Can I have both a visible tattoo and a teaching job ?
October 22, 2008 2:46 PM   Subscribe

I want to have a tattoo but I also want to be a teacher, can I do both ?

I want to have a tattoo on my wrist or arm and I want to teach public school. The tattoo wouldn't be vulgar, just the word COEXIST, the classes I would be teaching would be art. Will having this tattoo hurt my chances of getting a teaching job ?
posted by carefulmonkey to Work & Money (25 answers total)
Yes, it will. You'll have to balance your need to show rebellion against society against the cultural norms of polite society.
posted by unixrat at 2:49 PM on October 22, 2008

it might, but it depends on where you live. a more urban, liberal city will likely be more tolerant than a small town. it also depends on how big the tattoo is. if you wear a watch over it at work, it may not matter.

for what it's worth, i work for a major university in a southern city and have a stud in my nose, which nobody minds.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:54 PM on October 22, 2008

Since your profile says you're in Missouri, I assume you're asking in response to this Board of Education decision.

As long as the tattoo isn't somewhere it can be seen when you're wearing a shirt, you'll be fine. You may have to compromise and get the tattoo on your shoulder or upper arm.
posted by Nelsormensch at 2:54 PM on October 22, 2008

Will it hurt your chances? It's quite likely. I know teachers who've had problems in similar situations. It's tough enough to get a job as an art teacher in public schools anyhow; it's actually the subject for which teachers are least in demand. I'm all for peaceful coexistence and for this sentiment to be displayed openly to impressionable minds (though I reckon tattoos are just plain silly.) If the sentiment is still important to you down the road, just wait until you get tenure.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:59 PM on October 22, 2008

my $0.02: get it on your upper arm or shoulder.
posted by gnutron at 3:02 PM on October 22, 2008

Data point: When I was a teacher, I taught with a male teacher who had full sleeves. He wore a long sleeve shirt every single day, even when it was in the 90s or 100s. He never showed off his tattoos to the kids, except when there was a field trip, and then he would wear a short sleeve shirt for comfort. The administration knew and didn't give him any trouble because he covered his tattoos up at school every single day. This all happened in Texas.
posted by 23skidoo at 3:03 PM on October 22, 2008

Or get a wide cuff style watch and put it on your wrist.

Or just suck it up and wear a shirt that covers it every day.

FWIW, there was a guy in my teacher cert class that had full sleeves. He told his kids that they'd know if he was mad because the fire (flame tattoos) would start showing up. He was also a teacher in Detroit...
posted by santojulieta at 3:05 PM on October 22, 2008

I think it could definitely hurt your chances is more conservative schools, and on top of that, you will have to entertain questions from 25+ students per class per semester per year until you retire if you want to have it visible.
It might be worth the annoyance of that alone to get it somewhere your students won't see it.
posted by rmless at 3:05 PM on October 22, 2008

This kind of question gets asked a lot, and the answer is always something like "it will sometimes cause problems, sometimes not, so either get it where it will be covered by clothing, or invest in chunky bracelets or something." Other answers will include, unhelpfully, "tattoos are stupid, anyway", as if that response is anything but gratutious obnoxiousness.

I had a teacher in high school, in Fayetteville NC, who had a visible ankle tattoo. Not to mention that half the young teachers my mother works with (in a Fayetteville elementary school) have tattoos that become visible now and then. My teacher seemed a little sick of the questions -- and really, that's the drawback that would worry me. Who needs all the infernal, career-long interrogation sessions from students? That's why I would reconsider the placement. But if you want to find a way to cover it up in class, you can.
posted by Coatlicue at 3:26 PM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you can't cover it up it will probably hurt your chances, and it might not be wise to limit yourself to nothing but long-sleeve shirts. You don't say what grade level you're going to be teaching; you'd probably get more leeway in a high school.

As another data point, though, one of my public high school teachers used to take kids out after they turned 18 to get tattoos and then they'd talk in class about how much of a pain new ones were. She'd even take you if you were under 18, as long as you had a note from your parents.
posted by lilac girl at 3:31 PM on October 22, 2008

Dermablend is supposed to work pretty well for those days that you may want to wear short sleeves.
Also, Art Teacher jobs here in Missouri are fiercely competed for, you'd have a better chance of getting away with it of you were to teach math.
posted by piedmont at 3:40 PM on October 22, 2008

A female teacher I worked with had her fiance's name tattooed on her wrist and it was covered by a watch so was considered discreet enough by our school to not be a problem.

Unfortunately she and her fiance are no longer together though...are you absolutely sure you want the word coexist upon your person forevermore ;)

I am also a teacher with a tattoo and know many others...the geneal rule is if it's descreet and you don't make a fuss of it, no-one else will either! (This is my experience in England at least.
posted by man down under at 3:51 PM on October 22, 2008

I've taught elementary/middle school art and woodworking for over a decade and I've got visible tattoos. I teach in two very different school environments - both in NYC. One is very conservative, the other very liberal. Neither school has had an issue. I think as long as you don't "advertise" your tattoos, you'll be fine. Wear long sleeves to the interview.
posted by blaneyphoto at 4:20 PM on October 22, 2008

My chemistry teacher had visible tats that you saw when he rolled his sleeves up. This was at a private school in Oakland, CA though. But it was also a Catholic school so there's that too. I'd give it a resounding "it depends."

Are you a man or a woman? Generally, it's easier for men to just roll in a long sleeved shirt all the time. If, after a while, you think everyone's cool you can roll your sleeves up. It's far less likely you'd be fired for having tattoos than just not getting hired because of them.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 4:50 PM on October 22, 2008

My gut feeling is that it's probably going to hurt your chances, but then, one of my close friends is a public-school history teacher, and has a pair of flaming dice tattooed on his neck. Obviously, the less you stick out, the more warmly looked upon you'll be. But as my friend demonstrates, in today's job climate of mass teacher shortages, sometimes looking like a maniac will have far less bearing than your qualifications.

It all depends on scarcity and competition for available slots. As an art teacher, I'd say you should avoid anything visible. If you were a certified math teacher, on the other hand, you could probably get away with a full facial tattoo of a bear fisting a skeleton.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:30 PM on October 22, 2008

In high school, I had an art teacher(who had graduated from Brown with a masters) that had to wear a long sleeve shirt every single school day of the year simply because he had a tattoo on his arm. Poor guy had to go through some really hot days in those shirts. Not to mention that art is sometimes messy. He couldn't even roll up his sleeves.

We're talking about an average, public high school school with approximately 1,400 students in a relatively large town in New England. I guess you could say they were modest too, but then again, last year, the school board was considering having junior high school nurses give out birth control pills to combat the extraordinarily high percentage of teen pregnancies in the district. But that's another story.

Honestly, go for a tattoo on the shoulder or the back. That way you'll be safe no matter what school you work for.

But hey, if the tattoo is small enough that you can band-aid it when you need to, then go for it.
posted by nikkorizz at 5:59 PM on October 22, 2008

My guess is that you'd have an easier time getting away with it if it were a flower, heart or something neutral (I'm NOT advising that you get any of those tattoos). However, the word COEXIST, while seeming neutral, might make you seem like a risky candidate as interviewers would wonder what it was in reference to, but not have the nerve to ask, and then wonder what cans of worms might be opened up if the students saw it and asked what it meant. They might imagine scenarios where the students asking who should coexist, leading to discussions about race/gender/sexual preference (I'm not suggesting that these conversations are bad, I think they are probably beneficial, but school board stuffed-shirt types might not agree with me).
posted by necessitas at 5:59 PM on October 22, 2008

Just get the job first, then get the tat.
posted by spilon at 6:13 PM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

If it can be covered and does not show then yes, you can have a tattoo. If no one ever sees it, then they don't know you have it.
posted by junipero at 6:24 PM on October 22, 2008

Also, you don't mention where you are in this process but that might be a factor to consider. If you're just getting your degree or teaching certification, it might be worth waiting on the tattoo. Not just because of possible conflicts with teaching (which again, I think will be minimal) but because you may not wind up teaching for long if at all. I've seen many people over the years give teaching a try and end up hating it. There are certainly more rigid work environments than education, so although I don't want to suggest NOT getting tattoos, you may want to make sure you're settled in a career before doing so.... just in case.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:49 PM on October 22, 2008

Someone said above that these kinds of questions come up a lot, and they're right.

With almost any of these (tattoos, piercings, bondage or religious jewelry, political buttons, etc.), well, it's a range of things, so let's just call them visual eccentricities, you're going to be risking negative consequences, especially when it's a public display. If you're not completely comfortable with that, you might want to think twice before making any choices you might regret.

(I'm a public librarian who wears long clothes every day. The library workers mostly know I'm tattooed, but the public does not. Well, unless they see me outside of the library.)
posted by box at 7:23 PM on October 22, 2008

I suspect that it will help more than it will hurt in most situations.

Question: is having a fulfilling career MORE or LESS important than some ink on your skin?

I'm not snarking -- but that is the question that some people will wonder when you apply for jobs.
posted by davidmsc at 9:48 PM on October 22, 2008

I feel like as time goes on, people will be more accepting of tattoos. I can tell you that I am about 1000 more tattoo friendly than my parents, as are my friends and their parents. I would never get a tattoo, but I have no problem with them.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 1:41 AM on October 23, 2008

1000 percent.*
posted by thebrokenmuse at 1:41 AM on October 23, 2008

My girlfriend has a tattoo and teaches middle school English; she's never had any problems. It'll help at the interview if yours is somewhere discreet (so maybe stay away from something on your forehead, say); past that, I can't imagine it ever being an issue. The one other thing you might need to consider is what age range you'll be teaching--seems like 10-15 year-old kids will make a lot more out of a tattoo than your principal would.
posted by Mayor West at 4:39 AM on October 23, 2008

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