An up-and-rising debate among teachers and parents is the topic of teachers having or displaying tattoos. Teachers with tattoos is a concept that has been frowned upon for a long time, however, many teachers are becoming irritated with the stigma and bias because it can violate the law if acted upon.
In the USA, teachers can have tattoos. It is a constitutional right in America to have free speech, which includes forms of self-expression like tattoos. As long as the tattoos did not affect job performance and roughly followed community norms, a school generally would be prohibited from discriminating against the self-expressive act of having a tattoo.
It is not uncommon for parents to be unhappy with their child’s teacher having or showing off a tattoo, but there is much more that goes into the rules surrounding these subjects besides parental opinion. The right to free speech, freedom of religion, school and district policy, and the influence on students are all factors that should be considered.
Teachers, Tattoos, and the Law
The thing that settles this debate over whether or not teachers should be able to have tattoos truly is the law.
The Constitution of the United States includes a couple of fundamental human rights guaranteed to everyone in the USA, which open our eyes to what can be allowed in the classroom as far as teachers’ appropriate range for self-expression.
The Right to Free Speech
Schools cannot refuse to hire a teacher simply because they have a tattoo. Now, depending on the school’s dress code there could be a decision made, but that will be discussed further on in this article.
Americans believe in the right to free speech, which includes self-expression, so unless a tattoo would violate a dress code and cannot be covered up, teachers have the right to that form of expression without it limiting their work opportunities. (Source)
Can Schools Require a Teacher to Cover Up a Tattoo?
Schools can require or just ask a teacher to cover up their tattoo if the tattoo goes against the dress code, raises any concerns, or is a major distraction in the classroom. Like with the hiring process, a teacher could not be fired for refusing to do so, but it could raise concerns and potentially become a big deal.
Teachers are expected to dress and appear relatively neutral, which means no extreme looks. The entire purpose of this rule is so that the teacher’s appearance does not distract from the purpose of the school; this includes making sure tattoos are non-distracting.
Freedom of Religion
Another constitutional right that Americans have is the freedom of religion, which also can mean freedom from religion. This freedom from religion is classified as the separation of church and state. (Source)
Separation of Church and State
Separation of church and state means that religion and education are separate in the way that they are taught. The only reason a teacher’s tattoo could violate this right from the constitution is if it attempted to force a belief onto the young, impressionable students they taught. However, for example, a simple cross design would be fine for a teacher to have.
School Rules, Tattoos, and Hiring Decisions
It is much more than the personal beliefs and opinions of parents, teachers, and staff that affect the hire-ability and eligibility of teachers as far as physical appearance goes. This is the purpose of school dress codes, as they provide the rules that regulate hiring decisions in addition to student appearance.
School Dress Codes: Do School Dress Codes Cover Tattoos?
Not all school dress codes directly address tattoos. However, most school dress codes prohibit profanity or foul language, vulgarity, or explicit material. Thus, a way that some parents describe their understanding of teachers with tattoos is that they are okay as long as they are tasteful and appropriate. (Source)
What Makes a Tattoo Tasteful?
A tattoo that is tasteful is considered to usually have no graphic depictions, be generally wholesome in nature, and does not oppose the government of the United States of America.
A few examples of tattoo designs that would not be considered tasteful are deformed or damaged American flags, upside-down crosses or other devil worship, hate symbols, or anything else that could reasonably frighten a child.
What Makes a Tattoo Appropriate?
A tattoo that is appropriate is one that is not offensive, does not use profane or inappropriate language or images, is not hateful in any way, and does not look violent.
Being non-offensive requires a design or tattoo to steer away from any form of discrimination or hate speech, avoid any gang symbol or similar reference, not use what kids will call “bad words” or “curse words”, and not put down any religious, cultural, or otherwise associated group.
Hate speech is generally considered any mode or form of expressing oneself through which it is intended for some person or group to be belittled, ridiculed, put down, made fun of, or humiliated in any way. These types of behaviors are unacceptable and never belong in the classroom. (Source)
Why Do Some Parents Oppose Teachers with Tattoos?
The reason why some parents in the U.S. oppose their kids’ teachers having tattoos, or purposely displaying their tattoos, is because of the influence that teachers have on their students. Younger students are particularly perceptive and susceptible to the influence of those around them. (Source)
Many parents do not like tattoos or how they look because of religious reasons, traditional reasons, or personal preferences. Naturally, when a parent dislikes something, they usually do not want their child to participate in it or think it is cool.
Having a teacher with a tattoo won’t necessarily encourage a student to get a tattoo in the future. However, it will likely acclimate them to the idea, which some parents dislike because of one of the reasons listed above.
What Types of Tattoos Should Teachers Avoid?
Face tattoos, neck tattoos, skull tattoos, hand tattoos, and collar bone tattoos are generally considered inappropriate, so teachers should avoid getting them. Exceptions to this general rule are small ear, ring, or wrist tattoos.
Abiding by this rule leaves arm and leg tattoos as the types of tattoos widely considered acceptable for a teacher to have.
Generally, when it comes to tattoos in the workplace, smaller is viewed as much better and more professional.