“There is always a moment of stunned silence” when he meets the children and parents for the first time, admits Sylvain Hélaine.
“But when I introduce myself and they see that I am a teacher like everyone else, it’s cool,” he told AFP.
No part of the 35-year-old’s body was left untouched by a tattoo artist’s needle.
“Mr Snake”, as some students call him, had to travel to Switzerland to have his eyes peeled – which is illegal in France.
“It was torture. They hold your eyes open and you feel the needle piercing “the white of your eye,” he says.
“And you never know what’s going to happen, which is why I tell people, ‘Don’t do it!’
“But for me, I felt incomplete without it,” said Helaine, who has spent 57,000 euros ($ 66,000) on her body art over the past eight years.
Getting your tongue tattooed wasn’t the most comfortable experience either.
“It was so painful, he tripled in size. I was drooling and couldn’t speak afterwards. I couldn’t drink for 20 hours and it took me two days to be able to eat. ”
Known as the Freaky Hoody on social media, where he has nearly 60,000 followers, Helaine insists he doesn’t regret any of his tattoos, from the colorful flowers on his shaved head to the demon head on his back. .
“I’m probably going to end up completely black at 80,” he added.
Beyond his school in the Paris suburbs, Freaky Hoody is something of a star in the tattoo scene.
Rather than closing the doors on his face, his tattoos opened them for him.
“Modeling agencies hired me for movies and TV series. I met (‘The Matrix’ director) Lana Wachowski as well as Mathieu Kassovitz, “the star of” The Bureau “and director of the classic French film,” La Haine “.
Helaine “came out” as a body art icon in school three years ago while still living with his mother, the only way, he said, to finance his tattoos “with her salary. ‘a teacher “.
His appearance, he argued, was a good lesson for his students to accept and respect others.
“Children who see me learn to tolerate others. When they are adults they are less likely to be racist or homophobic and they will not look at people with disabilities as if they came from a circus.
And his students seem to agree.
“He should not be judged for his appearance,” said Gayane, 9.
“It’s just his eyes that are scary, but he’s very sweet. ”
Loic, one of his former students, said it was “worrying that people are getting stuck on physical appearance. It is especially the parents who react because today the young people are more educated with the respect of all appearances ”.
Helaine said the only problem he encountered was with “parents of children who weren’t in my class.”
Some sent a letter to the authorities with photos of him they found on the Internet, and he was “sidelined” for seven weeks before being given the green light to return to class.
“I have nothing against tattoos but I think a teacher should be neutral when everyone is talking about what girls are wearing,” said father, Farid, 45, referring to the controversy at French school about some girls sent home for wearing “” dresses.
“What he does in his private life is none of our business,” insisted Lydie Songo, the mother of another child.
“My kids call him ‘Mr Snake’, but I’ll tell them about it. They have to accept it as it is.
“Still, it must be boring for him to have all this attention.” “