TikTalk: Teacher TikToker shares dress code debacle

“We don’t want you anymore.”

Five words no one wants to hear in any situation, especially when you’re let go from your student teaching position months away from your college graduation.

That is exactly what happened to TikToker Mei Mei (@meimonsta) after the school she was working at dress-coded her countless times for her outfits.

Mei Mei needed to continue student-teaching to graduate from college at the end of this school year. Now she is left to wonder if her school will award her a degree after her four years of hard work.

From an outsider’s perspective, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with her outfits. The clothes she wore were more professional and put together than most elementary or middle school teachers I have seen.

Mei Mei’s situation is one of many issues teachers have turned to TikTok to share. “TeacherTok,” as the teaching community likes to call it, has amassed 2.2B hashtag views on TikTok.

Under #teachertok you can find anything from funny classroom stories to teaching resources. More importantly, though, these teachers have found TikTok to be a place where they can raise awareness about inequitable issues, such as Mei Mei’s, that are occurring at schools and a supportive community to express themselves.

Teachers from this TikTok community also didn’t think any of Mei Mei’s outfits were a problem. Carrie Hoffman @curhoff, a teacher from Kansas, not only agreed that her clothes were extremely professional but also admitted that Mei Mei looked better than her most mornings. She also shared a very insightful perspective about teacher expectations.

“Truly the last thing we should be worrying about is what we’re wearing,” Hoffman said. “Yet, this is what schools are going to pick on teachers about, what they can and cannot wear. Obviously, there is a line — I’m not saying there isn’t a line — but take something off of our plate.”

What is more important, the education of students or the clothes teachers wear while providing that education? I know I don’t remember anything my professors wear by the end of the day. If they wore something comfortable, it would not bother me; students come to class wearing pajamas half the time.

Cat Pullan (@catherinapullan) expressed her anger about the imposed anxiety of having to worry about one’s clothes while teaching.

“Now imagine being a student-teacher and getting dress-coded and made to feel guilty about something that you really did not mean to do,” Pullan said. “You think her lesson went as well as it would have if she didn’t get dress-coded? Do you really think her mind was 100% on the students? Absolutely not, and you can’t blame her, she was probably feeling self-conscious.”

To make matters worse, there has been little to no communication between Mei Mei and the school’s administrators. She was let go without warning or conversations about what the school expected from her. This demonstrates a larger failure on the part of the school’s expectations and rules.

Mei Mei’s experience highlights the institutional discrimination tied to dress codes. Dress codes have always been a misogynistic way to centralize the male gaze in public settings. I always remember hearing, “You have to cover your shoulders, avoid wearing tight shirts and make sure your skirt is not too short,” all because it “could distract the boys in the classroom.”

Comments and responses to @curhoff’s video highlighted some common double standards with dress codes among administrators.

“Most coaches get to wear sweats and a t-shirt but non-coaches are supposed to be dressed as ‘professionals,’” commented @jenniferwinchesterr.

Others expressed how heartbreaking it is to see a passionate teacher separated from students, especially as the United States experiences its current teacher shortage.

Schools across the nation are experiencing a staffing crisis that was only exacerbated by the pandemic. Lack of classroom funding, little pay and minimal benefits have caused teachers to leave their positions.

“It makes me so mad,” @kaitlynhermansen said. “Teachers are so needed and admin and the politics of it make less teachers want to come or stay in the field.”

Right now, we need all the passionate teachers we can get. Issues as trivial as clothing should not be a barrier to genuine people like Mei Mei entering academia. Teachers’ dress codes should consider the best interests of teachers and students, not superficial administrators.

Dress codes don’t need to be abolished, but they need to be less detailed, nit-picky and misogynistic. Labeled dress codes, such as casual, business casual or business professional, would suffice and release educators from an anxiety which distracts them from their crucial responsibilities.

Trinity Gomez is a senior writing about TikTok and popular culture. Her column, “TikTalk,” runs every other Thursday.

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