Why teachers feel the need to compare themselves with other professions (and why it may not help)

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This started as a long blog post (staying in draft) following the staff dress code discussion on Twitter. 

It got me thinking about how many times I’ve seen teachers & leaders in social media use comparisons with other professions to try and justify why teachers/education should do something in a certain way. A couple to easily recall:

  • Qualified teacher status – teachers being compared to surgeons “you wouldn’t want an unqualified surgeon to operate on you”
  • Dress code – Lawyers compared to teachers “we expect lawyers to dress professionally so, so should we”

I’m sure there are more. 

The problem is that these comparisons are hugely flawed. The initial post outlined these flaws but I’m guessing most already know what they are.

So why do we use these comparisons?

I think the Government and the media between them can paint such a negative picture of teachers and education that we feel the need to compare ourselves with ‘respected’ professions in order to justify being classed as a profession.

I also don’t think it helps when the media gives a voice to some parents who complain about the minutiae of schools when we are actually all trying to do our best within a professional environment. Sometimes the power that social media and local media have, has the power to undermine the status of teachers and a school very quickly. 

But do we need to spend time justifying our professionalism? Surely we’re spending time thinking of great comparisons with other professionals instead of setting out why teaching is a respected profession and a unique one at that? We shouldn’t need to make these comparisons. In fact, should we need to justify our professionalism at all?

I hope the College of Teaching may go some way in ensuring that instead of using these false comparisons we can define ourselves in terms of quality of teaching, research and practice, rather than in the terms of other professions that may have little to do with the day-to-day requirements of the teaching profession.

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The argument for a staff uniform…or not

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Across the country senior leaders are spending hours writing staff dress codes, deciding how best to tell a member of staff we can all see their thong and why sandals breach health and safety rules.

Having started a conversation on Twitter about it, it is an issue with teachers as well. 

What should/shouldn’t teachers and school staff be wearing to school? Does it matter?

I’m going to present some of the arguments given about clothing so far…

  1. Teachers should look professional

Let’s not confuse looking professional with being professional. All teachers should act in a professional manner but do you need to be dressed professionally for that to happen?

What does ‘looking professional’ mean? Always a suit?

A surgeon is a professional. Whilst completing surgery they wear what is appropriate for that situation. Would you insist a 9 hour surgery be done in a suit because it’s ‘professional’? Can we be professional but also appropriate for context?

Do teachers have a ‘hang up’ about trying to be on par with other professionals and voice this through ‘professional’ dress codes? 

2. Teachers should wear business clothes

Why? We’re not a business are we? Most school staff do not carry out the same duties as a business person or work in the same sort of environment. An office/meeting environment is not the same as a classroom/hall/playground.

Why refer to business when contexts are different?

Teachers in different contexts have said how inappropriate it would be to wear a suit.

 

Some schools are banning cardigans…

 
3. We need to be role models for the children

How I behave, speak and teach is the role model. Not what I wear. 

Do I stop being a role model on non-uniform days? When students see me out of school? On trips?

4. We should trust teachers to be smart.

It’s not an issue of trust. We all have different clothing tastes and definitions of what smart means.  Without any sort of guidance or policy it becomes a personal issue where one member of staff thinks another isn’t smart. Without a clear policy to back it up, isn’t it  just a difference of opinion? I once heard a leader say they don’t ‘like’ 3/4 length trousers. It was almost their mission to challenge everyone who wore them. There was no policy to say this.

5. We’re all adults. We know what we should wear.

Going by the number of incidences recalled by colleagues. Clearly not. I’ve also experienced long term ‘disagreements’ between staff and SLT on piercings and tattoos.

6. We waste hours of time on policies and enforcing/arguing about them

An NQT told me that she spent time discussing this with other NQTs. SLTs and Governors sit in meetings discussing. Another member of staff says they  spent a whole meeting discussion and voting on a dress code. Leaders spend time thinking how best to raise the issue of exposed cleavage or visible thong.

Isn’t this a huge waste of time? Shouldnt we be focussing on teaching, learning and children?

7. Leggings should be banned

   
    
   

They’re all wearing leggings, which some schools ban. Are their outfits acceptable or not? Why?

8. A primary teacher spends time on the floor, with messy play, etc a suit isn’t practical

Primary colleagues (male and female) have said that suits for full time teachers are impractical. They spend more time on their knees and elbows than their secondary colleagues. Does it really matter if a male wears a tie or not, if it’s impractical? Colleagues tell me that tights aren’t suitable as they get torn and uncomfortable. 

Is there a primary/secondary divide?

9. Teachers should be smart for parents’ sake

Again what is the definition of smart? Do parents really care as long as you know their child and how they’re getting on?

One colleague suggested not having a policy, trusting teachers and only addressing clothing if parents make comments. This is a dangerous non-policy. Allowing parents to initiate issues with teacher clothing gives them a power that is inappropriate. If the clothing is inappropriate it should be dealt with well before the member of staff sees a parent.

Realistically, how often do we see parents, especially in secondary? PE depts. change from their everyday teaching clothes into suits at parents evenings. By definition are we accepting that suits are not always appropriate but clothing should be flexible? We could say “staff should wear a suit, within reason, when meeting a parent” but that would mean it would be easier for some to always wear a suit.

10. If we expect students to wear X, then so should we

This is a straw man when referring to uniform. If you suggest we should not wear tight trousers because the students can’t we then would need to follow exactly the same rules for clothing as with students. You can’t cherry pick the one aspect of student uniform you do want to copy and not the rest. Teachers would be wearing ties, blazers, black shoes etc

11. No Bums, Boobs, Belly

Some schools use this as a baseline. Clear enough, isn’t it?

  

I’ve been trying to play devils advocate on this. I have my own experience and bias which influences my thoughts, as we all do.

I’m beginning to think a staff uniform would resolve many issues. PE departments often have their own uniform but also others on Twitter have mentioned they have a uniform. It would save me loads of money on buying work clothes, I could claim back on tax for cleaning and would get dressed much quicker in the morning. Could you imagine launching this with staff in a staff meeting?

“Look at the monkeys!” – Temporary knowledge or ‘lies to children’?

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Yesterday at the zoo I passed several cages of hairy animals with long tails and four limbs jumping around. Around each cage was a mum or dad saying to their child ‘look at the monkeys’. A normal day in a zoo, but it reminded me of an important issue I wanted to blog about, what my respected RE colleague Daniel Hugill  describes as ‘temporary knowledge’. 

Are there times when we have to tell children information that is reduced/inaccurate/simplified or miss out complex details, due to their level of understanding?

Just as the parents are telling their toddlers these are ‘monkeys’ when they’re technically not, it is the simplified term that allows that child to understand what the overall concept of a monkey is, should teachers do the same with key facts or concepts with students that currently don’t the have capacity to understand them fully?

Is this lying to children or providing them with ‘temporary knowledge’ that will change as their understanding changes?

This links in to the idea that there are threshold concepts in subjects that learners have to overcome to fully understand the concept. There may be stages or steps to understanding that omit or slightly skew the facts in order to get the basic foundations needed.

I will try and use a simple example in RE to explain.

You may tell a young child that Christians believe that when good people die they go to Heaven. You may omit any information about the possibility of hell (in fact there are views where this is correct;there is no hell).

Next it might be appropriate to develop the sense of doing right and wrong and these leading to Heaven or Hell. Vague terms like ‘good’ or ‘bad’ may be used without specific reference to what these may be.

Later a child may begin to understand the concept of sinning and what constitutes a sin. They may also start to develop an understanding of forgiveness of sins and salvation,

Later still a student could be taught about further linked concepts that were omitted in the early stages of learning: atonement, salvation, limbo, purgatory, repentance, Biblical descriptions of heaven & hell, examples of sins that may require maturity such as adultery, rape etc

The omission here maybe linked to emotional development (can they ‘cope’ with this concept at this age/maturity?) and/or their ability to progress and understand the concepts. Either way introducing them too early may result in problems with further learning. These are almost stepping stones in which learning is paced and designed to allow children to process the information.

So, the question is, should we teach temporary knowledge that we may later dismiss or is it just lying to children?