EVERETT — The bond between the first-year teachers couldn’t be erased like a No. 2 pencil.
So they decided to make it permanent.
What’s up with that?
After their first year of teaching third grade at the Mukilteo School District’s Challenger Elementary in June 2015, the four women celebrated at a tattoo parlor. They got inked with the Roman numeral IV — in solidarity.
“Our team name was the Core IV,” teacher Caitlin Hitchner said. “All year that’s what people called us. It stuck.”
That was seven years ago. They have stuck together since, even though this year two were temporarily assigned to different grades.
The teachers came to Challenger in 2014 from four different colleges with not much in common, other than newly minted diplomas and a desire to shape young minds.
Hitchner is a Seattle Pacific grad. Laurel Harrison went to Central. Kelsey Jinneman-Fairbanks is a UW Husky. Taleah Burr was fresh out of Western Washington.
The women, in their early 20s at the time, were in for a challenge.
“We didn’t have anyone else on the team to guide us or tell us what to do,” Hitchner said. “We didn’t even have a reading curriculum that was being used. We got through that first year, and we got really close as friends and co-workers.”
The Core IV wanted to mark the year with something special.
“We said, ‘Wow, should we all get matching tattoos to commemorate this first year?’” Hitchner said. “It was kind of a joke, then we got kind of serious about it. And we were like, ‘We really should get tattoos.’”
Three of the Core IV already had tattoos, all on their feet.
Harrison, 29, got a bird inked for her 18th birthday. Burr, 31, got stars in her late teen years. Hitchner, 28, got a tiny house tattoo with college friends.
Jinneman-Fairbanks, 31, didn’t have a tattoo. And she never had a burning desire to get one.
That is, not before getting mixed up with this crowd.
She was all in.
“There is no way I could have gotten through that first year without them,” Jinneman-Fairbanks said.
Since feet were taken, the Core IV had to come up with another place.
They chose the rib cage.
A cute spot, yet hidden. “In case it didn’t work out,” they said.
According to healthline.com, the rib cage is the second-most-painful place for most people to get tattooed, followed by ankle, shin, breast, groin, elbow and kneecap. Most painful is the armpit.
These women had survived a year with third-graders. Needles jabbing their ribs was nothing.
They told the principal: “You can’t split us up because we have tattoos.”
The simple black tattoo is about 1½ inches.
Most of their students don’t know about this private badge of teacher pride, because they can’t show them. They wouldn’t lift up their shirts even a tad for a photo for this story. After all, they are public schoolteachers and can’t go around baring flesh in the newspaper.
And they are married women. Three had babies in 2020.
It starts a conversation when people see the tattoo at the beach.
“They say, ‘What does that mean?’ And it’s fun to tell the story,” Harrison said. “It’s a nice reminder of my first year of teaching. It makes me remember fondly what could have been a difficult year but ended up being one of the best years of my life.”
On that ink-filled day in June 2015, they made a pact to teach at Challenger for 15 years.
They made it seven years, but next school year the Core IV will be like The Beatles without John Lennon.
Burr is moving with her family to Sequim, where she already has a job teaching third grade in the fall.
“I’m still very much part of the group,” she said.