To get a tattoo, or to not get a tattoo? But what if you’re a teacher?
Tattoos are most often associated with unsavoury individuals. They are a sign of dangerous, drug-addicted, violent, alcoholic, abusive people. They signify gangs and low-lifes.
At least, that’s what the ‘professional’ sphere likes to have people believe.
I’m sure most of us were told as teenagers not to get tattoos because it will make it very hard, even impossible, to get a good job. At the very least, get an inconspicuous tattoo in a place that is easily hidden.
I’m also sure every single one of us knows somebody who has a tattoo, and that person isn’t any of the things listed above. We may even know many people, with many many tattoos, who don’t fit that description.
Teaching is one of those professions where we are told not to get a tattoo. Or if we do have one, to cover it up. Some people are even refused work as teachers in the first place because of their tattoos. As a beginning teacher, starting out can be challenging enough without adding another layer on top.
Now, I completely agree that any tattoos teachers have should be decent, non-offensive, and in good taste. I don’t think it’s appropriate for a teacher to have a naked person, violent or racial images, things like that tattooed in places where students will see them every day. But if a teacher has a tattoo of a pet, or a flower, or an anime sign, is that really a bad thing?
I know for a lot of people this is a deeply personal issue. Some people are against tattoos for whatever reason. Some people are covered with them for their own reasons.
To gain a better perspective on this topic, I put out a call for people to comment on their experience with tattoos and teaching. What an overwhelming response I had!
I talked with a number of teachers and non-teachers, some of whom have wished to remain anonymous. Here are their views:
I have several tattoos and have never had a problem with any of them. 3 are visible on a daily basis. I have a lot of parents and older students asking me about them and am more than happy to talk to them about them.
– Astrid, Teacher
[I’m a] Principal of a school [with] 6 tattoos. 3 are clearly seen daily. Not had questions about them from parents. Students always ask. My ink they see all have meaning… I have had staff with ink and as long as they do their job and students achieve that’s all that matters.
I have worked in remote, rural and city schools. In an independent private school I had to cover all ink while at work commitments due to religious beliefs of families and community.
– Rhiannon, Principal
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My tattoo on my upper arm had no impact whatsoever on my ability to teach… or cook, or walk down the street, or breathe.
– Nick, former Teacher, now Radiochemist
I have 5 small ones that are all visible on a daily basis. Never been asked to cover them (though I would if I was). I have even had other teachers and parents comment on how much they liked a few of them!
– Emma, Teacher
Plenty of police have visible tattoos. If they can, I don’t see why teachers can’t.
– Dane, Engineer.
Unfortunately, we’re naturally inclined to think negatively of tattoos, thanks to our primal judgemental natures (thinking back to the ages of survival). I personally don’t have anything for or against tattoos, and I do see it as a form of expression just like one’s choice of clothing. That said, the kinds of tattoos can give off certain vibes to even the least assuming person, so I can see why people judge others for their aesthetic ink. It’s the reality of the world we live in, unfortunately!
Debating whether teachers should have tattoos visible does spark an interesting debate – we tell these youths to be who they want to be, yet many environments restrict things like hair colour, piercings and tattoos. Naturally, it makes sense for teachers to be restricted as a result. But is it morally or ethically correct? I personally don’t have a right or wrong answer.
I should note that the whole ‘primal’ aspect is caused by delinquents and criminal-kind being among the first major group to publicly and proudly flaunt their tattoos, so we see tattoos and have that natural response elicited from within
I will say that we are moving forward to acceptance in general thanks to cultural globalisation (cheers internet!), especially regarding personal choices, so perhaps this won’t be a discussion point in 20 years as older views and values pass.
– Jack, Business Analyst
I’m not a big fan of tattoos but I also don’t have any issues with anyone having them. I’ve worked with teachers, principals, DPs, HODs, TAs etc with tattoos and they have been wonderful people. It’s sad that in today’s world we automatically link tattoos with gangs and thugs.
– Jyotika, Teacher
I have a small one on the inside of my wrist – almost covered by my watch. No problem in my workplace.
– Jess, Teacher
Don’t have a dislike to them & work with many wonderful people who have them. Just when working in a professional environment it might be more appropriate to cover them, like the sleeve tatts with king sleeve shirts etc. Totally not a judgement on anyone so I hope it wasn’t read this way.
– Chris, Teacher
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In my home country (the Netherlands) tattoos are not allowed (not visible). It’s getting better and they allow small ones, but I feel that in London too much is allowed. I see so many huge tattoos, whole sleeves etc. I’m actually having my 2nd this afternoon and am still in doubt where to put it, because the location I want is hard to cover for me.
When I moved here I felt like it was the world turned around; in the Netherlands tattoos are not allowed, jeans and sneakers are. Here you can’t wear jeans and/or sneakers (as well; getting a bit better), but you are allowed tattoos. I’m missing the logic of it.
– Linda, Teacher
When I first moved to London I worked in a super conservative CoE school. It was in a small, white, upper middle class town where everything you did was watched by the head teacher and the church. This town was also the setting for a reality tv show.
I have 2 small tattoos on my forearms, (easily covered with a jacket) which the head teacher made blatantly obvious he did not approve of. He was also very rude myself and other staff about piercings and dyed hair. A large percentage of staff had tattoos a lot bigger than mine, he would often pray for our salvation in staff meetings and with the community. Obviously he thought he was helping, and doing the right thing but it was rude and disrespectful. He would often undermine teachers in front of students.
I think this is a somewhat isolated incident, and a very extreme one but I don’t think this is an uncommon experience. Overall my tattoos have always been commented on by someone in a position of authority in the schools I’ve worked in.
– Anonymous, Teacher
I only have a small piece of ink lol! Doesn’t impact at all. And no I don’t have to have it covered as if I was asked to do so it would have to be a damn good reason as it isn’t offensive or derogatory and if I wanted I could go them for discrimination!! Past students saw it from start to finish and I even had parents turning up at my classroom door every Thursday for the 3 month period it took just to see how it was progressing!
– Ken, Teacher.
I certainly think there is a stigma that surrounds tattoos with certain ‘professions’ and ‘jobs’ and I believe teachers would be judged instantly by parents if they had tattoos…
– Craig, Teacher
I have a number of tattoos, some of which are on my inner arms, making them visible depending on what I am wearing. I have never encountered any issues in regards to them, if anything, it has been something that has intrigue my students. There have also been times where I’ve dyed my hair crazy colours like blue, purple and green, and the only responses I have gotten about that has been how brilliant it looks!
– Sarah, Teacher
I don’t really know what the situation is for the UK, but back home [Australia] at my first prac school there was a teacher covered in visible tattoos. I don’t remember hearing that there was ever a problem with it or that it affected his classes in any way.
– Tom, Teacher
I’m a NQT and new to the UK so I’m just asking – are most schools here strict about having visible tats? I was actually wondering this because I have some on my upper arms. I 100% believe teachers should be allowed to show them, as long as they’re appropriate. I have a not-so-appropriate one that I’ll have to hide from the kids unfortunately haha. Didn’t bother hiding it in my banking job back home though!
– Gabriela, Teacher
I think that stigma is slowly disappearing. I have multiple tattoos and the only people who have ever criticised them are really old people, who grew up with that ‘bad person’ stigma around them. I believe that people having tattoos is not a indicator of who a person is good/bad (in most circumstances). Obviously, if it is of an offensive nature, than no a teacher shouldn’t have it visible. Many professional roles allow tattoos now, teaching should be no different.
– Chloe, Disability Support Worker
I’ve got four! All on my torso/ thigh so people can’t see them haha.
I still have the belief that women especially are treated more professionally within the teaching work place if they don’t have visible tattoos.
– Morgan, Teacher
I’m studying to be a physicians assistant, so I can’t speak about teaching but I will be writing prescriptions in a hospital and I know the medical field has the same stigma against tattoos. I already have several, and honestly my plan is to be completely covered, but keep all the skin bare, so I can still wear a dress and look “sweet and nice”. So nothing on the arms, chest, etc.
I wish I didn’t have to care about what other people think, but it is still a reality in our society that people with tattoo’s are looked down upon, so even though I want to express myself in my own way, I never want my children being picked on or negatively impacted by Mommy being covered in tattoos.
– Aimee, Student
I have several (5), one is a half sleeve. The others are easily hidden by clothing. I do not show the sleeve, I wear long sleeves at all times when teaching and just roll them up to just below my elbow (so tattoo is fully covered). I have not been specifically told not to show them but I don’t see the point in risking upsetting anyone higher up as a long term supply, when I have not seen any other teachers show them. Plus our kids are very easily set off.
In Australia you were not allowed to show them at 2 of the 3 schools I taught at, at the other one you could. The one you could was a north Melbourne school and much more liberal with what it allowed in student dress code too (I.e. Kids having coloured hair and facial piercings).
– Kat, Teacher
I personally don’t like tattoos but I think students just see them as a part of our culture. Who said teachers can’t show them? In years gone by, only sailors and criminals had tattoos but times have changed and they are in fashion at the moment. They will come and go as fashion changes.
– Susan, Teacher
I have tattoos – one on my lower back that is always hidden and one on my upper arm. This is a great topic – I wanted to get another one, on my wrist, but I was worried it would get in the way of employment. But I’ve seen lots of teachers with visible tattoos so it must be ok…
– Carol, Teacher
I have a tattoo, and many of my colleagues do, as well. I worked with someone who would have looked at home in a biker bar -he was a lovely man and the tattoos didn’t change how much his students or peers respected him.
I think that, so long as it’s nothing inappropriate, there’s no problem. We’re past the time when tattoos were stigmatised. It’s another form of self-expression, like jewellery. Like jewellery, we do have to be careful with what our appearance says about us. Since it’s permanent, of course, it needs a bit more thought put into it than a ring or necklace.
– Anonymous, Teacher
The number one thing students want from their teachers is kindness.
I have tattoos and have been teaching for 8 years. I have 4 tattoos and 2 of these are visible on a daily basis. I think it’s becoming more the norm as kids don’t react to them quite as they used to. It’s normal to them especially since most of their parents have them too.
– Allison, Teacher
I have many tattoos, the large one on my back I keep 100% covered due to it being inappropriate. One on the back of my leg and hip are covered due to being up high and it would be inappropriate to wear short clothes. I have a small one on my foot that is usually covered due to having to wear covered foot wear but if part of it shows and the children want to talk about it I do. I have another small one on my arm that is usually covered but if I wear a smaller sleeve it can be seen. I have always covered them more due to placement than actually having tattoos.
I did work in childcare with 11 piercings in my face and ears however had removed them by the time I started working in schools. On weekends back when I was younger (and dressed for heavy metal concerts) I had people move their children away from me at the shops a few times, little did they know I worked with kids for a living.
– Jay, Teacher
I used to work with a man who was absolutely covered in tattoos (except his face/neck). He was the nicest person and used his tattoos as a talking point with parents and often engaged those hard to contact parents using them.
– Melita, Teacher
I don’t but at my school many staff do and don’t cover them up, and aren’t expected to. We also have a family where the parents own a tattoo shop just one block down from the school who ran a special flash day to raise funds for the school and raised over $6,000. We had many teachers and aides who attended to get tattoos. I don’t think they are seen as just the realm of bikers etc any longer. Many parents have them, and this goes for the ‘green and leafy’ schools too.
– Anita, Teacher
I have 3 small ones on my lower arms, and haven’t had a problem with schools here or home in Australia. Students usually are interested in hearing about them, and the meaning behind them- a good way to build a relationship!
– Becky, Teacher
Coming from NZ cultural tattoo are definitely common place in the work force. The private school I previously worked at had female teachers with Tatoos on display, some cultural some not. Interesting no male staff with Tatoos on display. Nothing in our contract that stated we couldn’t have them. But I will say that kids will comment and you have to be prepared for their questions.
– Gemma, Teacher
What do you think?
I’d love to know your thoughts – do you personally have a problem with teachers having tattoos? Where should the line be drawn? Are we perpetuating an out-dated stereotype, or is the concern justified?
About the Author:
Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys blogging about her experiences, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine. Emily is currently on maternity leave with her first child. You can read more teaching articles from Emily here, or about her life as a new mum over at Actual Mums.