Most teachers dress in a professional manner. It's what we are taught. How often do we question this rationale? What affect does dress have on our students? We assume it is positive; we assume we're acting as role models. Is that the reality of the situation?
Consider this: the world's greatest teachers that made the most lasting impact dressed in rags. Buddha. Jesus. Gandhi. Why were they such successful teachers? They had a damn good message.
We have a tendency to use clothing as a prop. We hide behind our clothing. We think we need to look professional to create a better learning environment. Perhaps we think we need to be positive role models. Maybe we just like the order that naturally flows from a perceived imbalance in power between a well-dressed person and a more casually-dressed person.
Let's examine each of these ideas. First, does professional dress really create a better learning environment? Is there data supporting this? I did a cursory check... it appears as if this is simply a case of "We do it this way because it has always been done this way". That is dangerous thinking. What we do is far more important than how we look.
The "we're positive role models" bit is especially offensive. It is elitist bullshit. Not all students will go into a profession that champions white-collar uniforms. If being a role model is our goal, shouldn't we be a little more inclusive? Shouldn't we attempt to represent all professions?
I suspect the REAL reason many teachers like the professional dress standard is the imbalance of power it creates. It implicitly sends a message that the teacher is the authority figure; the student is relegated to a subservient drone. Wearing professional dress will intimidate some kids. Those kids won't act out. It makes our life easier. Isn't this the same reason teachers played such a prominent role in the over-prescription of ADD/ADHD meds?
In my opinion, professional dress is simply a shield people create to hide some degree bad teaching. Teachers aren't the only professionals that derive some credibility or power from appearance. It is commonplace in the business world to find an army of suit-clad warriors that use their Armani ties to hide the fact that they really aren't that effective.
How we dress DOES send a message. We automatically assume professional dress sends a positive message. Perhaps we should critically examine that assumption. If we need professional dress to be effective teachers, perhaps we should critically examine how we teach. Mediocre teachers dress the part. They look like professionals. They sound like professionals. Great teachers are great regardless of their dress. Their outward appearance is inconsequential to the fact that they are damn good at what they do.