Get out your glad rags and teach;Opinion

27th August 1999 at 01:00
I AM AWARDING this month's Trophy for Snazzy Dressers to pupils everywhere. Yes, this offering is a serving up of the school uniform debate but with additional spices thrown in, adding piquancy to the bland old arguments.

What students wear to school has been the subject of many a contretemps in households during the past month. Indeed, if air miles were awarded for debating prowess on this subject, many children would be whizzing away on round-the-world-trips. Grateful you might be to me for raising the subject, but where do you stand, and how well do your arguments remain afloat when you stand in all your finery in the classroom?

There is no point in harping back to the "good old days" of how you looked as a nipper. True, pictorial evidence adorns many a mantelpiece with that wee scrubbed face, a throttling shirt collar, a suffocating tie and a blazer.

I confess I was overcome by the sight of my own darlings gloriously bedecked for that first day at school.

But let's get a grip on this giddiness. Children quickly discard their uniforms and want to select from the pick 'n' mix of gear of sports outlets and designer shops. Nostalgic images from old photo albums are gradually being colonised by mass marketing and the soundbites of advertising. Good thing too, I think.

You really are showing off now, readers will remonstrate. No, the truth is I cannot understand why teachers and parents get so het up over clothes. Maybe it's just my "sad" sense of humour but I laughed, albeit sardonically, when I heard of the headteacher who leapt from the stage during his school assembly shouting the odds at a pupil wearing a hat on his head.

The pupil, in fact, suffered from alopecia. There isn't a way back from such humiliation. And far too much time is spent on letters home about the wearing of jeans and inappropriate dress.

But now for that touch of tanginess I promised you earlier. You think that the pupils look scruffy in their trainers and skateboarding combats? Have you looked in the mirror or round the staffroom recently?

Take the men first. Ancient baggy breeks which may have fitted smoothly in the distant past are one of the many fashion crimes which these professional men are guilty of. I must add that any apparent reference to colleagues in this description is totally unintentional, so, if the bottom is falling out of your world, visit your local store, for some retail therapy.

Female teachers are not beyond reproach either. Lumpy old clothes and embarrassingly awful colour co-ordination are commonplace to the extent that make-over teams could make a fortune out of teachers. I know that could be construed as a nasty comment but I have to be firm, and, there's worse to come.

Comments from pupils indicate that an alarming number of teachers suffer from halitosis - not any more than in the general population I must add - but in our job it does matter. This is a serious subject which needs proper airing and I'm afraid it's a case of those who protest too much are probably those with the problem. The culprits in this condition include coffee, nicotine and alcohol.

But don't take to your bed in a fit of pique never to rise again. When you survey the spectrum of pupils and your sensitivities register your response to their appearance and general ambience - yes, a few of them smell too - consider that they are certainly doing the same to you.

What a pity, then, we cannot let go of the school uniform debate because it is simply not important in the light of these other delicate matters. A-devil-may-care attitude it may seem but, honestly, cleanliness and some degree of fashion sense would go a great deal further in schools than boring old uniforms. And I'm not only referring to the pupils here.

Dignity? Pride? It's time some teachers gleaned these qualities. Go on, treat yourself to some snazzy clothes. The forthcoming pay award might just cover it.

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