Updated: Jul 12, 2020
By Yashaswi Upadhyay
At the age of 5, I migrated to the UK with my family and settled in a small British town with very little ethnic diversity. Being the only migrant in my school, I spent the first couple of years struggling to quickly become fluent in English as I was considered an alien by both the teachers and students. I felt so different from others that I wanted to erase my identity. I was convinced I could wash away the ‘brownness’ of my skin with soap if I rubbed hard enough. As my memories of India started to fade, I felt increasingly disconnected from who I was. With no real EAL (English as an Additional Language) support, many teachers found it difficult to remove the barriers that a young migrant faces. However, moving to a more diverse town at 12 years old, it was refreshing to realise I could embrace being Asian unapologetically.
My experiences allowed me to realise from a very early age, that more needed to be done in school for ethnic minority students; they need more representation, a diverse curriculum, their culture needs to be celebrated, and so much more. At the age of 16, when I walked into a classroom with my very first Asian teacher, I quickly began to see her as a role model and went on to study psychology at university- the subject she had taught me. Seeing this representation in education at 16 stayed with me until I, myself applied to train as a teacher.
"Institutional racism is very prevalent, and schools have often been a vessel that reproduce these inequalities."
With 85.9% of England’s schoolteachers being White British, minority teachers are disproportionately underrepresented in the educational sector. I believe this has a huge impact on the confidence and achievement of many students. I believe that we in the BAME community can create a positive image for ourselves in education. When young people look back at their education, how marvellous would it be if they were to feel it was an accurate representation of their society?
Institutional racism is very prevalent, and schools have often been a vessel that reproduce these inequalities. This is so vast that I am continuously learning about it and yet still, have a lot to add to my knowledge. It is not just about being inclusive when there is a high proportion of minority students in the school and the classroom, it is also about educating the White students who otherwise can easily become another part of our deeply flawed society. They are our future, and they will be the change we wish to see. A disparity in expectations of minority students compared to their white counterparts exists. There is an attainment gap at age 14 between White British students and Black Caribbean students, which cannot be accounted for by socioeconomic variables. Teacher expectations contribute to standards of achievement (strand 2013). This will inevitably have an impact on who chooses higher education and their future income; the knock-on effect can be drastic. Pakistani and Bangladeshi students face similar barriers. Indian students perform well in education for several reasons, but it is important to recognise that the “model minority” view also influences educational achievement.
"We all have biases, and it can be uncomfortable to recognise and accept them."
I have learned that a crucial aspect of being a teacher is to look past your own biases. We all have biases, and it can be uncomfortable to recognise and accept them. We have been conditioned our whole lives to hold stereotypes. As easy as it is to say, “I don’t see colour,” it is vital to realise that we need to implement this in practice. We need to see that inequalities that persist in education as clear as day. Positive, supportive relationships between students and teachers are essential for immigrant students, especially for newcomers, to bridge the gap between home and school cultures. The dichotomy between the two places can be a considerable barrier for migrants (an obvious one being language). I remember completing a worksheet in primary school about the food I ate for a week at home. 8-year-old me wrote “pizza” and “chips” for every single meal because I had no idea what my white peers ate at home, and they had no idea what biryani, kitchdi, or idli were. I also didn’t want to add to my list of weird differences. I don’t blame people who feel distant from cultures that are not their own, but I have learned that all these small things add up to shape who you become and so we have a duty to recognise and celebrate these differences; otherwise, minority students will be left feeling isolated and wanting to detach from their own cultures like I once did.
I have so much respect for schools and teachers who work so hard to promote the most inclusive and engaging curriculum for our students, constantly set high expectations, and celebrate diversity. I’m grateful to be an ethnic minority with a voice in education and be around teachers who have the same goal in their minds– to empower the minorities that can so easily fall through the cracks in our education system.
Seeing that many students identify with me because of my ethnicity has been one of the most fulfilling and impactful part of my first year as a teacher. Teenagers see an Asian teacher at the front of the classroom talking about issues such as Islamophobia, prejudice, arranged marriages, the caste system, mental health, and much more. I see their passion when they speak about the problems that are so deeply personal to them and their lives, I hope this helps them to bridge the gap between home and school and I hope they grow up to admire their identities and hold their culture close. I am learning every day from my colleagues and the inspiring people that I trained with at the Institute of Education on how to be a better teacher. I hope I’m empowering them as much as I wanted and needed to be empowered when I was of their age, but I know more work needs to be done and that this is just the beginning.
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