But the teacher, Sylvain Helaine, 35, still teaches children aged six and up, and said that after an initial shock when they first see him, his pupils see beyond his appearance.
“All of my students and their parents have always been nice to me because they basically knew me,” said Helaine, who estimated she spent about 460 hours under the needle of tattoo artists.
“It’s only when people see me from a distance that they can assume the worst.”
He said last year he was teaching kindergarten at Docteur Morere elementary school in Palaiseau, a Paris suburb, when the parents of a three-year-old boy complained to education authorities. They said their son, who was not educated by Helaine, had nightmares after seeing him.
A couple of months later, school authorities informed him that he would no longer teach kindergarten children, he said. “I think the decision they made was pretty sad,” said Helaine.
A spokesperson for the local education authority said an agreement was reached with Helaine to remove him from teaching kindergarten. Pupils under six “may be frightened by her appearance,” the spokesperson said.
Despite the setbacks, Helaine said he would stay true to his chosen career. “I’m an elementary school teacher … I love my job.”
He said he started getting tattoos at the age of 27 when, while teaching at a private school in London, he had an “existential crisis”. Since then, she said, “Getting tattoos is my passion.”
He said he hoped to show his students that they should accept people who are different from the norm. “Maybe when they are adults they will be less racist, less homophobic and more open,” he said.