Teacher training is different to pupil training. Obviously. But not that different... Racism can be a sticky, tricky, confusing subject at any age, but one that needs to be discussed. A key element of SRtRC Wales’ work is ensuring that teachers feel comfortable when discussing and confronting racism in schools.
It was under this guise that we undertook our first PGCE session of the academic year, working with trainee teachers at the University of South Wales, Newport. Our trainee teachers took part in an Anti-racism workshop, as well as a more specialised Immigration workshop, playing the same games and facing the same cognitive challenges that our younger participants are confronted with. These proved to be an effective launch pad for interesting and detailed discussions. ‘How can we add Harry Potter and the treatment of muggles into our classrooms?’, ‘How do we challenge established ‘wisdom’ such as the sticks and stones saying?’, ‘Who are we to tell someone who is black that they cannot use the N word?’, ‘What can we actually do to confront racism in the classroom?’.
Well, here are some ideas…
1. How can we add Harry Potter and the treatment of muggles into our maths classrooms?
Our student teachers astutely recognised the parallels between the treatment of muggles (wizards born to non-magic parents) in J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series to the racism being seen in society today. So how could teachers use this hook in the classroom? Science teachers – why not add this into the discussion around evolution, discussing the rise and BIG FALL of scientific racism along the way? Maths teachers – how about creating an exploratory question around the potential numbers of muggles in Harry Potter? There’s always room for anti-racism education within the curriculum.
2. How do we challenge established ‘wisdom’ such as the sticks and stones saying?
‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’ Absolute rubbish. Words can have devastating effects for people of all ages, with Ditch the Labels’ Annual Bullying Survey 2016 finding that 33% of those being bullied have suicidal thoughts.. While in our workshops, we address these sayings, this is not always necessary in the classroom. Teachers are role model not only in their words but in their actions. By taking words seriously and acknowledging the impact of this, and by not repeating these old adages, classroom leaders regularly challenge these damaging ideas.
3. Who are we to tell someone who is black that they cannot use the N word?
Tricky question. People can be grouped in many different ways, including by skin colour, and obviously, it is extremely likely that all individuals within a given group will think differently. To many people, due to the horrific history behind this word, it is still a huge taboo, despite the argument that the word loses power if it is reclaimed and repurposed. It is up to us, as a society, to protect those who have been victims – if that means erring on the side of caution, so be it. Additionally, while we might not like to infringe on individual liberty, under UK law, this may be seen as hate speech and is not to be tolerated.
4. What can we actually do to confront racism in our classrooms?
You’re in luck, SRtRC Wales have designed some handy factsheets to guide you through dealing with racism in the classroom. From guidance on implementation of the Equality Act 2010 to recording and reporting racism, as well as creating a safe space based around equality, in the classroom, we’ve got you covered.
As a charity, we are pleased to say that we work with trainee teachers across Wales. And while we encourage ALL schools to consider booking teacher training sessions (INSET or twilight!) with us, we understand that this may not happen in reality. If you’re a teacher and in need of support, particularly when it comes to the tricky questions, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 02920 236057. Let’s work together to build a positive and equal society.