Sixteen years ago, as a Newly Qualified Teacher, I was preparing to conduct my first Parents’ Evening. Classroom ready, notes on each child, butterflies in the stomach – the full works! As if that was not enough, my Head Teacher demanded that I left my door open during a meeting with one particular parent. Why? The father was a member of the British National Party – the ‘leader’ within our local town.
“That’s alright, his child is doing really well. He won’t say anything to me.”
And I genuinely believed my own narrative. I genuinely believed that my great teaching would save me.
I saw the Head patrolling outside my door during the meeting with the parents. The mum sat giggling nervously in her seat, twitching every now and then, while her husband, like every other parent, asked me about his child’s progress. There was no hostility, no animosity – just a professional conversation about the education of their child.
So, why does this incident still come back to haunt me? Simple. The issue wasn’t the parents, it wasn’t the way the Head Teacher had dealt with anything, no. The problem was me!
For years, I genuinely believed that my great teaching could override any prejudices people may have against my race or sex. I genuinely believed that if I worked my fingers to the bone, that I would somehow have proved myself to be worthy and their ‘equal’.
Fast forward six years. I’m still working, only now I’m working my fingers to the ligament. I worked in a toxic school, bullies weaving their own agendas in various pockets of the school. Again, foolishly, I thought I could be the change – the caped crusader! What an idiot!
One lunchtime, I sat in a classroom with five teachers, one of whom was the Deputy Head Teacher, and two Teaching Assistants. Somehow the conversation unravelled into me being the worst teacher in the world, and what did I do? I sat there, throughout the whole conversation and listened. The Head Teacher then congratulated me and said it was wise to stay quite because “walking out would have caused more arguments.” Those people weren’t the problem. I was. I did not even need to say anything, I just needed to walk out. But I didn’t and so proved to them that I was at their disposal.
I stayed in that school for four years listening to racist slurs as if they were part of the school’s policy. Eventually, I plucked up a little courage to write a letter to the Head Teacher. I listed everything that I did in the school, from extracurricular activities to attending courses in my own time. This was not about my teaching anymore, the class data spoke for itself, this was about how I was being treated completely differently from my white colleagues. In the end the Head Teacher decided I was not worth the argument, so when I handed in my resignation, he just said “I understand.”
My journey does not have a fairy-tale ending. I am still finding my voice within a Borough whose Head Teachers, Leadership Teams and Advisors are all white. But one thing I do know is that the education of the future generation is vital if we are to change the world that we live in. It is because of this passion, that I refuse to stand down.