A 38-year-old woman stands barefoot in the snow in a sports swimsuit. Behind her is a lake, the temperature is a balmy -15℃. She proudly holds a certificate for taking part in a winter swimming competition, around her neck hang three medals. Her name is Tatyana Kuvshinnikova. She will soon publish the lakeside photo on the Russian social network VKontakte, and then learn that her services at work are no longer required. Kuvshinnikova is (or was) a Russian language and literature teacher at one of the top schools in Barnaul (3,580 km east of Moscow). Winter swimming is her hobby.
“After the working day, I went [to the director’s office]. He showed me a picture on his phone and asked me to explain. A child’s mother, evidently displeased, had sent the photo to the director's phone with the question: “Is this how teachers dress nowadays?” Tatyana says. “They didn’t even listen to my side of the story, but just suggested that I write a letter of resignation.”
Two months later, Tatyana quit, citing harassment at the workplace. Soon after, teachers nationwide began posting photos of themselves in bathing gear under the hashtag #учителятожелюди (teachersarepeopletoo).
Besides teaching, Kuvshinnikova is in fact an athlete and an official member of the superbly named Altai Federation of Cold Exposure Training and Winter Swimming. As if that weren’t enough, she also holds a second university degree in art. On her VKontakte page under "Place of work" it now reads: "Artist. Portraits from photos. Caricatures." The whole year that Kuvshinnikova spent at the school, her personal and professional lives crossed paths on just two occasions. The second we know about. The first, meanwhile, was when she received complaints for posting a photo of herself wearing a skimpy dress and heels, again outside in the snow. According to Kuvshinnikova, the photo was taken after another swimming competition, this time in support of the Universiade (World Student Games), and put on a dress so as to “play it safe”—who knows, some might not take too kindly to a photo in a bathing suit, she surmised. That thought proved to be prophetic.
“Only prostitutes dress like that! What are you playing at?! A teacher has no right to dress in such a way, it’s a stain on the school’s reputation,” were the words that greeted her, says Kuvshinnikova, the first time she was “invited” to leave the school. She was helped out by parents and students, who signed a petition the very next day in support of her, saving her job. However, henceforth, she began to receive regular classroom visits from the school directors on nit-picking missions, and some colleagues stopped talking to her.
Shortly after her departure, Tatyana became a media sensation. Most national outlets picked up on the story, and Instagram started a flash mob in support. “We teachers have a right to privacy. To swimsuits, piercings, tattoos. To hobbies and pastimes. To, God forgive us, sex”—this and similar messages under photos of teachers in bathing suits were soon whizzing around social networks.
“I’m a qualified teacher. I plan to get a tattoo, smoke hookah, and listen to rock... I even ordered a striptease for my husband’s 30th birthday. Does that make me bad at my job? Do we have to wear the professional halo in our private lives too?”
“Teachers like to relax as well.”
It is not the first photo-related scandal to hit the teaching profession. In June 2018, Viktoria Popova, a history teacher from Omsk Region, was also fired over a photo in a bathing suit—she worked in her spare time as a plus-size model and was photographed in a retro bathing suit to advertise a local store. “Viktoria Popova’s behavior <...> has harmed the image of the school, and above all, the distinguished status of a pedagogical employee,” the city administration declared pompously at the time. Popova, too, was supported by fellow teachers, who arranged a flash mob in swimsuits. The social media buzz helped save her job.
As for Kuvshinnikova, the school and the local education committee deny exerting pressure on the teacher: “On the contrary, the school directors tried to persuade her to stay.” The city mayoral office described the situation as “a mistake” and offered Kuvshinnikova her job back, but she declined. Instead, she accepted an offer from the local education minister, and now runs “digital hygiene” courses at a career development center, instructing teachers in how to manage social networks, and also keeps a healthy living blog.
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