Tattoos & YOU @ International Schools

Once considered the stamp of non-mainstream segments of society, tattoos have shed their negative stigma & now enjoy the esteemed position of body art.

Spend an hour at the gym or the beach where exposed skin is the order of the day & it seems just about everyone is sporting tattoos, with some colorful masterpieces covering large amounts of body real estate.

Short of inked faces/necks, tattoos in the workplace have become acceptable & commonplace in Western societies. That said, not all societies around the globe have the same evolved view of tattoos. Many still associate them with low-class society or undesirable elements (think: prison inmates) of their cultures. What does this mean for tattooed International Educators?

..ISR Asks: Are schools & parents in more traditional societies willing/able to look beyond their cultural norms to accept that tattoos no longer carry a negative connotation in the home country of their children’s teachers? Or will tattoos stigmatize such teachers as unacceptable influences, potentially costing them a teaching position in certain parts of the world?

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30 thoughts on “Tattoos & YOU @ International Schools

  1. I have worked at schools in Southeast Asia and in one of my schools they asked teachers to just not have them visible and the other school they were very conservative and they expected teachers to even get dressed in formal attire (shirt, tie, jacket and leather dress shoes) on Family Day and Sports Days which often were in the upper 30 degree C. So you just have to follow whatever the dress code is at the school. Even if it might be insane.

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  2. I also work at a top international school in Asia and we have several staff members with tattoos. It is not an issue. Like a previous poster mentioned, I think the top schools tend to be much more secure in their ability to deliver a strong program and are not turned off by excellent teachers who happen to have tattoos.

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  3. What I have found, working at four different top-tier schools in four different parts of the world (including the Middle East and Asia) and with several visible tattoos, is that the demeanor of the person with the tattoes tends to override any connotations , good or bad. I have found that most cultures see me as an expat wherever I am and don’t have the same issues as if I were a local. I have been judged by all four of the school’s administrations on my work experience, dedication to my profession, and my ability to relate to others, not on my appearance. I always make sure to have some of my tattooes showing at parent teacher open house so that parents can get to know me on a personal level immediately. They sometimes are conversation starters and are a way for people to see another, more personal, side of me. In my experience, good administrators at top-tier schools are looking at the quality of teaching that a professional has, not looks.

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  4. Personally I never show mine in China, however that’s more to do with the “badly written” character on my right arm. It’s not incorrect, just not clear. I can read Chinese but others will think I’m another stupid western person with no clue. I got it before I knew I was coming to China – I did check with three Chinese people first but I think I should’ve had it done by someone who could write Chinese. I want to change it but financially this isn’t an option at this moment.

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    1. In some countries it can be a cheaper process to change. I work in the Philippines and I know several teachers that are satisfied with there tat changes.

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  5. In this day and age, I think that exposing students and parents to tattoos is a good thing and that it helps eliminate the stigma of negative connotation. We are evolving and trying to teach and expose the future generation and tattoos should stop anyone from becoming a professional. I think it’s fine for those that have them to cover them up but exposing them on dress down days wearing “acceptable” clothing shouldn’t be frowned upon. In most cases it’s a cultural and or generational acceptance or non-acceptance. We, as educators, are trying to educate the younger generation that tattoos shouldn’t be seen as a negative stigma but a form of expression and individuality. After all, this is what we are trying to teach them right? To be creative, unique and independent?

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  6. You can be the best teacher in the world but If you have visible tattoos in Asia you have no change of a job in the better schools period. Elsewhere it wont do your chances any good.

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    1. This is not true at all! I work at the top of the top schools (the past two are the most desired schools out there – in Asia) and have many and see many amongst the staff.
      I can see this maybe being true in a conservative British school where teachers are expected to wear ties to work, but those schools are not usually the top schools, so no need to care what they think.

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  7. As an administrator in a traditional country, tattoed teachers have to cover up. Tattoos are not good role models for students and if someone wants to flash their tattoos get another profession.

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  8. Tattoos are a mystery to me. Why anyone wants to permanently mark themselves with images that age and deteriorate and can never be adapted to your life changes beats me. For me it’s a form of cattle branding for humans. I blame David Beckham. Amongst others, he became the role model for many who thought it cool to emulate his tatts graduating from full arm sleeves to chest, neck and legs. Like most fashions, tatts will be unfashionable one day and then what do owners do? This is one fashion you can’t chuck out of the wardrobe. My advice is just don’t do it.

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    1. I agree with you 100%. Tats are stupid and really look stupid on people who have them as they get older. And tats on women???? Disgusting. It is just a form of self-mutilation. Why would anyone want to conform to what everyone else is doing. We should dare to be an individual, not sheep who blindly follow.

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    2. “We should be dare to be an individual, not sheep who blindly follow”…says the person telling people NOT to dare to be an individual. This is the most narrow minded point of view I have ever heard. Some of the most lovely people and great teachers I work with have tattoos. Let’s focus on the discussion of whether you should have to cover up at work, and not be judgemental.

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    3. Well, if a person is NOT stupid enough to get a tatoo, then there is nothing to cover up. Oh my, what a concept. I am sure, that as people get older, many feel embarresd about the fact that they have to cover up. I hope thye feel embarresed. No tatoo, no cover up.

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    4. Do you have a problem with homosexuality or same sex marriage? How does it affect you in any way? Just because you don’t approve of it? If it does not affect you then why worry about it. The topic is not about what you feel. Again, many of the best teachers where I teach have tattoos. The school is in a conservative country, so they are asked to cover up. Not a problem. It is much the same as covering the shoulders, wearing long skirts/dresses and dressing conservatively/wearing an abaya out in public in Saudi Arabia. It is not a big deal.

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    5. This is a very narrow minded and conservative mentality. Tattoos are choices people make, whether it be a mistake or not it’s still a choice and shouldn’t be judged. It’s a form of creative expression and is baring away from the negative connotations that it used to be labelled with. The more exposure society has, the more accepted it will be. Holding these “old school” ideas do not allow or refrain professionals for entering the field, thus, making it difficult to progress and advance.

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    6. Decisions shouldn’t be judged? Sure, if you plan to go through life in silence. If you have an opinion you ought to share it, or you’ll have zero impact on the world. There’s a reason why tattoos have long had negative associations. They are a physical representation of living for the moment, of living for pleasure not happiness. They can hardly be called art, unless all art is is something that “looks cool.” Should a person with tattoos have to cover them up? Certainly not. In fact, if they have them, they should feel confident enough to show them, but they shouldn’t expect not be judged by colleagues, parents, and especially students.

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    7. Some has no concept of cash flow and professional/fiduciary responsibilities. Enjoy unemployment/bottom tiered schools. Top tier schools in 1st world Asian countries won’t touch you or anyone else tatted up. Its economics first.

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    8. Funny response by someone who obviously does not work at at a top tier school. I work at the top of the top schools (my current and past school are the most desired schools out there – in Asia) and have many and see many amongst the staff.
      I can see this maybe being true in a conservative British school where teachers are expected to wear ties to work, but those schools are not usually the top schools, so no need to care what they think.

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    9. Agree with you 100%. At work, cover up, after work in the compound, it is not a problem. Economics first, but when you have good teachers, you hire them, and ensure they follow the dress code-problem solved.

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  9. I worked at a couple of schools in Japan and the responses were varied … in this case I think it really depends on the cultural make-up of the Admin team. For example I worked under a boss from NZ and the Deputy had many tattoos that were visible during “dress-down” days such as Spring Festivals and Sports Days – no problems, especially as the Head employed the Deputy. But others were less understanding – requiring even small tattoos to be covered. But the worst part is Japanese culture where by-and-large a tattoo has a connotation to the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) … so you were not able to go into many hot springs or outdoor pools without covering up!

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  10. This is a matter of being culturally aware. While many countries accept tattoos, others do not and no-one should assume they have a right to impose personal ideals on others unless they are indicative of widespread acceptance. Islamic countries regard tattoos as defiling the body given by Allah because the ink is permanent. Henna and other temporary forms are part of their culture. I have one on my back where it is not seen on a daily basis.

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  11. It depends on your your school administration I work in Southeast Asia where the elderly generation still views tattoos negatively. I have had some of the parenst my school scoff and make negative comments about my tattoos. But my school does not judge on appearance rather work ethic.

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  12. Not to do with schools or parents so much, but in Japan you will find social options limited with tattoos. Public swimming pools, onsens and hot springs are all likely to refuse entry to people with visible tattoos, as will many, if not most gyms. It’s right there on the application form. And as a point of interest tattoos can only legally be administered by a medical doctor. Note legally. They can be obtained but clandestinely. And all of this stigma relates back to the strong links between tattoos and organized crime.

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  13. When I worked for ADEC in the UAE teachers had to cover tattoos and if they coulld not they were not hired. Same went for body piercings.

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  14. The stigma around ink is because many professional people fail to behave in a way which negates the knuckle-grazer stereotype of their ‘body art’…I’ve worked with a lot of tattooed teachers who failed to impress in their departmental demeanour – artfully screwing it up for their less obviously decorated colleagues.

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    1. This comment drips with superiority. Regardless of one’s opinions on tattoos the fact is that there are shitty, unprofessional teachers. A fraction of them have tattoos but i venture to say the vast majority of them do not. A correlation there is not…

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