Sunday, August 27, 2006

This needs to happen more often

A high school principal in Hammond, Indiana suspended 128 of her students (about 10% of the student body) on the first day of school for dress code violations. Good for this principal! I'm sure there was much moaning and gnashing of teeth by these students and many of their parents, but should one expect anything different?

Dress code violations are one of my primary causes of angst where I work. Every day, I see scores of students wearing what they are explicitly told not to, according to our school dress code. I confiscate baseball caps on an almost daily basis, I tell the boys to pull up their ridiculously sagging pants, I tell the girls to cover up their spaghetti-strap clad upper bodies (I usually send the girls to admin with a note so admin can deal with it; too much potential for sexual harassment accusations with that one). What chaps me is that the students consider me to be one of the campus hardasses regarding the dress code because so few of my fellow teachers enforce it. I get this all the time: I will tell a student to hand over his baseball cap, and I will get a ration of crap from the student about how no other teacher has said anything to him about it, so why should he have to give the hat to me? You could just dismiss it as the student trying to blow smoke in an effort to keep his hat. I'm afraid that most of the time, the student is telling the truth. I have no doubt that many other teachers at my site look the other way when they see blatant dress code violations.

My position is that the dress code should either be enforced, or get rid of it all together. To have a dress code and then not enforce it simply and effectively tells the students that if those rules are not going to be enforced, then all the other school rules are also fair game to be broken. This is called the "broken window theory". It was demonstrated when during his time as mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani cracked down on the little crimes in the city in an effort to stop the big ones from happening in the first place. I wouldn't attribute NYC's crime turn-around solely to Giuliani's policy, but it certainly helped.

I have experienced a similar situation in my own classroom since I started back to work. I noticed last year that a lot of class time was wasted trying to cajole my students into lining up outside my classroom door at the beginning of each period. They would get in a proper line and quiet down when they felt like it, and I really had no consequence put in place to convince them to do otherwise. This year, I started out day one with the new policy that if they were still in line outside when the tardy bell rang, anyone who wasn't in a single-file line or was talking in line would receive a tardy. I didn't care if they had made it to the line before the tardy bell rang; if a student(s) is behaving in a way that kept the line from going into the classroom, as far as I am concerned, that student is tardy. Here is where the gut check comes. For the first week or two, I was giving tardies hand over fist. It takes longer for some students to get the message that I am serious, that I am not backing down, and that the policy is not going away. One day last week, I handed out 12 tardies to students standing in line for my 8th period class. It takes a bit of fortitude to keep handing out the tardies, even when on the surface, the number seems absurd. I'll tell you what though, the next day, instead of 12 tardies, I had zero, and overall, the numbers of tardies are going down daily. Every once in a while, a student decides to test me to see if I am still serious, and he finds out I am. I guarantee that as the school year continues, that high school will not find it necessary to suspend 128 students every day. All you have to do is show that you are serious and don't back down, and the students will get on board. Now if only Israel and the United States will take a clue from this lesson in their dealings with Hezbollah and Iran!

Good Day to You, Sir


T said...

Why are these kids allowed to walk outside of their homes dressed in violation of the school's dress code? I know, I know, stupid question. Does your school send home a copy of the dress code at the beginning of each school year? I am positive that most parents would take the time to read it and make their children understand it, right? Ha ha ha.

My husband and I must be a rare breed, because we actually ready everything that my daughter brings home. I have even read the long, and boring, pamphlet on proper bus riding techniques. I can tell you that the kids at my daughter’s school are not supposed to wear baggy pants, ball caps, spaghetti strap shirts, backless shoes/sandals (for playground safety reasons), short shorts, short skirts or belly showing shirts. Whether they do or not, I don’t know. But I can tell you that I have heard of kids being sent home for wearing banned articles.

And now that I know what my daughter is NOT supposed to wear, I know what NOT to buy her when we go on those biannual school clothes shopping expeditions. After all, if she can’t wear it to school, and she sure in the hell isn’t wearing it outside of the home anyway, why buy it? And on those occasions when she buys her own clothes, either her father or I have to approve it.

What’s frustrating is trying to find clothes and shoes that work within the dress code. It seems that most manufacturers don’t understand that elementary and middle school aged kids shouldn’t be offered the same style of clothing as their high school and college aged counterparts. The worst store out there for pre-teen girls, in my opinion, seems to be Gap. It appears that some of their manufacturers seem to think that the only difference between a 3-year-old girl and a 16-year-old girl is the size, not the style, of their clothing.

I can go on and on about the provocative looking styles offered to girls under the age of 15, but I won’t. You will find out soon enough, Mr. Chanman. Good luck to you and Mrs. Chanman on that.

Darren said...

I say it all the time:

If you have rules you're not going to enforce, get rid of the rules. Not enforcing some rules breeds comtempt for all rules.

Your "broken windows" analogy is priceless. I've never put those two together, now I see they're one and the same.

I don't stress over someone accusing me of sexual harassment because the student is a girl. I turn it right back around on them, and the way the district policy is written I'm on strong ground--it's *you* who is sexually harassing *me* with your attire! Same for the boys whose underwear I have to see.

That same threat works when administration won't stop kids from licking and crawling all over each other in the halls. I, however, took care of that!