Should Teachers Have Tattoos?

John Dietrich

Should teachers be able to show their tattoos around students? Tattoos are growing in popularity across the world. People in all kinds of client-facing work settings are questioning whether it’s a problem to have exposed ink. After all, when you’re facing a client, you’re essentially facing a stranger who you want to build a positive relationship with. But, with their unknown background judgements and limited time, deciding whether to reveal your body art can be tricky. In response to a recent article published in The Guardian, titled ‘Should teachers be able to have tattoos?’ we wrote a blog, voicing our own opinion. We make a case for why teachers ought to be able to show tattoos in the classroom. Read on, and hear all about the tattoo enthusiast’s perspective!

Students aren’t customers.

Many jobs that involve a face-to-face customer interaction will require workers to cover their tattoos while on the job. This often includes retail and business positions. But the kind of relationship that teachers have with students isn’t exactly like a business relationship. While it is important that teachers are professional and dedicated, their job is much more personally involved. Since the students come to know the teacher more intimately, initial judgments aren’t as important. Over time, tattoos become like any other physical feature on the teacher’s body.

Exposing tattoos to children normalizes tattoos.

When you turn a commodity into the forbidden fruit, it only drives up one’s desire to indulge. Having teachers show their tattoos in the classroom- given that the tattoos don’t show profanity- slowly acquaints students with this form of body art. And, being children who lack adult prejudice, why not raise them with an accepting, positive attitude toward tattoos? Also, when children have a longer time to get used to tattoos, they’re less like to get one on impulse and more likely to get one for genuine reasons.

Even more importantly, making a rule against tattoos in order to avoid parents’ negative judgment only perpetuates the stigma surrounding tattoos. While having a no-show rule around tattoos might be easier, it’s not necessarily right. Any time a new rule is put in place, it offends mainstream attitudes formed by habit, and only later do people become acclimatized to it.

There doesn’t have to be a tradeoff between ‘being professional’ and ‘expressing individuality.’

One of the head schoolmasters stated that her work takes priority over her expression of individuality. This response assumes a general negative attitude amongst parents as the current state of affairs. But, whether showing tattoos as teachers is wrong in and of itself isn’t a question that should depend on the popularity of a certain attitude. Also, there doesn’t have to be an absolute “either or” between “being professional” and “expressing individuality.” One can express individuality in a way that is professional. Deciding which rules to build around ‘what kinds of tattoos can be shown’ may initially present some difficulties, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

Tattoos can open up conversations about important topics.

Children are generally very curious beings, and, knowing this, we can confidently guess that they’ll ask their teachers about their tattoos. They might ask “what is that?” or “what does that mean?” In these situations, these questions could potentially serve as entry points into important conversations. For instance, echoing what one teacher, Chris Silvester said, an equal sign tattoo might introduce a child to the concept of gay marriage for the first time. Arguably, there’s no better setting for a child to learn about such a topic than in a safe, constructive learning environment.

Exposed skin isn’t the same issue as exposed body art.

One argument against showing tattoos in the classroom is that “if school teachers are expected to abide by a dress code, they should have to abide by the rules surrounding tattoos.” But, fortunately, exposed skin isn’t the same issue as exposed body art. A dress code is put in place to ensure that boundaries regarding sexuality aren’t violated. Tattoos, on the other hand, are a matter of personal expression. And, as long as the content of the body art isn’t offensive, they shouldn’t be a point of contention.

We collected some of our own data, polling teachers with tattoos about their experience in the classroom. From those teachers who had tattoos, the attitudes regarding ink were overwhelmingly positive: One said, “my generation was told we’d never get jobs if we got tattoos, but it turns out our generation is doing the hiring now.” Another said, “I find absolutely no problem with anyone with tattoos in any kind of work place. They do not stand for how well you can perform your job!”

From our data, 57% of respondents taught at the kindergarten level, 14% taught at the elementary school level, and 29% taught at the high school level. When asked about how students perceived tattoos, 83% of respondents answered that students perceived them positively, and 17% of respondents said that students were neutral toward their tattoos. No respondents claimed that their tattoos were viewed negatively by students.

Students Education Level Tattoo
Students Perception of Tattoos Pie Chart

Attitudes toward tattoos are changing, and, as they become more popular, we hope that they continue to be accepted in new kinds of settings. There are a handful of good reasons for why tattoos should be allowed in schools settings, and we’re just starting to see this in some school systems. If you have any of your own personal opinions about teachers with tattoos, let us know about them in the comment section below!

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