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Tattooed teachers?

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.


  • Amy Tocknell says:

    I would be interested to know how things would have played out had the teacher had absolutely no tattoos on show at the interview. What if they were ‘discovered’ later? Would they have been fired? What if no tattoos were on show during school hours but a parent or child saw the teacher in the supermarket, with their tattoos on display? While I understand we all have a personal opinion, I can never get onboard with the idea that tattoos preclude us from having certain jobs. Of course there are exceptions, anyone with hate symbols would be a clearly unsuitable candidate to mould the minds of children. Interestingly enough, one of my favourite teachers has a lot of tattoos. He wore shorts, a shirt, waistcoat and bow tie all year round and was an incredible guy. Weirdly, I never really paid any attention to his body art, it was his bow ties that always caught our eyes!

  • Kaylea Kelly Kaylea Kelly says:

    You say you don’t want to put negativity on people having tattoos but that is exactly what is being done here. I am more concerned at a recent parents evening seeing the size of the skirts on the female teachers. When I approached to sit down and discuss my stepson, I could see more than I needed. And I have to agree with Amy, if i went to an interview mine would all be covered but one on my hand, not to hide them but due to wear they are. If I attended an interview, I would hope they would be looking at my eyes and hearing what I have to say then looking me up and down scanning for tattoos. Interesting article.

  • To say a person will be less respected by students for having tattoos is disgusting. As a teacher yourself surely you should be teaching your pupils to be open minded and respect everyone regardless of their individual choices.
    I have tattoos, they do not make me any less capable of my job, they do not hinder my professional manner, nor do I get treated any differently to my non-tattooed colleagues. In many instances most students will have tattooed parents and family members. I think the stigma surrounding tattoos has now changed and you obviously missed the memo.

  • As a trainee teacher myself for further education there is a diverse range of students and tutors where I teach. The tutors have been selected for their expertise and you don’t discount the expert just because they’ve decided to wear a more colourful version of scars. Surely if they’re the best person for the job then they should have it? Unless the tattoos are scary or disfiguring, totally covering the face, I don’t see a problem. There is a real danger of teaching children intolerance here if our society is not careful.

    That said, teachers are subject to a great deal of policy and regulation – inappropriate tattoos could affect children, for sure, but in a lot of cases teachers and centres don’t have a choice and HAVE to stick to regulation. How teachers are and how they act is part of the hidden curriculum of teaching and it can be hard not to transfer opinions onto students when they may be etched onto your chest. What happens if a student takes offence or gets upset? You can’t control that and when you are a teacher this can be a risk to your job.

    I think the key here is; is it appropriate to the place of learning, the age group, the needs of the students?

    This is a very thought provoking article as someone just entering the profession, albeit at the other end of the age scale.

  • Thanks for commenting ladies, you might not think it but I genuinely appreciate you taking them time to share your views, perhaps even more so when they contradict mine. I knew I would probably be in the minority here as I have read several good articles on tattoos from other authors. The reason I like WMW so much however is because I know that my opinions will always be challenged by, strong, opinionated, well considered counter arguments…we make waves together! I am first to admit many of my views are a bit 1950s old school, as has been pointed out to me before! So I knew my approach to this topic wouldn’t be that of many more liberated (for want of the right word) women than myself; this is a good thing. I always get to see a unique perspective I hadn’t considered, so thanks for that. I agree with you Kaylea that dress code is a huge issue…I hate seeing teachers in short skirts or flashing g strings out the top of waistbands when they bend, really inappropriate! I didn’t mean to cause offence or say tattooed people will be less respected but I do feel it is a profession where image is part of your professional duty. I certainly teach my students to be open minded about differences and choices, however if I were doing a careers day with year 6 for example, I would discuss presenting a professional approach and things like hairstyles, piercings and tattoos would be discussed…however I would share not impose my opinion. I maintain my point that you wouldn’t go for a teaching job in jeans and a tshirt and for me tattoos (again as someone who has one myself remember) are part of your dress and presentation and head to foot covering is not the image I would want to present when applying for a professional role. Sorry if you disagree but it is just my view…not one I expect anyone to agree with x

  • Teri Anne says:

    Oh my, where do I even begin with this….. Not only is your view old school like you have said above, but it is massively discriminative (even the police can’t discriminate against people with sleeve tattoos which will be on show in short sleeve shirts these days), a bit contradictary, quote “if you treat colleagues with respect and model manners etc then children will learn to do the same” and the fact that you actually have a tattoo but choose to judge others based on the fact they chose to get more than you did, baffles me. You are just assuming that a tattooed person would instantly be given less respect than a non tattooed person. I think quite the opposite, especially in this day and age where the percentage of people with tattoos is higher than ever. Parents and children alike (perhaps other than a select few at public schools) would probably be more inclined to think “my teacher is cool” or at the very least “my teacher is normal”. I know that I thought 80% of my school teachers were dull, boring, sensible people who probably didn’t know the meaning of fun, because that’s what sensible clothes and sensible hairstyles portray. Which in turn probably meant that I wouldn’t have enjoyed being taught by them either. You may even find that with tattooed teachers clearly being more image confident and open minded, may instantly get children and parents alike to respect them more and be more inclined to make little Johnny do his homework. One of the Managing Directors of one of the top 5 Banks in the world has a huge back piece, is he more capable to do his job because it’s easily covered over someone who has an always visible tattoo?

  • Thanks for your reply. I have to say though, I wonder why the top Top MD at the bank chose to have a back tattoo and not a visible one?

    • Teri Anne says:

      From seeing the tattoo, I would imagine given the size of the piece that his back would have been the only surface area big enough for it.

  • Madeleine King Madeleine King says:

    I believe if the tattoo is not offensive, sexual, explicit or inappropriate in content in any other way, there should be no issue whatsoever. If you wouldn’t wear it as an image or print on your clothing to work, then sure, keep it covered. Otherwise, what is the harm? I feel the same way about hair etc. As long as it is clean, why does it matter what colour it is? Then again, this is an attitude that I believe should be extended to pupils’ dress code, too.
    I don’t think anybody should feel the pressure to cover up an arm, or an ankle, because of a tattoo that is appropriate. Sadly, I feel the constant need to ensure my arms and wrists are covered because of quite obvious self inflicted scars. However, I choose to do this to avoid uncomfortable questions and potentially planting the seed of self harm in any young minds. If I were to get the scars hidden with tattoos, I would like to think I would be free to wear short sleeves in summer. I’m not convinced that would be the case… hmmm.

  • Jennifer Ratcliffe Jennifer Ratcliffe says:

    Hmm, I think a compromise is that perhaps certain school’s have certain images and rules.

    I personally think having tattoos might actually make you more relate-able to your students. This has been found with other professions like social work and I believe teaching requires a certain level of the same skills.

    I would have to compare this to someone who came in religious clothing to an interview. Would they be allowed to dismiss them for the same reason? What about a trans teacher? Tattoos are permanent and not easy to remove or cover everyday. I agree that if you have an inappropriate tattoo then you should prepare to cover it up (for instance if you have a swear word on your arm and you teach primary age- they will learn how to read it and then the parental complaints will come in by monsoon).

    It is individual case bases, but I personally believe covering up tattoos and piercings and having rules about hair and style in schools are ridiculous. Students often have their education compromised for simply exploring there individuality at a stage in their life where it’s actually essential to do so. Conformity is no longer strictly adhered to in the adult world, this should be reflected in the learning environment. So if you are in a strict school it makes sense to have the same rules for teachers, but I wonder what stereotype you are ingraining into those young minds, that if you have a tattoo you are somehow less respectable with it on display- and when you see it like that, it seems pretty silly.

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