Char Aramis portrait

Written by Char Aramis

A primary NQT who uses they/them pronouns. Char blogs at transteacher.wordpress.com

Along with many others, I had the joy of listening (and tweeting!) along to the online #DiverseEd event on 17th October. When Hannah Wilson (@Ethical_Leader) asked me to write a blog response, it took me a while to decide on a subject, but we all know that the best way to improve is to reflect on what we’ve done before, so here is a reflection on my first year of teaching through a lens of diversity and inclusion.

 

I am going to use the things I have learned over the last few months to reflect on the things that I taught and the way that I taught them – specifically topic in terms 1, 2 and 4, because covering everything would make this blog far too long. However, I am still new to this – and to teaching! – so I welcome any additional points or suggestions you may have after reading this. 

 

Because of the topics we studied, most of the issues here relate to race, ethnicity and nationality. For context, we were based in an area in the South West of England where nearly 85% of people were born in the British Isles. Of the rest, a good chunk hail from Poland, with others from Romania, the Philippines, Turkey and Bangladesh making up the rest. In my class, about half of the children had English as an additional language, including children from all of the countries listed above plus one or two others. Roughly two-thirds of them would generally be considered White.

 

So then, let’s get started. As I’m sure many schools did, we ran a Black History topic at the start of the year. Each year group focused on a significant Black person from history and we studied Nelson Mandela. We also briefly mentioned Martin Luther King Jr and Katherine Johnson in an end-of-term art project, which was displayed in the school for the rest of the year.

 

Now, if I recall correctly, these had been decided before I joined the school. Nonetheless, I don’t think I noticed at the time that thing that appears strikingly obvious to me now: none of these figures is from British history. Most of them, as is common in our studies of Black history in British schools, are from the United States and Nelson Mandela is of course from South Africa. I wonder if perhaps this is worse: I expect South Africa – a country that many of these pupils may never have heard of – seems much more remote and less relevant to them than America, which they at least engage with regularly through film and television.

 

We discussed racism and protests and fair treatment, but I certainly lacked the confidence and knowledge to address these subjects in the way they deserved (it was my first ever term of teaching). I do still feel that I would benefit from further training and resources to support this. 

 

If I were to teach Black history as a topic again, I would definitely seek to choose a figure or subject that is more relevant to British history. The Bristol bus boycott or Windrush, for example. If I had to teach Nelson Mandela, I would link it back to racism in the UK around the same time – although we had no official segregation, I could teach about Britain before the Race Relations Act(s) and cases such as that of the marriage between Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams. 

 

Our term 2 topic was extreme weather, specifically tropical storms. We focused on tornadoes and Kansas because we linked this to The Wizard of Oz. There was essentially no representation of any under-represented groups here – focussing for the moment on the topic teaching and not any subjects that are or could be discussed in relation to the book. 

 

In the interests of allowing children to be seen in our curriculum and broadening pupils’ geographical knowledge beyond “the West” (I notice that the National Curriculum for KS2 only requires geographical study of regions of “the United Kingdom, … a European country, and … North or South America”), we perhaps could instead have looked instead at the Philippines, Bangladesh or the Pacific Islands (one child in the class was from Melanesia), which can also experience tornadoes, typhoons and cyclones. The difficulty here I think would be in deciding whether to focus on one over the others and if so, which one. Additionally, it would have been very specific to my class and much less relevant to the parallel classes in the year group. However, it could have been an opportunity for certain pupils to talk about the countries their families come from and perhaps teach their peers something of the language they use at home.

 

In term 4, we studied the Amazon Rainforest. I had planned a lesson on the history of the major city of Manaus, including its (pre-)colonial history and the impacts of the rubber industry, but I never got a chance to deliver it because we closed for lockdown. This is a subject which, I’m sure, deserves more than one lesson but the focus of our topic was actually on the physical geography – rivers and rainforests – as well as map work with a little human geography squeezed in.

 

I never fully finished the plan for this lesson so it’s difficult to evaluate it, but if I were to come back to this topic, I think it is worth considering the perspective from which I tell this history. It is important to show the effects that the arrival of Europeans had on indigenous populations and their home, and to consider the way they were treated. I do think I would probably need some support to do that topic justice.

There is an awful lot more to be considered regarding both the content and approach of my first year of teaching but that will have to wait for future blog posts – probably over on my own blog. Thank you for reading – any comments, feedback or questions are welcomed and encouraged.

Supported by