You may have seen #EduTattoo trending recently, following another outburst by the ever-liberal Piers Morgan. It followed an on-air rant, in which Mr Morgan claimed that teachers who have tattoos (in this case a headteacher from Yorkshire) have “a lack of standards”.
The misguided breakfast-TV host also decreed that “Lord Nelson would never have allowed it”, which is a bit strange as I assume we’ve come a long way since Lord Nelson. In the interest of clarity, let me list a few things that would have been allowed in Lord Nelson’s time:
- Public executions
- Child labour
- Marrying off children (age 12 for girls, age 14 for boys)
…to name just a few.
Now, I’m assuming that Piers must be against the above (though perhaps enough prime airtime could make him lean either way), but the point is that things have changed a lot since the late 18th century. And the prevalence of tattooed teachers is one of those things that has changed for the better.
My tattoos haven't turned any of my pupils into a yob
I’m pretty tattooed – leg sleeve, arm sleeve, back tats, shoulder piece – and I am the vice-principal of an alternative-provision school in Cornwall. Before that, I was an English teacher in two different mainstream schools.
I can honestly say that I don’t believe my tattoos have once negatively affected me as an educator. No tattoo has made it harder for me to teach, to lead, to coach or support. No one has been scarred for life or turned into a yob after seeing them.
And none of my pupils has ever attempted to emulate me by performing home tattoos on themselves – after all, copying a teacher really isn’t the epitome of cool, is it?
What I do believe is that my tattoos have actually helped me in my career.
How my tattoos have helped me teach
Firstly, my leg sleeve. It contains literary quotations and imagery – from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Hunger Games, with some Tolkien, Shakespeare and Neil Gaiman thrown in.
Having such a commitment to my favourite books has at the very least been a talking point with pupils, and in some cases has even got them to read the texts I've committed to ink. I remember once showing a reluctant reader, who had bounced out of his key stage 3 class, my Goodnight Mister Tom tattoo. As a result, he decided to return to class and read a page of Goodnight Mister Tom.
In other cases, I have been able to talk through with teenagers my beliefs around tattoos – that you should never have one done on a whim, that they should be done cleanly, and that you should only ever be inked by a qualified professional who has trained in their art. I have been able to use this to discourage teens from allowing their mate, who’s bought a tattoo gun from eBay, to inartistically scar them for life.
Finally, the most compelling reason why my tattoos have helped me is that they can sometimes make me appear more real to pupils.
Sometimes pupils can forget that teachers are humans, with lives and emotions just like theirs. Therefore, appearing “real” in countless little ways can help to build relationships – and, ultimately, relationships make us all better teachers.
In the end, if I am, indeed, the “ink-splattered tattoo blob” that Piers believes I am, then I am sure as hell a proud one.
Besides, do I really want Piers Morgan to approve of me, anyway?
Kate Martin is vice-principal at Restormel Academy, an alternative provision school in Cornwall