Who wears the trousers?

28th August 1998 at 01:00
Back to school wear! The shops have been booming this phenomenon at us since we broke up in June. Every time I see the sign, I wander over in the vain hope that I will find a teacher's section.

What would it contain? The cliched cord jacket with leather patched elbows, the faded cord trousers, the nice fluffy jumpers, the tweed skirts,the beige cardigans, the print skirts? These are the stereotypes of dress for teachers and we do laugh at them and secretly hope that we really don't look like this. Cleanse your wardrobe now!

Children's school wear is clearly defined in our stores. It looks practical and comfortable. I long for a section where I could identify what is acceptable for me, the female primary teacher. In my job I have no dress code other than what I think is smart and professional, but I realise through experience that these notions are subjective and highly individual.

You see, my real problem stems from this - I am a trousers teacher. When wearing my trousers - not denims or leggings or combats, but trousers - to school, I feel comfortable enough to do the job, I feel smart enough to look the part, I feel adaptable enough to be crawling on the floor with the pupils, sitting together in circle time, teaching in the gym hall. Dress or truss me up in a skirt and heels and, I regret to say, in the classroom situation I feel a bit stifled.

Don't get me wrong, I love wearing dresses and skirts for the right occasions. They're fine for a Saturday night, a posh meal out, a day when I want to wear them - but in trousers I can teach!

Silly? Perhaps. A deep psychosis? Probably - but part of me, which makes me the teacher I am - not bad, I think.

In some schools I realise this would not be a problem. In fact many teachers would raise eyebrows that the issue is even being raised at all. But I have come across classroom professionals in our midst who flabbergast me with their notions of dress codes for teachers.

I remember girls from my teacher training days - only a few years ago - who exclaimed that you couldn't possibly wear trousers to school, teachers didn't wear trousers. They obviously were taught by men in kilts. I remember being told on a teaching practice that the headteacher didn't allow his all-female staff to wear trousers. I still don't know why. I've since taught in schools where everyone wore trousers every day and loved it, and in schools where wearing my trousers meant being different from everyone else.

One normal teaching day last session I was asked by my headteacher if I could attend an unexpected end of day meeting in another school with another head. It was clearly not vital - he passed the message on to me, leaving me to decide whether to dash off at 3.30pm or not. I decided not to go, as I wanted to spend some time catching up on class administration. At the end of the day he noticed I had not gone and popped his head round the door to remark on it. He asked if it was ``because of what you're wearing''. He didn't say trousers, but I imagine he didn't mean my glasses.

I've also heard the argument that female staff should be an example to girl pupils in how they dress. In other words, how can we expect the girls to wear skirts and abide by the rules if staff don't? In this age of gender equality, should we still be saying girls must wear skirts when smartness is surely the key?

I plead that those of you who hold the antiquated notion that you're unprofessional if you're a female teacher and a trouser-wearer, sort it out right now - the job itself needs all our energies and attentions. If Cherie Blair can wear trousers to meet the Queen Mother, if Dana Scully can wear trousers and solve X-files, if nurses, police women and other professions can wear trousers as part of their uniforms, then teachers can too. I for one will. And if it's not approved of, then I'll set up a fashion house and do an off-the-peg, ready to wear collection for teachers.

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