Why This Teacher Won’t Pay For The ‘Privilege’ Of Wearing Jeans Anymore (Opinion)

The “jeans pass”. Our parent-teacher-student organization offers teachers the opportunity at the beginning of each school year: the possibility of paying for the privilege of wearing jeans one extra day per week. I always end up giving in, but the decision causes conflict. Why should I shell out more of my own money?

Then I remember that buying and providing without refund is the standard protocol for teachers. It always has been. While other professionals have supply closets full of professional essentials and can afford the necessary incidentals for clients (read: students), the majority of teachers bear the brunt of all the “extras” themselves.

But back to the jeans pass. This is a fundraiser organized by our OPTS. At our school we already have the privilege of wearing jeans on Fridays, but with a jeans pass teachers can also wear jeans on Mondays for a fee. Other schools have relaxed their dress codes throughout the pandemic. Not mine. For $25, teachers can wear their denim every Monday for the entire school year.

We, the teachers, remember that the money collected is used for a few meals provided to us by the OPTS throughout the year. The money is also used to send sympathy flowers if a staff member’s immediate family member dies and celebratory flowers if a staff member has a baby. It’s a whole spectrum of joy and pain! And it all depends on the decision of the faculty members regarding the pass.

Every year, I discuss my options internally. Is an extra day of wearing jeans a week worth it? Still, $25 over the duration of an entire school year is a bargain! But why should I spend my own money on this? But what about all the people who might lose a loved one or have a baby this year? And them?

Do I even have jeans that fit me? Are there any stipulations on the type of jeans? Can I wear jeans with holes like students? (I wore ripped jeans, and no one seemed to care, but I’m still not sure if that’s really OK.) Should I expect a $50 a year sweatpants policy?

The questions roll in: what if everyone wears jeans on Mondays and I feel left out? Wait, who’s even gonna remember if I paid to wear my jeans on Monday? Do any of my co-workers wear illegal Monday jeans? Is there a secret jeans Monday police that I don’t know about?

Why can teachers never receive anything without any conditions?

This internal dialogue continues all week until I reach the deadline, and I finally give in.

Anyway, the teachers died of nothing, so I adopt the “it’s only” attitude again and write my check. It’s only $25. It’s just a box of dry erase markers. It’s just a box of tissues. It’s just a Costco-sized bottle of hand sanitizer. This is just a set of class novels. (Yes, I once bought 25 copies of No Fear Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet because my students were struggling to play the piece, and the only way for me to get them through and maintain my sanity was for each of them to have a copy.)

I have “it’s only” myself by accepting that I will always be asked to provide things at my own expense and in my spare time. That’s just what teachers do, isn’t it? Adopting the “it’s only” mindset almost feels like an act of desperation. It’s a way to protect yourself from spending your own money to make ends meet in class and meet expectations.

It can happen so often that even extreme cases can be rationalized with “it’s only”. Years ago I was told to voluntarily make Christmas decorations for the entire faculty and teach a weekly yoga class to staff members after school as part of a wellness initiative . With a promise of payment that never materialized, my time and money spent became “it’s only 175 ornaments” and “it’s only an hour a week”.

After such experiences, why should paying to wear something functional (jeans equal pockets!) be a surprise? Or for that matter, paying for a “free” lunch at school once in a while?

And it goes on, normalizing the idea that teachers should pay to make their jobs easier or better, including resources to improve their classroom effectiveness.

Why can teachers never receive anything without any conditions? As a professional adult who sacrifices so much for this profession, should I really be grateful to have the option to purchase the option to wear whatever pants I want one day a week?

After years of paying, I realized that I didn’t like jeans enough to pay to wear them in the future. I actually took them off and changed into a tracksuit to sit down and write this essay. Next year, my hard-earned money will stay in my pocket, even if that pocket is metaphorical.

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