I’ve seen variations of this question absolutely fly around social media recently:
Can a teacher have a tattoo?
Are teachers allowed tattoos?
Can you be a teacher with a tattoo?
Are teacher aides allowed to have tattoos?
Can a school librarian have a tattoo?
The conversation that follows boils down to this short, but complicated, answer:
Yes, as a teacher you absolutely can have a tattoo. BUT. Some schools will require you to hide them.
The only way to know for sure is to speak with the principal/head of the school.
Even schools within the same governing body can have different regulations around whether you, as a teacher or teacher aide (or any other educational professional within the school) can have a tattoo that is showing.
For example, here in sunny Queensland, Australia, our public school sector has no official departmental policy on tattoos – it is up to the principal of each school to decide what is best and appropriate for their community. Two public schools in the same suburb can have different expectations. In contrast, the Catholic Education system here has policy written that states “… inappropriate or offensive tattoos will not be visible while in the presence of students.” I have heard that some Cath Ed schools are a bit more particular and ask employees to cover any and all tattoos.
Would you have grounds to fight a request to cover tattoos? Possibly, but I’d be checking the wording of your policy documents very carefully. Technically, with the Cath Ed example above, if you had say a butterfly on your ankle, you’d have no official need to cover it. But if the principal of the individual school is holding their ground, you may have to decide if it’s a fight worth fighting (usually yes). If it is becoming an issue, I’d chat to your union (if you have one) and ask for advice how to approach it.
I’m sure you’ve seen the news articles and reports that pop up about once or twice a year about some ‘scandalous’ teacher who has shocked the community by daring to teach with visible tattoos. The media slant is almost always very negative (I mean, when is the media actually positive about teachers…).
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But if you’ve been around this site for a while (particularly our previous iteration as Actual Teaching), you’ll have seen this article I compiled a few years ago. In it, I asked a bunch of teachers and non-teachers about their views on teachers having tattoos. Every single response was neutral to positive, with the vast majority being positive.
Students themselves, at least in my experience, seem to have no judgement about tattoos. They will invariably ask about them, comment on them, and then ask the next teacher if they have any. In that sense they can be great for rapport-building.
It definitely seems to be the older generations, particularly those in positions of power within the school community, or those with religious leanings, who are the most bothered with the thought of a teacher having a tattoo. It’ll be curious to see how this viewpoint may or may not change as the younger generations move into those positions of power.
In that sense I guess it’s helpful that so many celebrities from all walks of fame are sporting ink. It’s not just the ‘troubled youth’ and ‘rockers’ of the past – it’s your pop princesses and authors and sports stars. There is more social acceptance of self-expression through tattoos, and it is slowly but surely seeping into the professional sphere too. I imagine the COVID-effect may have something to do with this in the near future too. With so many people working remotely, and the gradual return-to-office over the past six months, the idea of what ‘professional’ looks like is shifting.
Will that shift come into the education realm? We shall see.
But for now, follow this advice if you’re concerned with teaching and having a tattoo:
Generally, if your tattoo is permanently hidden in the types of clothing you’ll be wearing at school, then you have nothing to worry about. After all, no one will see it anyway.
But if it’s/they’re visible, best to seek clarification.
Are you a tattoed teacher? Join us over in the Staffroom Stories Lounge on Facebook and share your ink!