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Tattoos and Piercings

Tattoos, Piercings and Professionalism OH MY!

© Lisa Murphy, Ooey Gooey, Inc.

Originally written June 2006. Revised, edited & otherwise updated for a reposting on Facebook, May 2011


Although I was not aware of an epidemic of preschool teachers running en masse to their local tattoo parlors, it seems as though the latest sound bite on the battlefield of “professionalism” is no more visible tattoos and/or piercings.   Mind you now, it’s the folks in the offices and administrative buildings who are upset.  I have yet to hear of a parent making a complaint, but anyway – here’s the deal – I guess some teachers are finding themselves no longer employed because of the Tigger/Flower/Heart/Star/Moon tattoo they have on their ankle (or wherever).  “Why?” you ask.  “Because it is visible,” they say.  What I find very interesting is that in many cases the ink had always been visible, but only of late had become a problem.


I do workshops all over the country in (very) big cities and in (very) small towns.  Point is that regardless of zip code, when similar issues, problems and questions start popping up here and here and here and here, I take note.  And it tells me that something is going on; in this case, teachers from all over are sharing similar concerns about the warped definition of professionalism being enforced in the hallowed halls of education.  When I hear that preschool teachers in California and Indiana are no longer allowed to wear jeans or T-shirts or sneakers I get frustrated.   When I hear that early childhood educators in Texas are being required to wear heels and skirts, I get concerned.  I begin to ask, “What’s happening here?”


SITUATION #1:  Jeans at my school used to be OK.  When I had on my (clean, blue, not skin tight, not ripped) jeans you could not see the tattoo on my ankle.  But this year no one is allowed to wear jeans.  We have to wear skirts, and guess what? Now you can see my tattoo! And how long have I had this tattoo??  For. ev. er.   But now all of a sudden I am considered “less professional.”  What to do?


DILEMMA #2:  Piercings have been deemed “not OK.”  What’s the problem here?  Inconsistency.  How? Ms. Dianna has 6 “regular” holes in her ears and no one seems to mind, but Ms. Jessica’s pierced eyebrow and Mr. Michael’s nose ring are getting negative press. Question:  What prompted the new rule? What happened?


Question:  DOES having a tattoo or piercing make you “less professional”??


Counter-question:  Does the tattoo come with an ATTITUDE?  Did the belly ring come with a chip on the shoulder?  Does the eyebrow piercing come with a poor work ethic?  Are we all of a sudden unable to get down on the floor, play tag, lift kids to the changing table, set up the room with activities because it might hurt/damage/destroy my pierced tongue, eyebrow, belly, nose??  Does the tongue ring come hand-in-hand with sloppiness, laziness and inattention to ones’ job performance?


If the answer to any of the above is YES then please forgive me for stating what I thought was obvious; being less “professional” has nothing to do with the fact one is tattooed or pierced and everything to with the fact that these characteristics and traits do not a good employee make.  Regardless of the job.


Once again I feel that the real issue is our lack of communication skills.   Instead of dealing with issues head-on as they occur, we attempt to manage from a distance in the form of memos and policy revisions.    If someone is being inappropriate it is our job to go and talk to her!  Not to pass a ruling from the comfort and safety of “the office” that we think will “deal with the problem.” So before we make a rule that says, “no one is allowed to wear jeans,” we need to examine where the need for this new rule came from.


Reality check:  if in fact there is really only ONE PERSON who is wearing jeans that are too tight too small too ripped (or all of the above!) you do not need a rule.  You need a meeting.  You need to call little miss so-and-so into the office and tell her she needs to be wearing some DIFFERENT JEANS and then you need to be specific about the kind of jeans she CAN wear.  That will begin to solve the problem.


But we don’t do this.  Why not?  Who knows?  Some avoid conflict, some are worried the other will get mad/walk out/quit/yell/rebel, whatever… it still comes down to lack of communication.  Regardless, we end up passing a rule that doesn’t apply to 99% of the people in the building and the one you passed the rule for doesn’t realize it’s for her!  It doesn’t solve the problem.


Another reality check:  people make judgments based on clothing, tattoos and piercings.  I’m not saying it’s good or bad, I’m saying that they do.  But we also need to try very hard to see beyond the ink and the hole!  And didn’t our mothers teach us this back in kindergarten anyway?  To be nice?  So yes, I am well aware that a huge colorful bleeding dragon flame throwing heart on the new toddler teacher’s forearm might be a bit distracting at first, but for cryin’ out loud!   Get over it!!


ALTERNATIVE WAY OF DEALING WITH THE SITUATION:  “Good Morning! This is Ms. Katelyn and she is our new teacher. She has lots of pictures/art/ink/tattoos (pick a word, a real word) on her arms!  Come see!”


Then you know what you do?  You look at it.  Talk about it.  The language and conversations that transpire will be magnificent!  AND you will learn a lot about a lot of things along the way, IF. you. take. the. time. to. listen.


And, unless you make her hide her arms and wear long sleeves during the tenure of her employment, I guarantee the novelty and infatuation with her arms will not last much longer than a week.  Two at tops.  And then guess what??!!  The novelty of her tattoos will wear off and she becomes simply, “Ms. Katelyn” which is much better than “the tattooed girl who works at Kiddie Kare World of Karing for Kids World.”


I remember a family I had in the preschool program years and years ago.  Mom and dad had quite an alternative profession for this small conservative town.  Their son (I’ll call him Daniel) always arrived right after naptime after having spent the earlier part of the day with his family.  He arrived right about snack time and stayed through until 6:30 PM when he was picked up by grandma, who he stayed with each night while mom and dad worked their jobs.  (They were, for the record, exotic dancers).  This boy was loved, was provided for and was an all around well adjusted kid.  More so than some of the other kids from more “traditional” families, but that, as I say, is another workshop.  Anyway, point of the story is that one afternoon his mom and dad brought him in for snack and we ALL noticed that they weren’t talking.  Daniel was playing with his friends but mom and dad were silent, and usually they were quite chatty, anyway, one of the kids asked them what was wrong.  One of the KIDS mind you.  Dad said, “Ree got ourr tongs bierced.”


He proceeded to stick out his newly pierced, and quite swollen, tongue.  So did mom.  Daniel added, “Yeah, and they can’t eat a lot.  They have to keep it clean so it doesn’t get infected.”  The children proceeded to look (but not touch), ask a few questions, “Did it hurt?” “Yes” “Like a shot?” “Yep.”  “Did it have blood?”  “Not really”….. The inquisition went on for about 10 minutes, and then, guess what??  It was OVER. Done.


Moral of the story, it’s a lot like everything else we deal with in our profession… want them to pick their nose?  Tell them NOT to.  Want them to not nap?  Make a big deal of it.  Want to make sure they eat the playdough? Tell them to STOP STOP STOP!!!


More recently, I had the pleasure of working not only with a male teacher in my preschool room, but a tattooed, male teacher with beautiful Celtic art on his arms; symbols that the children ended up incorporating into drawings and in their large easel art paintings too.  And the children initiated it all.  It wasn’t like we announced it was tattoo day.  And since I have tattoos, and he had tattoos, that one day the dress up center organically morphed into a tattoo parlor was really no surprise.  Did the level of professionalism decrease that day?  I doubt it.


Now granted, “full disclosure” as I like to say, I was a player in the scenario, so I might be a bit biased, but the answer is still no.  We had to make signs, we had to take turns, they had to negotiate how much we had to pay, we had to wait, we had to make an appointment… math, art, conversations, spatial skills (how to fit the drawing onto the arm?) social skills, language, fine motor (they tattooed us using washable markers), patience, creativity (they had to think of the designs), all being cultivated in the “tattoo parlor center.”  It was fantastic.


We need to work at remembering that you do not become a professional all of sudden by getting a new outfit.  Nor do you lose professionalism by piercing your eyebrow (unless it comes with an attitude problem, but we already talked about that!)  We know this, but often have trouble acting on it. We could slap a suit on Laminated Lady, but it will not make her a better teacher.  Why?  Because passion, pride, dedication, commitment, and professionalism all come from the inside, out.  And in a true professional you witness evidence of these characteristics on a daily basis regardless of what is inked on their arms or pierced through their nose.  Let’s stop using personal preference as a measurement of “professionalism.”




© Lisa Murphy, Ooey Gooey, Inc.


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