Using current affairs to your classroom’s advantage

Albert Adeyemi

Albert Adeyemi is a PE and Maths teacher in Bedford. He's passionate about pastoral care and enhancing outcomes for students from challenging backgrounds whilst advocating for mentoring as early intervention and alternate provision in school. Albert is also founded BAME: WeTeach, an open network promoting cultural diversity & inclusion in education.

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Events in the US, particularly the murder of George Floyd and subsequent fallout, has placed a massive spotlight on racism. Millions of people around the world currently have a front row seat via their phones of the levels of brutality, injustice, bias and inequality black people are subject to. Often there is a disconnect between US events and those here in the UK, however amidst the COVID-19 pandemic the world has taken notice, with protests taking place in a number of countries, the UK included. Black British citizens argue that the UK isn’t innocent, that it is also complicit in racial injustice, bias and inequality. Racism in the UK is usually described as covert, which means it’s more subtle and intertwined in society, making it less obvious. One example would be microaggressions, which I would say are more than just insensitive comments. I know from experience; these can be painful and stick with people for the long term. 

The reason I started with this small brief, is because the first step as educators is understanding what’s happening in society, admitting that racism still exists, admitting the biases and inequalities that still prevail. Current affairs have made me refocus my energies on the education sector where I can have the most impact and begin to lead change. Another reason I began this piece giving a brief summary (from my point of view) is to encourage learning. By no means have I gone into any detail, so I would urge educators to understand this is a process of learning and potentially changing our views in line of new information gained from research, conversations, books etc. To effectively be a Champion For Change, we must engage in learning, educating ourselves and thus enabling ourselves to educate the students we teach, being confident in having open conversations about these topics with staff and students alike. Only when we do this can we effectively tackle inequalities within the system. 

One thing that I’ve begun doing a lot more of is reading. Now if you know me, you’ll know I read pretty slow. I have a long reading list which I’m probably not going to get through anytime soon, but this is okay - as I mentioned previously, this is a learning process so I’m in no rush. I couldn’t recommend the book I’m slowly making my way through enough: For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education by Christopher Emdin is fantastic. Don’t worry, no spoilers, but it encourages reflection on your teaching practice, your own bias, and provides actionable points through pedagogy. It’s also important to understand nobody is perfect: we will make mistakes and we may get it wrong, which is why having safe spaces is incredibly important. I regularly mention safe spaces in conversations with students and my fellow teachers. Usually the reason why we don’t speak up is due to fear. Fear of how whatever we want to say maybe perceived, fear that you’ll lose friends, fear that you’ll cause tension… the list goes on. A culture of fear is damaging especially within an educational environment which is meant to nurture and encourage growth through mistakes and learning opportunities. Safe spaces are crucial for both staff and students.

 

I created this short animation which includes my top tips for teachers to begin promoting cultural diversity in their classrooms:

 

I won’t repeat anything from the animation, but I will say this: Through my many conversations with educators over the past couple of weeks, it seems that some people think the promotion of cultural diversity or adapting your curriculum only suits black children. I would say this couldn’t be further from the truth. A classroom which is based on and becoming enriched through diversity, with a holistic curriculum to support the development and education of urban youth, has benefits for all students regardless of their ethnicity. 

‘Representation matters’ is a phrase which I truly believe. This is ultimately how educators should engage and teach students, this is how students will develop a love of learning with a curriculum and teaching body that cares about their skin colour. But not just their skin colour, also their heritage, backgrounds, upbringing, culture – representation matters. 

5 quick tips to get you on your way:

1) Understand that it's okay to make mistakes. Nobody is perfect, but an open mind helps us respond to feedback, to learn and improve. 

2)  Tackle bias head on. Biases exist for everyone, but how we let these impact our teaching is our responsibility.

3) Cultural diversity is important for ALL students. Even if you don't teach any Black or Asian students it's just as important for white students to be aware and understanding of various cultures and backgrounds.

4) The learning doesn't stop - continue reading and engaging in conversation with both students and staff.

5) Be a champion for change in your classroom and school community. Promote safe spaces in class for students to ask questions, discover new things and challenge societies perceived norms & inequalities. 

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