Maternity leave gives MTPT Project Blogger, Denique, the opportunity to reflect on race, identity and the importance of role models in our schools.
Working in such a culturally diverse school in the UK has meant that I have the pleasure of teaching children from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds. But to be able to teach a majority of black children is special and unique to me. It has nothing to do with favouritism or racial prejudice but it has everything to do with identity and the fact that representation matters. I cannot count on my hands the amount of times a little black girl has told me “Miss when I grow up, I want to be a teacher like you!” Words cannot express how much these words warm my heart. It fills a part of me that longs to be seen, acknowledged and appreciated.
As a black, female teacher I know that I am a role model to the next generation. Why? Because for so long these examples simply were not there. When I was a little girl, I was that child who wanted to be a teacher when she grew up, only my role models in primary school were all white women. There was no one that looked like me (except one) but she was a very miserable old goat. At the time I didn’t realise the effect that this was having on me but I do believe that subconsciously this shaped my view of how teachers were supposed to ‘look’. I had to undo this thinking.
Starting with me. I had to tell myself it was okay to show up to school with my hair in locs or wearing a cultural headscarf. I had to tell myself it was okay to bring my ethnic food to work for lunch without fear that it was going to ‘stink up’ the staff room. I have had to ask myself some hard questions as well, like how much does being black define me as a teacher? How do the two interplay? This is a question I have had to ask myself numerous times in my life. From wondering how nappy is too nappy for my hair to be deemed presentable to having to code switch the way I speak in meetings just enough so I will be deemed as professional but not so much that I lose my identity and no longer sound like me.
When I reflect on the only black teacher I had (aka the miserable old goat), I can’t help but wonder what made her so miserable. Maybe she was just one of those glass half empty people with a sour face or maybe, just maybe, it was to do with her race? “Not everything is about race!” I hear you say… but hear me out.
Maybe she was miserable because she felt underrepresented, undervalued and outcast in a school full of white colleagues? Maybe she was miserable because although she was hired, she did not feel the school was safe and supportive space for her to teach? Maybe she was miserable because she felt constantly judged or stifled in her career as a black woman or unable to progress to senior leadership?
This is reflected in the fact that 92.5% of headteachers and 85.1 % of teachers in UK state funded schools are white British (GOV.UK, 2023). This is a stark reminder that the profession is white dominated. Is this an issue? Judge for yourself.
I want to make it extremely clear that I love my white colleagues, my white friends, my Asian friends, heck even my black and Latino ones too! I love and respect all people on the basis of the content of their character, not on the colour of their skin. However, please understand that the issue is not about race but rather, representation. And black teachers are still majorly underrepresented in schools.
Constantly having to avoid being ‘too black’ to fit into professional settings is extremely tiring. I don’t believe that any person of any culture or race should have to water down who they are to fit in at school. If anything, schools should be one of the most ethnically diverse places and teachers should come from all walks of life. Because if not, then what are we teaching children about equality if all they see is the same face, with the same blonde hair and blue eyes?
GOV.UK, 2023 Available at: https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/workforce-and-business/workforce-diversity/school-teacher-workforce/latest (Accessed 26/05/2023)