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AEA spotlights county teachers

Editor’s note: The following article appears in this week’s edition of the Alabama School Journal. It is reprinted here courtesy of the AEA and as a benefit for our readers.

By Suzie Smith

Special to the Advocate

“Mrs. Ash why do you always dress like you’re going someplace special?”

“This is someplace special,” responded Greenville Elementary School Math Coach Donna Ash.

When Ash heard that question from a sixth-grader a few years ago she was a little stunned at first, but then realized that her habit of always dressing professionally was having an impact on the people that mattered most to her – her students.

“So many of our students don’t have anyone at home to model how it looks to be professional and we need to fill that position,” said Ash. “Even the things that we aren’t teaching them, we are teaching them. I even find myself cognizant of how I dress when I go out into the community on weekends. Teachers are role models all the time and I accept that. I guess that old adage about dressing for the job you want and not for the job you have made a lasting impression on me,” said Ash, a member of the Butler County Education Association (BCEA).

At W.O. Parmer Elementary School in Greenville, Principal Catherine Sawicki works with the teachers at her school and gives them the latitude to decide for themselves what it means to dress professionally with a few suggestions.

“How we dress says a lot about our profession and what we think about it,” said Sawicki, who recently changed pediatricians because the doctor, who came highly recommended, looked like, according to Sawicki, she was going out to a bar.

According to the Butler County School System personnel policy, “It is requested that the teacher dress in attire that exemplifies the professional status of a teacher – setting a good example for the students being taught.”

Greenville High School Assistant Principals Curtis Black and Ward Thigpen, both BCEA members and former teachers, practice this philosophy.

“When you look good, you feel good, and you produce good things,” said Black. “My father taught me to make sure I look my best at all times, because the first impression is the most important…Students don’t always remember what you say, but they remember your actions.”

Students definitely take notice. Last spring a group of young men wore shirts and ties to school to see if they could out-dress their assistant principals.

“When one of them thought his tie looked better than mine, he would say, ‘I gotcha today, Mr. Black. My tie looks better than yours!’ That puts a smile on my face because those guys noticed the philosophy we modeled,” said Black.

Dressing for success can also be important for students. “I’ve noticed that on days when we require our students to dress up they act differently in a very positive way,” said Thigpen.

Making a good first impression is what guides BCESP member and Greenville High School Secretary Cindy Burkhalter, who has held that position for 22 years.

“When parents and visitors come to our school, I am often the first person they see. I want the image they have of our school to be a positive one, and so I try to always dress professionally,” said Burkhalter.

According to Greenville High School Principal Dr. Charles Farmer, “I think it is obvious that not only the faculty and staff at my school but others in the district know the importance of dressing professionally. I heard someone say about students that if they look sloppy, they act sloppy and they learn sloppy. That also applies to faculty and staff…”said Farmer.

Farmer, also a member of BCEA, did note, however, that the staff enjoys a casual dress day on Friday when they celebrate school spirit.