Dressed to teach

By Julie Barzilay

Some Fridays are special because the cafeteria staff barbeques burgers to welcome a new month. Some bring performances or championships. But every Friday that foreign language teacher Javier Zaragoza can remember since he started teaching at Harvard-Westlake in 1988 has been unique for another reason: he takes his own personal “casual Friday” and branches out from his polo-shirt-and-slacks-uniform to wear a T-shirt and jeans. One of his favorites features the cover of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”

The attire of teachers is largely left to the discretion of individual departments – the employee handbook’s limitations for “dress and grooming” are quite open-ended:

“Employees should be clean, neat and wear clothing suitable to their positions. Manner of dress may vary, according to the amount of public contact, nature of job and work locale.”

For Zaragoza, the nature of his daily routine partially dictates his fashion choices.

“In language, and the way I move, it seems reasonable to say that suits are an obstacle to moving about and inhibit mobility and energy,” he said. “So, the clothes reinforce my attitude, style and delivery of curriculum.”

For science teachers, there are occasional factors to keep in mind related to messy lab work.

“I am just as at ease in my department wearing a suit as I am wearing casual pants and a T-shirt,” science teacher Wendy Van Norden said.

Van Norden doesn’t have a favorite outfit, but she would rather be comfortable than formal.

“I used to dress more formally, but I finally realized that there was an inverse relationship between the height of my heels and my mood at the end of the day, so I stopped wearing heels and outfits that required heels,” she said.

Having taught at a school with a strict dress code involving a jacket and tie, science teacher Jesse Reiner developed limits for his own clothing that loosened over time. At first, he wore button-down Oxford shirts and khaki pants every day.

“Now, I also wear polo shirts, occasionally Hawaiian shirts, sometimes jeans,” he said. “My personal dress code is collared shirt, long pants and closed-toed shoes.”

Performing arts teacher Ted Walch says he was “accused” last year in a senior tribute award of wearing the same thing every day, but he feels clothing is not much of an issue for teachers.

“As professionals the teachers understand how to behave appropriately,” math teacher Paula Evans agreed.

The last time Zaragoza can remember an issue arising regarding the dress code was a minor incident years ago, in which a teacher needed to monitor the appropriateness of her clothes.

But beyond appropriateness, each department has its own needs and priorities in dress. Dance teacher Cyndy Winter generally wears clothes that she can easily demonstrate movement in.

Many teachers find themselves concerned by the attire of their students on a regular basis.

“I am so tired of telling boys in my class to pull up their pants,” Van Norden said. “I really don’t want to see their boxer shorts.”

Van Norden used to store a shirt in her class in case a scantily-clad girl had to cover up.

Reiner hasn’t had many objections to the way things work at this school.

“In my opinion, you have to either go all out with a dress code, with very clear rules and consequences for violations, or have none whatsoever,” he said. “Having taught at a school with a dress code and one without one – well, not really anyhow – I have to say that I much prefer not having one. Sure, we can’t have students wearing t-shirts with curse words and we can’t have students coming to school with no pants. Besides that, let freedom ring, I say.”