No Tattooed Teachers Need Apply: One School District’s Ban on Visible Tattoos

Mark Johnson is an English teacher in Ogden, Utah, and he’s up against losing his job if he doesn’t adhere to a district guideline: cover up the tattoos.

In recent interviews, Johnson states that his tattoos aren’t offending anyone; they’re his kids’ names and wife’s initials and claims that while he obviously doesn’t want to lose his job, he doesn’t think that it’s right for the district to discriminate against him for a little body art.

The district isn’t just biased against tattoos — piercings, skirts of various lengths and many other wearable items are banned.  However, a representative for the school district

Johnson has worked for the Ogden area school district for the past fifteen years and has had his arm tattoos even longer.  Up until this year, the teacher claims that there has been no stir about the tattoos.  However, a spokesperson for the school district states:

“So we decided that teaching is a career, teaching is a profession, and we want to set a professional standard so that our students will look at their teachers and say, ‘Yes, they are a professional and yes, I could be a teacher, and I would love to have education as my career for 30 years.’”

While I understand that businesses and school districts have policies and procedures in place specifically regarding issues of this sort, I think that this district in particular is backtracking — the man has been employed by the district for almost two decades and has had the tattoos even longer than he’s been employed at the school as a teacher.  The man’s tattoos are on his arm and aren’t obscene, violent or distracting in any way, shape or form.

However, I guess policy is policy and if this man wants to continue working for a school district that’s enforcing their newest dress code, he’ll cover them up, right?  Personally, I think it’s crap — we should be evolving from the aghast reactions of pierced noses and tattooed eyebrows; they’re freaking everywhere.  I don’t think that a tattooed professional is any less professional than the professional that people in certain circles might consider a “prude” of sorts, am I right?

Tattoos don’t express a mentality of immaturity or even destruction — they’re a way of saying ‘Look at me, I’m expressing myself.’  Anything beyond understanding that very basic fact is something that people really need to get over.

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29 thoughts on “No Tattooed Teachers Need Apply: One School District’s Ban on Visible Tattoos

  1. I think these rules suck, but in education you have to follow them. I’m a professor and I cover my tats all the time, especially when dealing with administration. My students know I have them and so do my employers, but I still keep them covered because it’s not considered professional. And I would be a hypocrite if I spent time getting my students ready to graduate and be professionals (not giving public talks with chew or gum in their mouths, dressing appropriately, etc) while looking unprofessional myself.

  2. Would this not, if anything, show the students that despite having something like tattoos it’s possible to go out and get a good job without people discriminating against you?
    A friend of mine has got full sleeves and works in a very high profile insurance firm, he just always has a shirt on so no one knows and I can understand that but being a teacher, even more so if it’s highschool, I don’t think it’s really a problem to have visible tattoos.

    • In most schools, it’s not an out-and-out ban, but you have to understand that by flashing visible tats at the job interview, you may inadvertently be losing yourself a job. While they won’t point to the tats specifically and say that’s why you didn’t get the job, I’ve seen job interviews where a visible tattoo has generated a lot of discussion about a lack of focus in research, too lackadaisical approach in the classroom, an unsophisticated pedagogy, and on and on when none of that mattered until someone old school witnessed a tattoo.

      For the record, I have a half sleeve, a wrist tattoo, and a tattoo on the front of each ankle plus another 5 on my back. I don’t agree with the bias against tattoos, mohawks, piercings etc but I know they exist and you have to ask yourself whether this issue is the issue you want to take a stand on or whether it’s easier to shut your mouth and cover the body art.

      • I have a tattoo that covers most of my chest haha so I can’t hide it unless I’m wearing high neck tops, which I tend to do to job interviews anyway. The thing is that so many people now have tattoos and employers are going to have to realise that as the new generation job force comes in that they’re not going to be able to turn someone away just because they have tattoos.

    • I mean, IS it possible to have a bunch of (visible) tattoos and get a good job – career-type jobs, not coffee shops – without people discriminating against you? Not most places that I know. That’s why I made sure to get all my tattoos in places where it wouldn’t be an issue. Obvs, it shouldn’t be an issue, ever, but our culture and society are just way too based on appearance – and on a very, very certain kind of appearance – for that kind of so-called “deviance” to fly. Our idea of “professional appearance” is just a stupid standard and anyway, if you do good work, what does it matter what you look like? While I def agree that people need to get over it, I just don’t think it’s going to happen, at least not anytime soon: this is a mindset that’s waaaaay too deeply engrained in our country for there to be any changes or more acceptance soon.
      Personally, I think a ban like that makes more sense in a school, where you have impressionable teenagers and teachers who are role models, than it does elsewhere. Oh no, but I feel like that sentence sounds like I’m implying that tattoos are a bad thing, and that I think a teacher influencing students to get tattoos would be bad, but I’m not, and I don’t. However, regardless of whether or not they should be, tattoos are generally considered unprofessional, and could work against you in the job world, and teenagers especially need to bear that in mind and seriously consider it before getting any. Yes, it’s maybe not right, maybe not the way things should be, but it’s the way they are, and the way they’ll probs be for a while.
      but then again, fighting and making a stand against these asinine norms is the only way they’ll ever change. if everyone had tattoos, it wouldn’t be an issue.

      • I get what you’re saying. As paranoid as people are about kids, it just makes sense to cover your tattoos because you don’t want to incite any parental outrage. Because if Mrs. Smith’s special snowflake gets a tattoo, it’s obviously because a teacher has a visible one. It’s stupid, but that’s how it works.

      • I am in banking, and the credit union I work for allows visible tattoos. Facial piercings, however, are not allowed.

        So I’m allowed to have my tattoos show, but I had to take my tiny little nose stud out. Bonkers.

  3. In an age when the majority of young people have tattoos and schools are struggling to attract good teachers (especially recent graduates who have the latest in educational training), I’m failing to see how a ban on tattoos accomplishes anything positive. I totally agree with drawing the line at tattoos that have obscene language or images, but beyond that, I don’t really understand how body art is harmful to a student’s education. I had lots of teachers with tattoos, I remember my middle school gym teacher had a superman tattoo. We thought it was cool. I think I may have spent ten minutes out of my three years in middle school ever discussing it. This was a prestigious private school where you need a master’s to even apply for a job. The last thing I would call any of the teachers there is unprofessional.

    • I should also mention that I volunteered at a public school for three hours every week last semester. I have a tattoo. They never saw it because it was in the winter and I was wearing pants, but what if it had been warm and I’d worn shorts? Should I have been turned away from a badly needed volunteering position at a cash-strapped school because I have a tattoo on my ankle?

  4. With this topic I find it highly upsetting. I am a Sub. teacher and have to dress professionally for work. I have 30 tattoos on my body and I have to cover all of them. I have all my wrist, neck, arms, legs ankles back and breast done. It is very hard to cover every one of them. I wear long sleeved shirts but sometimes when i am reaching for something the students see them. I never thought in a million years i would be in this type of profession. I feel that I am being discriminated against because of my body art. When I see people with earring in their eyes, tongue nose and it is okay why is it not for me? Tattoos are a symbol to me and why do I have to hide my belief

    • Generally, most tattoo-banning dress codes also ban obvious and strange piercings. While I may not have an issue with non-vulgar tattoos myself, I think it reasonable for a policy which addresses clothing types, styles, amounts, and such things to include a policy on tattoos and piercings.

    • I think it’s pretty ridiculous as well. Hell, so many people have tattoos anymore that the policy is just putting a negative stereotype on something that isn’t just for convicts and the “morally unfavorable” anymore.

      A bunch of college students were running around my campus in their skivvies earlier last year and I saw far more people with tattoos than without. It’s hardly a unique, trashy phenomenon.

      • It *is* a ban on ‘visible’ tattoos though. Things you see only in skivvies don’t matter. Many people have tattoos, but I think a pretty good number keep them to clothing-coverable places.
        It’s not like it’s a ban on anyone with ink.

  5. Most schools have dress codes for the students; it seems reasonable to me that the teachers should follow some kind of guidelines for their appearance as well.

    Tattoos of any kind generally do not lend themselves to a professional look. That’s just the cold, hard truth. Whether or not they are becoming more common, they still are not seen as components of a polished, put-together professional appearance. Therefore, either don’t get them or cover them up. It’s as simple as that.

  6. So, people with body art can’t have or don’t want careers? They think that making teachers NOT look like dry prudes is going to stop kids from striving to be educators? They think that giving the impression that having meaningful and tasteful tattoos means that you can’t have a good job is going to stop young adults from expressing themselves in the form of body art?

    If the tattoos aren’t something that a parent wouldn’t mind their child seeing if it were a painting or in a book and the teacher isn’t wearing revealing clothing with the intention of showing the body art, then I think that it shouldn’t be an issue. Why can’t kids that want to be different and express themselves be taught that they can also be successful adults and, mostly importantly, good people? I think it would help curb the disire to rebel in the form of body modification simply for the sake of shocking others.

    • Are you saying that not having a tattoo indicates that you are a ‘dry prude’? Really? For someone commenting on a post that deals with not making assumptions about how people look, you sure are on shaky ground.

      • When the implication is that those WITH them must automatically be degenerates that should not be allowed near children, the opposite must be implied as well. This is our point – just as we can make a distinction between tasteful and inappropriate clothing we can do so with body art.

        Let’s be completely honest, the stigma against tattooing is the product of an older and primarily conservative generation pressing their beliefs on a younger one in a society where those beliefs may no longer be founded. Resistance to change, nothing more.

  7. i have my large artwork in an area my Mum can’t see it. Screw employers, not getting a job is SO MUCH LESS SCAREY THAN MY MOTHER.

    If she ever finds out I despoiled my natural, organic, Goddess given Taurean Metal Monkey freckly hide with a tattoo, she would probably put me through the meatgrinder and feed me to the free range no-hormone chickens that run about the mini ecosystem I like to call her house.

  8. Eh. I know a lot of amazing teachers who have a visible tattoo or two, or three. The kids would miss out by not having these teachers because of some body art? Seems unreasonable to me. Fortunately people that see tattoos as some sort of mark of evil will have retired soon and reason will prevail.

  9. The notion that tattoos come across as unprofessional is preposterous. As many other people have commented, more people have tattoos than you might think. It’s almost becoming the exception to NOT have a tattoo.

    If this guy needs a job where he can have tattoos and still be considered an industry expert, or a professional, then he should go into programming or web development. I’ve got 6 pieces, 4 of which might be visible were I wearing shorts and a tshirt and no one gives it a second thought.

  10. i totally agree with Mallory……Having tattoos as a teacher is a great way to show kids that u can be successful and good and be different and proud to be so.

  11. I’ve been subbing exclusively at the same school for two years now and today, for the first time, was reprimanded for having tattoos that show. I have two pieces on my left forearm that are visable when I roll my sleeves up or wear short sleeve shirts (which is often necessary considering how most of our upstairs rooms are hotter than the furnace room that heats hell).

    I guess the superintendent did a walk through yesterday and had a problem with my tattoos showing…so today they pulled me from homeroom. I think it’s kind of stupid, but just rolled my sleeve down. I guess the super thinks it’s unprofessional. I work here nearly every day and have gained the respect of almost every teacher and student I work with…they often count on me to take on the most difficult assignments and trust me with most short/long term sub positions.

    While walking to lunch, another teacher stopped me and asked if the rumors were true. I guess there are rumors going around the school (between the teachers) about this “situation”.

    So, the super walked through the school and that was the biggest problem he saw? Forget the fact that I’m a fine subsitute teacher….

    And somehow…I’m the one who is unprofessional?

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  13. I currently have a half sleeve, a half leg sleeve, and a few other non visible tats. I’d like to be a teacher. The impression I get is that it really depends on what city I want to teach in. Could anybody give me an idea of cities that are known to tolerate tattooed high school teachers? Email is good – I might not check this board. Thanks!!

  14. I work in a call center and it’s sad cuz that’s the only place that I can get a job at besides a cook or working in a factory because of my tattoos and facial piercings. Nothing I have is vulgar or obscene, I just enjoy the feeling of getting them done and they all have a special meaning. As far as kids go who gives a shit if they see someone professional with tattoos? Don’t they see actors/actresses/musicians that have tattoos from head to toe? Wouldn’t you rather have them see a teacher or doctor with tattoos? That’s what I want my son to strive for, but if he wants to be a rock star who gives a shit? If he wants to have his entire body covered in tattoos and piercings then, fantastic, if not then fantastic. Who gives a fuck? Whatever makes him happy, makes me happy. He’s gonna see my tattoos and piercings everyday (considering I have 4 piercings on my face and tattoos on my neck and hands along with the rest of my body) who gives a fuck if his teachers have tattoos?

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