The “jeans pass.” Our parent-teacher-student organization offers teachers the opportunity at the beginning of every school year: the option to pay 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 have to fork over more of my own money?
Then I remind myself that buying and supplying without reimbursement is standard protocol for teachers. It always has been. While other professionals have supply closets stocked with business essentials and can expense incidentals needed by clients (read: students), the majority of teachers bear the brunt of any and all “extras” themselves.
But back to the jeans pass. It’s a fundraiser run by our PTSO. At our school, we are already given the privilege of wearing jeans on Fridays, but with a jeans pass, teachers can wear jeans on Mondays as well—for a price. Other schools have relaxed their dress codes throughout the pandemic. Not mine. For $25, teachers get to wear their denim every Monday for the entire school year.
We teachers are reminded that the money raised goes toward a few meals we are provided by the PTSO throughout the year. The money is also used to send sympathy flowers if a staff member’s immediate family member dies and celebration flowers if someone on staff has a baby. That’s quite a spectrum of joy and sorrow! And it all rides on faculty members’ decision about the pass.
Every year, I internally debate my options. Is an extra day of jeans-wearing a week worth the outlay? Yet 25 bucks over the span of an entire school year feels like a bargain! But why should I have to spend my own money on that? But what about all the people that might lose a loved one or have a baby this year? What about them?
Do I even have any jeans that fit me? Are there any stipulations on the kind of jeans? Can I wear jeans with holes like the students? (I have worn ripped jeans, and no one seemed to care, but I still don’t know if this is actually OK.) Should I hold out for a $50 a year sweatpants policy?
The questions roll on: What if everyone else wears jeans on Mondays, and I feel left out? Wait, who is even going to remember if I paid to wear my jeans on Monday? Are some of my colleagues out there wearing illegal Monday jeans? Is there an undercover Monday jeans police I don’t know about?
Why can’t teachers ever be given something with no strings attached?
This internal dialogue goes on all week until I reach the deadline, and I ultimately cave.
Teachers are nickel-and-dimed to death anyway, so I once again adopt the “it’s only” attitude and write my check. It’s only 25 bucks. It’s only a box of dry erase markers. It’s only a box of tissues. It’s only a Costco-sized bottle of hand sanitizer. It’s only a class set of novels. (Yes, I once bought 25 copies of No Fear Shakespeare: Romeo & Juliet because my students were struggling through the play, and the only way I could manage to get them through it and maintain my sanity was for each of them to have a copy.)
I have “it’s only-ed” myself into accepting that I will always be asked to supply things on my own dime and my own time. It’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 of protecting yourself from the knowledge that you are spending your own money to make classroom ends meet and to meet expectations.
It can happen so often that even extreme instances can be rationalized with “it’s only.” Years ago, I was “voluntold” to make Christmas ornaments for the entire faculty and to 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 experiences like these, why should paying to wear something functional (jeans equal pockets!) come as a surprise? Or for that matter, paying to get a “free” meal at school every now and then?
And so it continues, normalizing the idea that teachers should be paying for things to make their jobs easier or better, including resources to improve their effectiveness in the classroom.
Why can’t teachers ever be given something with no strings attached? As a professional adult who sacrifices so much for this profession, should I really be grateful for the opportunity to purchase the option to wear the pants of my choosing one day per week?
After years of paying, I have come to realize that I actually don’t love jeans enough to pay to wear them in the future. In fact, I took them off and changed into sweats to sit down and write this essay. Next year, my hard-earned cash will stay in my pocket—even if that pocket is metaphorical.
A version of this article appeared in the April 06, 2022 edition of Education Week as Why This Teacher Will No Longer Pay to Wear Jeans