As a teacher, I know that I can plan the best lesson possible. I can plan a lesson with all the bells and whistles. I can plan a lesson with frills and thrills and anything in-between. And the lesson can fall flat on its face.
I expected the interview to flow freely. I thought that once we started the conversation, ideas would come spewing out and thoughts would zoom around the room. Looking back, I had grandeurs plans about the amount of information I would acquire.
It was not that the interview was bad, or even disappointing. When I walked in the room, my colleague was in the middle of grading homework. This grading continued throughout the entire interview, so right away I felt that I was intruding on her time. Right off the bat, I felt somewhat uncomfortable. Even though we have had thousands of conversations in the past while she was grading homework, this time it felt different. I expected us to sit down together and have a conversation, a sharing of thoughts and ideas.
I respected that fact that we both have numerous assignments to grade, so I did not take it personally. After all, contrary to what the youth of America thinks, teachers do not, in fact, live in their classrooms and actually do have lives of their own. So, when I saw her grading, I did not take it in the least bit personal. I did not want to ask her to stop grading and come and sit with me because, after all, she was doing me a favor by allowing me to interview her. I attributed her grading during the interview to how busy teachers’ lives are and how much we need every ounce of free time to push through the heavy workload that, contrary to what several adults of America think, is not that much.
Despite the grading, I learned several things from the interview. First, I learned the significance of Krista’s double sleeves: one arm represents a nature inspired theme, and the other arm represents a contemporary Asian theme. When Krista did not further articulate this description, I did not press her, thinking that perhaps it would come up later in the interview. Thinking back to Postmodern Interviewing, I thought that once she felt more comfortable talking about her tattoos, she might share that information with me later on.
During the interview, I found that it was not turning out to be a back and forth conversation like I had planned. Rather, I opened with a question (“Tell me about your tattoos”) and got a very short answer and a long pause. A few students walked noisily by in the hallway, and this reminded me of an incident that had happened earlier in the day that I had wanted to tell her about. As I was approaching this interview with the reflexive dyadic interview in mind, I went ahead and shared my personal feelings (even though it was not on the topic of tattoos, it was still sharing nonetheless). After we exchanged thoughts on the issue, I went back to the topic of tattoos. (In order to maintain professionalism, I am not writing about the conversation we had.)
From knowing Krista as a colleague, I knew that when she first stated teaching, she kept her tattoos covered, the complete opposite of what she does now. I, therefore, asked her what prompted her to keep them covered then but not now? She responded, It was a personal thing. I liked to keep my personal and professional life separate, and keeping them covered was a way to do it. She continued to inform me that, at the time of keeping them covered, she did not yet have a full sleeve, and therefore the tattoos were more “manageable” to conceal since her sleeve was not as progressed as it is now. As her sleeve grew, she found it more difficult to hide. (I noted that today she was wearing a zip-up sweatshirt as opposed to her usual short-sleeve shirts. I was still able to see the bottom part of both sleeves by her wrist.)
I then asked her how parents tend to react to her double sleeves. She indicated that several parents give her compliments on them. She expressed that she has never received a “derogatory” comment about her tattoos and that the parents who are clearly alarmed by them tend to sit and stare but never say anything about them.
I then asked her how students react to them, and she said that typically one of two things happen: either the students are scared stiff about them and do not say anything, or her tattoos make her more accessible and relatable to students, as several of their parents have tattoos, as well. Krista indicated that administrators in the district have never given her a hard time about tattoos. We agreed that there was nothing in our contract under the dress code policy about hiding tattoos, and therefore it would be inappropriate to raise the issue.
At this time, the conversation hit a standstill, and I found myself, again, expressing teaching stories of the day to both break the silence and get the conversation going again.
We spoke briefly about how Disney workers are not allowed to cover their tattoos with a band-aid but must, instead, cover them with make-up. This reminded me of an article I had skimmed through the night before about a new military tattoo rule, and I asked her how she felt about it. She indicated that tattoos are “such a part of our culture” these days that she was surprised that the mindset (of both tattoos in the military and in the workforce) has not become more flexible with it. This prompted me to ask her what she would do if she ever had to interview for a job now that she has double sleeves. She responded that she would keep them covered and wait until she had the opportunity to ask questions and would inquire about what the company’s policy was about tattoos.
We chatted briefly about the age restriction of tattoos. While the legal age to go alone is 18, I told her that I had a student two years ago (he was around fourteen) with tattoos on his wrists, and she indicated that some students will go with their parents, who approve the tattoo.
I then asked her about her husband. I knew that he had tattoos, but I was not sure how many or of what kind. She informed me that he has one full sleeve and a half sleeve (in the making). I then asked her how she got started with tattoos since she did not have any when they met. She took me though the order of her tattoo artists (three total, including one scary first tattoo artist) and how she found them. I learned that most people find tattoo artist through a friend recommendation or from asking a person they see with a tattoo that they admire.
Despite the fact that each question got a quick response, I am left with one question: Krista had indicated on an earlier day from a conversation that she enjoyed the process of getting a tattoo, pain and all. I want to know more about this idea of pain/pleasure during a tattoo. I am also left with questions for teachers who work in districts where tattoo revealing is forbidden. How do they feel about that? What preparations must they take in order to adhere to the regulations? For a teacher without a tattoo, would he or she consider getting a tattoo knowing that he/she would have to keep it covered for the majority of the day? Speaking with a parent of a student who had a teacher with tattoos would also help gain a different perspective on the issue.
Next, I am hoping to interview a teacher in a different district to get a fresh perspective on what they have to go through. Even if they are allowed to show their tattoos, they are still dealing with a different student/parent population, and it will be interesting to learn about how their tattoos are perceived.
In regard to what I might have done differently, the timing of the interview falls at the top of my list. Perhaps taking a period from the day was not the way to go. Instead, it may have been better if one day we had stayed after school. As we only have one common prep period (third period), there were no other periods during the day to do this. Plus, I did not want to take extra time away from her day, so I thought third period would be a good alternative. I think, perhaps, a period after the grading was done would have changed things. Or, perhaps, a day other than Friday, when most homework assignments are turned in, may have been a better choice. I think, too, that Krista’s personality is not one that jumps out with information. Though she has double sleeves, she can be shy and I think this contributed to the lack of flow, as well. While I tried to keep things flowing with my personal stories, perhaps I could have done things differently. Overall, I learned a lot about her thoughts on tattoos and am incredibly grateful for the time that she dedicated to me to conduct this interview.