LISTEN: Teachers 'too scared' to talk about racism

In the latest Tes Scotland podcast, Khadija Mohammed talks about why it is crucial to get more BAME teachers working in schools

Teachers 'too scared' to talk about racism

Teachers from black and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds are often “too scared" to complain about racism, and fear that to do so could harm their chances of promotion, according to an award-winning academic and teacher.

Khadija Mohammed, speaking in the latest Tes Scotland podcast, draws on her own research interviews with teachers who have expressed fears about the ramifications is they speak out.

She said they are “too scared to articulate...that actually what they’re experiencing is racism. And they say, ‘I don’t want to play the "race card"…because I can kiss all chances of job promotion goodbye.’

"That to me is concerning: when a teacher cannot approach their headteacher and raise a concern."


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Background: Racism in Scottish schools highlighted by new report

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Tes Scotland  asked Ms Mohammed – a senior lecturer at the University of the West of Scotland's School of Education and Social Sciences – about comments in November 2018 from Ken Muir, chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, who said he was "sickened" by racism in schools and that little progress had been made a quarter of a century.

She said: “I think that there are positive steps, absolutely, I think we’re heading in the right direction [but] there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Sometimes, small steps such as taking the time to get a child’s name correct could make a difference: “It’s something so simple, but yet so significant.”

But Ms Mohammed said: “From the research that I’ve conducted, it’s very clear that we do have some teachers in our schools in Scotland who perhaps are not actually perhaps taking stock about their own behaviour.”

This could affect BAME teachers as well as BAME pupils, who had a feeling of being “othered” in various ways: some teachers spoke of not being invited on staff nights out, or colleagues who suddenly stopped talking when they walked into a room.

Others fielded comments about their accents from colleagues, with one being asked: "Are you sure the young people understand what you say?”

BAME teachers said the comments that troubled them were often “subtle and covert acts of discrimination”, and that it was easier to turn a blind eye. One said they could not "raise issues" because "Khadija, I have a career to think about".

Ms Mohammed also highlighted the vicious circle created by a lack of BAME role models working in schools, which made it less likely that BAME children would see teaching as a potential career.

“Children don’t aspire to that role," she said. "Those who are quite astute and savvy can often see the way teachers that they do have in their schools who are BAME can often be subjected to wee racial undertones by – sometimes – fellow colleagues.”

It is hugely important to encourage more people from diverse backgrounds into teaching, said Ms Mohammed, as “just the very presence of having a BAME teacher in a classroom can absolutely break down barriers and negative stereotypes that young people might have acquired from the home, from the media”.

Ms Mohammed also talks in the Tes Scotland podcast about growing up in Glasgow in the 1970s and 1980s, BAME children "playing white", what pupils said to her the day after 9/11, and the unique power that teachers have to make a difference.

*To listen to the new Tes Scotland podcast, click here

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