What keeps me awake at night - My tattoos have to stay a dirty secret

21st October 2011 at 01:00

Now be honest, what does the stereotypical teacher look like? Well-dressed? Tick. Neat hair? Tick. Well-spoken? Tick. In short, a respectable member of society.

I would say I was all of those things, mainly because that's what I look like at work. But what most people - and certainly no parents - know is that, under this armour of professionalism, I'm covered in tattoos, including a full sleeve. I also have a tongue-piercing and I listen to heavy metal. This doesn't paint the picture of your typical teacher, does it?

Although wearing long-sleeved cardigans at work is getting a bit old - not to mention hot in the summer - I do it because I know it would cause uproar among parents if they realised what was underneath. I'm not saying I should be allowed to have all my tattoos on show - even I think that goes against the professional picture of a teacher, particularly in the private Catholic school I teach in. But what I am saying is that it shouldn't be a big deal if, during a messy art lesson, I roll up my sleeves and a few little voices ask: "Miss, what is that?" It would just demonstrate to them that, even though I look a bit different, it doesn't matter and it doesn't change my abilities as a teacher.

Colleagues who have seen my tattoos were intrigued to begin with, but now it's not a big deal. My head has only just discovered them and, although it's not something she personally would endorse, she was cool about it - as long as parents don't see them.

I'm constantly battling preconceptions and prejudices, and not only at work. People need to realise that the days when only sailors and criminals had tattoos are long gone. I happen to have a lot of them, but I'm a good teacher and a good role model for young children. I teach them to accept everyone for who they are - characteristics most adults would benefit from.

The writer is a primary-school teacher in the South East. To tell us what keeps you awake at night, email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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