Gurjeevan Malhi portrait

Written by Gurjeevan Malhi

A Sikh female Head of Year who works at the forward thinking @OfficialNUSA

My Sikh heritage is my inner superpower, it makes me stand out from the crowd and educate those around me. I believe in ‘Seva’, the Sikh concept of selfless service. Sikhism is led by the teaching of Guru’s and the word ‘Guru’ translates into ‘teacher’. So it seems perfect that I work within education; my values align perfectly. 

I applied for a school in Nottingham completely by accident in my training year. I had no desire to leave Birmingham but I went to the interview for experience. I grew up in Smethwick, a very multi-ethnically diverse area; a place far from perfect but one of cultural comfort. When I got to my interview, I noticed that the pupil demographic was predominantly white working class; a world away from what I was used to, but I was intrigued. According to The Guardian, almost half of English schools have no BAME teachers and it’s easy to understand why. During the interview, I was the only person of colour. That can feel very isolating! However, I was privileged enough to get the job and I had a decision to make. I was away from home, didn’t know a soul but I wanted to risk it and accept the role. 

The first few months were difficult. Some parents were not as kind and pupils had limited understanding of culture. However, it wasn’t all uncomfortable; a favourite memory of my NQT year was a pupil tentatively asking me ’Miss, I don’t mean to be offensive, but do you like curry?’ The answer was and still is a resounding ‘YES!’ It made me think. 

Our sector’s very core aim is to educate and these pupils were curious about the world around them, albeit maybe fearful of offending. Fate transpired that by the end of my first year, an internal role came up for the Coordinator of PSHE. I didn’t have the experience, but I went for it. I used my life experience in the interview, took the risk and it paid off! 

I ended up sharing the role but it meant that I could evoke change. We did. We do every day and it’s made an impact to the community we serve. The pupils are more comfortable to ask questions and more importantly, are more prepared for life in Modern Britain. We cannot allow our young people around us to be unaware of multi-cultural Britain. 

We are overlooked yes, we have experienced dark days, yes but we are no victims. The reality is that we carry our culture on our backs, are expected to and whilst it’s tiring, we have to ensure we do. The work we put in now ensures the next generation have it a little easier. Whilst some of us may not feel comfortable with standing out, we’ve got to own that we do. 

As a woman, more specifically a Sikh one, it’s difficult to explain just how much we’re overlooked within the wonderful world of education but if you’ve experienced the same, my message is clear. You have value, you have life experiences that we educators can enrich our pupils with. 

I’m grateful that I have wonderful female role models to look up to and learn from. Find your advocates and don’t be afraid to stand out and accept that you’re a role model for your community. Stick to your vision and remember, lift those around you; empower them. You have power within you, use it. We rise by lifting others!