I know that in writing this I am probably opening myself up for a world of criticism (wouldn’t be the first time), but I had to write in response to the story that did the media rounds a few weeks back, about the lady with lots of tattoos being turned down for a teaching job due to her appearance. The article trended all over Facebook, with cries of outrage, “If she’s qualified then let her teach” and “They shouldn’t judge her by appearances”. As a teacher of eight years I have to respond with, “What a load of rubbish!” (I warned you this wouldn’t win me any popularity contests)
I’m sorry. I have nothing against tattoos per se. I have one myself and am quite partial to the odd well placed tattoo on a man’s muscular arm and so on, but as a teacher I completely agree that it is unprofessional. I would not arrive to a job interview wearing a mini skirt and boob tube; it would not project the right image nor convey the responsibility of the role. Tattoos are a cosmetic choice. Just in the same sense that you might choose to wear a pair of Juicy trackie bottoms and then wonder why you didn’t get that high powered banking job, nor should you choose to cover yourself in tattoos and be taken seriously for a professional role.
It’s hard enough as it is, to get children to respect you as a professional. Teachers have less and less authority over their class. Parents contradict you, saying, “You don’t have to do your homework, they can’t make you,” (a rare few I admit, but it happens). We have little power to respond to really unruly children (just ask a colleague of mine who was bitten by a child and didn’t get so much as an apology). So we have to work hard to earn the respect of a class in a generation where children no longer automatically ‘respect their elders’.
Yes, yes, by and large good teaching will, in itself, earn the respect of your class but at times there will be challenges to this. It is at these times when you need to maintain that slight air of authority and professionalism that children understand as something they should adhere to. This is gained though well prepared, excellently delivered lessons. But also through appearing as a professional to your students. That comes through time keeping; you can’t show up 5 minutes late to class and expect children to respect you. Also, your relationships with others; if you treat colleagues with respect and model manners etc then children will learn to do the same. And finally, through image; if we expect children to wear uniforms, to appear smart and so on then we must model this in our appearance and I’m afraid for me tattoos do not do make the school uniform list.
My tattoo is on my lower back and if I am wearing a top and trousers that might reveal it when I lean over for instance, then I wear a plaster to cover the tattoo. This was a request of the head teacher and I see nothing wrong with it. The school has a dress code for its pupils and likewise a staff policy for appearance and I appreciate and support this. As teachers we are role models. In the way we behave, speak, cooperate and yes, in the way we appear.
I do not think that tattoos are wrong, nor that they are something ‘negative’ that children should be taught are bad, but I think that just as I would chose a smart outfit for work to look my best I choose not to cover myself in tattoos. If you want to work in a professional role you have to accept that.