Updated: Jun 19, 2020
I've taught in many schools across the capital and when I step into a classroom, one of the first things I'm normally asked is, "Miss, what country are you from?"
I was born and raised in London and ordinarily, being asked where I'm 'from from' can feel othering especially in a space where I'm the only black person for miles. When children ask me this, however, I find it incredibly endearing. There's something really sweet about their curiosity and I can't help but think that the question comes from not seeing many teachers who look like me.
A few years ago, when I taught in Haringey, I had a really diverse class. I was always proud of the fact that out of my thirty children, twenty-eight could speak another language. I had one boy in my class who had moved around the world so often that he was fluent in four languages by the age of ten. As someone who loved languages at school, I was always amazed (and admittedly slightly jealous) by the fact that I was surrounded by polyglots.
In my classroom, culture and identity was something that you could not run away from. It would come up in one way or another almost every single day and it was one of my favourite things about working in that school. I loved the fact that the whole class could talk about their traditions, food, languages and favourite sports teams so openly and I wanted to find a way of celebrating this. I was given a scratch map one Christmas, and it had stayed untouched in its tube for quite some time so I decided that I'd use it for our Geography/PSHE display, and create a photo pin map.
I started by printing the children's photos and trimming them down to size. I gave each child their photograph and a small piece of card to stick it to. I then told them to write the name of the country they or their parents were from, lived in, went on holiday to, or were just interested in. The reasons behind giving the children such a wide choice of country were numerous. Some of the children didn't know about their heritage or had left a country under adverse circumstances, making their relationship with certain places quite fragile.
I then stapled the pictures around the display board, paying careful attention to which country each child had written on their card to avoid too much of the string crossing over. Following this, I invited each child to come to the display board, pin the Blutack to their country of choice then scratch off a bit of the map.
I have to say, this display board was a labour of love. It wasn't easy and it took me a few days to finish (finding the time to do it was tricky) but it was worth it in the end. I kept the display up for the entire year and it gained a lot of positive attention from the children, their parents and visitors.
To encourage anti-racism, teachers must acknowledge that race and diversity exists. Whilst "we are all the same" is fundamentally true, "we may be different and that's ok" is a better message to convey. Children, like adults, do see race. To be colourblind within your classroom, erases so many different experiences and is a huge step backwards in promoting anti-racism not only within schools but in society overall.