviour to their pupils and would count this as an essential part of a teachers educative role - I would be surprised if any teacher required a missive from the Headteacher for that one-, but all that guff about being "businesslike" in personal appearance is surely way out of date.

Indeed questions of dress code are always problematic in schools.

One of the problems I encountered when in charge of a 6th form in an all girls a few years ago was what I interpreted as the persistent jealousy of older women (the staff) for younger women (the 6th formers). I was regularly bombarded with silly comments from female colleagues about what the girls were wearing and how they should be covered up from top to toe. Most of these I have to admit I let wash over me rather than engage in uneccesary and utterly non educationally focussed conflict. And this is what I believe obsession with dress code creates. Usually it is little more an expression of a power relationship, from the nominally powerful but lacking in confidence over what they see as their minions.... this is certainly what I have interpreted Derek's reported experience as.

Do schools in countries outside the UK have these obsessions and debates? I have the rather rosy and optimistic hope that they don't.

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Oh dear, 'guff'???? :dis

Address the arguments Andy rather than indicate that it is OK for 6th formers to show their undoubted physical talents off to appreciative male staff !

It is rather weak to try the tack of

what I interpreted as the persistent jealousy of older women (the staff) for younger women (the 6th formers).
:lol::lol::)

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Oh dear, 'guff'????  :dis

Address the arguments Andy rather than indicate that it is OK for 6th formers to show their undoubted physical talents off to appreciative male staff ! 

It is rather weak to try the tack of 

what I interpreted as the persistent jealousy of older women (the staff) for younger women (the 6th formers).
:lol::lol::)

Maggie,

Perhaps you could let me know which of your arguments I haven't already "addressed" before I respond? I am not aware of any shortfall.

My point, essentially one about the often spurious nature of complaints pertaining to transgressions of dress codes, has clearly struck a nerve. Why do you think this is?

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Yes, I think this is a very British debate! It's very difficult to imagine a Swedish school objecting to what pupils wear, unless they were breaking the law about wearing political uniforms (i.e. no swastikas or brown shirts) or something like that.

I'm convinced that politics has a lot to do with it. Right up until the day the Germans lost WW2 a large part of the Swedish ruling class was very 'Prussian' (and pro-Nazi). Their social customs were very stiff (you'd address a married woman as "Mrs Engineer Eriksson" or "Vicar's Wife" - that's Fru ingenjör Eriksson or Prästinna in Swedish).

The social effects of Social-Democratic rule didn't manifest themselves until the 50s and 60s. Nowadays dress is casual (but neat and expensive since Sweden's a rich country) and women only wear skirts and dresses if they want to. I've got a colleague who wears a tie to work, but he's widely regarded as eccentric!

'Businesslike' in Sweden is seen as a capacity for getting things done, rather than as a particular style of dress. I remember visiting the Tax Office when I first came to Sweden and being seen by a bloke in jeans and a T-shirt, with his feet up on the desk. He was the manager, and he gave me some very useful advice about reducing the amount of tax I had to pay!

It makes life in general much easier, and schools avoid a lot of the wearing conflicts about clothes a lot of British schools seem to suffer from.

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I'm convinced that politics has a lot to do with it. Right up until the day the Germans lost WW2 a large part of the Swedish ruling class was very 'Prussian' (and pro-Nazi). Their social customs were very stiff (you'd address a married woman as "Mrs Engineer Eriksson" or "Vicar's Wife" - that's Fru ingenjör Eriksson or Prästinna in Swedish).

When I was in the classroom I took my job as role-model very seriously. I hoped that my students would respect me so much that it would actually influence their behaviour. This included the way that I dressed. I always tried to be clean and smart (although I never resorted to wearing a uniform). I also tried to influence their attitudes towards learning. This included developing a questioning approach to knowledge. This did not go down very well as schools are not very keen on students thinking for themselves (this is not only an issue of the clothes they wore). I was called in to headmaster’s office and told that members of staff had been complaining about my behaviour. It appears that I was seen talking in a friendly way in the corridor with a group of boys who had been rebelling about the need to wear school uniforms. The head said that the staff were getting the impression that I “was not on their side”. As I pointed out, I was on the side of education.

During this time the school had a visit from a group of students from Germany. They visited my sociology lesson and decided to get a discussion going on our different educational systems. It soon became clear that the German students were shocked by the wearing of uniforms. They pointed out that the wearing of uniforms in schools was banned in Germany.

I explained that the reason for this was that they lost and we won the Second World War. The Germans became convinced that the wearing of uniforms had been part of the brainwashing process that indoctrinated them into believing that they were the Master Race. This resulted in them being able to treat people they considered to be inferior in a despicable way.

The British have always used uniforms to persuade people to obey those in authority. This has largely worked and it played a role in the self-discipline of the armed forces that resulted in victory. Of course, members of British armed forces do not commit atrocities and therefore there is no problem with people wearing uniforms.

As you say David, it all goes back to the Second World War. It also has a lot to do with our class system. If our top public (private) schools do it, it must be right. As they say, Britain won its wars on the playing fields of Eton.

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I believe we should encourage students to look beyond the obvious; not to be petty and superficial and shallow.

If we are going to start judging people by outward show we might as well abandon education and become OFSTED inspectors.

I would not be so rude and personal as to criticise the way colleagues choose to dress and of course they extend the same courtesy to me. Believing clothes to be of overriding importance is something to grow out of.

It is also comic to expect pupils to take sartorial advice from teachers.

The second issue was the abuse of the term "role model". The last thing pupils need are role models. Role models betray. Role models disempower. Perhaps Oscar Wilde was right when he said the only reason someone puts you on a pedestal is because they want to throw potsherds at you :)

I am not Konrad Lorenz. My pupils are not ducks

:)

Have a nice day

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Perhaps you could respond to these points Andy:

Is it acceptable to show our students that any old thing will do when attending one's place of work in a professional capacity? Crop tops and slashed jeans for women, for example, or vest type tops and beach shorts for the men?

Well is it?

When teaching adolescents most teachers would prefer not to be on the receiving end of lewd comments, giggling embarassment and ogling by their students, and yet some invite such attention through their own fault!

Don't they? Is this professional conduct?

Professionals, in the public eye in particular, should take a pride in their appearance by being, at least, clean, smart and decent.

Shouldn't they?

Students do have the right to feel comfortable about being with their teacher and not to feel distracted in any way by over revealing, scruffy, dirty, or casual dress.

Is this not their right?

...and regarding your comment

My point, essentially one about the often spurious nature of complaints pertaining to transgressions of dress codes, has clearly struck a nerve. Why do you think this is?

I think your imagination may be a little over active regarding my nerves! :)

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Yes Maggie, teachers should certainly wash themselves and their clothes before they come to work as a courtesy to others. I'd also rather you didn't wear that revealing little number in meetings as I have my blood pressure to consider :) , but I do not believe that these were the points you were initially trying to make.

In my view concepts of role modelling dress sense and particular preset behaviours (normally obedience to authority) are hopelessly out of date and owe more to authoritarian approaches to discipline than they do to a commitment to education.

I believe it is "non uniform day" in Dartford Technology College tomorrow where Maggie and I both work. I will be taking photographs in the staffroom to share with members of this forum at a later date :)

I wonder if the right to dress like an individual will effect in any way the quality of the students learning tomorrow?

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I might add that in East Grinstead we seem to have the politest anarchists in the world.

Their slogan is not "kill the police" or "strangle the last capitalist with the guts of the last priest"....it is "question authority."

Now I am (rather obviously) not an anarchist but I will go along with that one. Any authority worth its salt can stand questioning. And that is why the concept of role models is wrong. They do as much harm to the "messiah" as they do to the "disciples" (metaphor!)

Have a nice day

Derek McMillan

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Another fine example of why the concept of role models ought to be opposed.

Naomi Klein http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1272403,00.html has crossed the political picket line and is now supporting the corporations' second 11 - The Democrats. Her reasons are more subtle than many on the left in America but I think it reinforces my son's more-or-less serious argument that you can only take as role models people who are safely dead on the grounds they cannot betray you then <_<

It is better to eschew the whole concept of role models of course.

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