Teachers like me: change is coming

Last updated: 21 Jun 2023, 15:41

Shaniqua Edwards-Hayde teaches at a Primary Pupil Referral Unit in Waltham Forest. We spoke to her about the importance of representing her pupils and taking on leadership roles.

Teachers like me - representation in teaching

For me, school was a happy place. I enjoyed learning and my teachers made it seem fun. I always said I wanted to teach at my old primary school, and up until September I was doing that. I come from Tottenham and when I was growing up, there were a lot of children from diverse backgrounds, but there wasn’t a lot of diversity among the teachers or school leadership.

My mum passed away when I was 15 and I wanted to make her and my dad proud, but I went into teaching to fulfil my own dream. I am quite persistent and good at motivating myself but as well as wanting to succeed and progress in my career, I wanted to help run schools that were diverse. That pushed me. Teaching, for me, was a life goal. It plays a crucial role in shaping children’s futures. I focus on children from years four, five and six, at a pupil referral unit – after they have been excluded from a mainstream school.

Facing and overcoming challenges

I didn’t pass my maths GCSE first time round because my exams happened when my mum passed away. I use my own experience at this time to motivate my pupils, if they too say they are awful at maths. I’m really honest about the challenges I faced and say that I’ve learned to love maths now and that I want to make them love it too.

I had studied education at Leeds Beckett but then switched to Greenwich University and once I graduated I became a teaching assistant (TA). Then suddenly I was back at university planning and teaching lessons, making and creating resources, attending lectures and completing assignments to masters degree standards.

There was so much to do to complete my postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) at Middlesex University. I had to be organised and make sacrifices, remembering what the prize was.

Representing communities

It’s really important for young people to see teachers who look like them. You can’t be what you can’t see. Until I was 11 and at secondary school, when I had my first-ever Black teacher, I hadn’t felt represented. My teacher would say things and I would think, ‘That’s like me’, or she would wear clothing or cloth similar to what I would wear. It made me feel comfortable and safe. When I taught in a school in Tottenham lots of my pupils looked like me. I’m noticing that there are a lot more Black teachers around now but not enough in leadership roles. We need a push for more.

There’s more to do though

A large number of children in my school are considered BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic), however I am the only Black teacher there. I am about to become the youngest Black co-opted governor at a school where most of the pupils and parents are Black. Representation does matter in all educational roles. Change is coming and I see aspiring Black headteachers’ networks on social media and BAME conferences being organised, which is motivating. I recently went on a Black female educators’ course. I love working in London because it’s so multicultural, but we need every culture to be represented. It would be nice, for example, if we spoke about Black history all year round rather than confining it to a month. We also spend a lot of time focusing on Black America when so many things happened in Britain. I would like to talk about Black British people as well.

Support, help and mentoring

The senior leadership teams in both schools I have worked at are amazing and I have grown to love them. Not only do they push me to do better and to believe in myself, but they are also supportive and have encouraged me to maintain a better work/life balance.

As a TA I was so used to someone else being in control and now that person is me. One day you are training and then suddenly there you are teaching and thinking, ‘Oh no! What have I done? Is this it?’ With time, support and practice you get it!

Key skills and attributes you’ll need

Having a major bereavement at a young age made me determined and resilient, two things you need as a teacher. My enthusiasm has opened doors for me, given me opportunities and got me into good places. I am very talkative – networking is another of my skills – and I have met many great people. Being a strong communicator is important besides being open to learning yourself. If you are passionate about children and learning you can become a good teacher.

I have found that empathy is so important to have in general, but especially when working in a PRU. And humour helps. The most important attribute to develop is consistency. Being consistent helps everyone – the pupils, the parents and you as the teacher. I have a worry box in my class and I tell my pupils that I will always read what’s in the worry box, even if it’s been the longest day.

I want to go above and beyond teaching in my career. If you’re reading this article thinking of getting into teaching, then you could be that ‘one teacher’ children remember. Give it your best try.

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