Teachers on the importance of diversity and why everyone deserves a chance at a teaching career

By Brian Dillon

January 22, 2021 at 4:32pm

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Teachers on the importance of diversity and why everyone deserves a chance at a teaching career

We spoke to student-teachers from various socio-economic, cultural and religious backgrounds about why there needs to be more diverse representation in teaching.

They explained to us why teachers of diverse backgrounds should be present in classrooms for all students and future teachers alike.

"Just because you haven’t seen it, doesn’t mean that it can’t be done."

 

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Josh explained to us how, when he was at school, not seeing anyone that he could really identify with on the school staff affected his view of what he could do career-wise. Josh told us that he always wanted to be a teacher, but he never saw anyone like him doing it before.

"In my school, the staff was mainly middle-class women. I knew I always wanted to do teaching but there was no one there that I saw and thought, 'Oh, they did it so I can do it.'"

Josh went on to explain why that kind of representation is important for future generations of teachers and he reminds us that even if our identities don't fit into a traditional category of teacher, we should still pursue the career if it's the one for us.

"There might be kids out there like me saying, “Well, I could be the first one to do that.” I think it’s just important that when students are choosing what they want to do as a career, it’s important to remember that you don’t need to see someone like you doing what you want to do in order to do it."

"A lot of teachers come from very similar backgrounds. And there’s nothing wrong with that, they do an amazing job in educating their pupils. But, I am conscious that this doesn’t show all students that they can do it as well - and I want to help change that. When I was going through school, I lived in a council estate, I'm from a single-parent family, but growing up, I always wanted to teach. But it just seemed like something that was so alien to me, because I saw teachers as the elite in society.

"Don’t let your mind tell you that you’re not good enough. If you want it, go get it. If it’s right for you, you won’t regret doing it. Just because you haven’t seen it, doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. There are many people who have done things for the first time and they set off a trend. If anything, that’s what we need in teaching. We need staffrooms to become more diverse."

Many teachers are becoming more aware of the importance of recognising diversity in their classroom. Ciara has been a secondary school art teacher for a few years now and she explained to us how she's integrating this message of diversity and acceptance in her classroom.

"I’m trying my best, still learning. I work in a single-sex school, but I’ve stopped saying things like ‘Hello, girls’. One of the kids copped it and I explained that I don’t know what’s going on with everyone and I’m not going to assume it’s something you’re okay with. It’s little changes like that. I have a sign up on the door that says ‘My room is a safe space' and that I’m an ally, and I have the different flags from the different categories of the LGBT+ society. I just popped it up, didn’t think much of it and then one day I found two kids just standing outside the door reading it.

"They read it and took it in and asked me if I meant it. And I said yes, from the bottom of my heart. It’s things like that I think help the kids. I’m a huge fan of the BeLonGTo Stand Up week I did a little mini-project where we crocheted little Christmas baubles with all the different colours of the LGBT+ flag It’s small things like that, that make huge differences to kids."

We also spoke to student-teacher Ceelan, who grew up Irish and Muslim. Ceelan told us that he's excited to share his identity with the classroom in his future teaching career.

"We were pretty much raised in the Mosque. We’d play football there, spend time there after school. Our weekends would be there as well. When I moved into secondary school, I integrated quite well into the Irish community, but maybe I couldn’t say the same for some of my other friends.

"In my community, teaching is quite a respected profession. In Islam, we see the prophet Muhammad as a teacher.

"There's a phrase I remember hearing: "If you can't see something, you can't be it." Or, maybe it's hard to be that. If you don't see anyone in the teaching profession that looks like you, it would be quite hard for you to become that. I'm really looking forward to sharing my identity with the classroom and maybe some things that aren't as commonly taught in the Irish curriculum."

Speaking to college students and teachers alike, we wanted to know if there was ever a moment they felt like they couldn't become a teacher due to outside factors. Rory grew up in foster care and explained to us how that often limited his view on what he could do because of the stigma attached to it.

"Being in care, there’s a lot of times when you’re told that you can’t do it. I always wanted to prove that I could do it. I always had it in my mind that I wanted to prove that point wrong. 

"It doesn't matter what background you come from, if you put your mind to it, you can achieve and succeed in anything. That was always my mindset. 

"Getting over that barrier of other people's opinions telling you that you can't get there, that was one of the major aspects for me. It's about getting rid of that mentality that you can't do it because if people start telling you that you can't do it, sometimes you start believing that you can't."

Fellow student-teacher Daire explained to us how teaching is more than just giving her students academic knowledge. It's about creating a safe space where they can be themselves and feel seen.

"I think if I didn’t have that safe space when I was in school, I wouldn’t have gone onto college, let alone gone onto study teaching. When I was in those art classes I thought, “This is what I want to do. This is how I want to inspire kids.” 

It's clear that each person from each socio-economic, cultural and religious background gets the same kick from teaching: that overwhelming sense of reward.

Speaking to people of all backgrounds and walks of life, we learn that teaching can be an incredibly diverse and fulfilling career.  As PME deadlines approach, it's important to know what options are available to you and to discover the pathways you may not have realised were accessible to you.

There are now many undergraduate degrees, across a range of subject areas, that allow you to qualify in post-primary teaching and these are typically four years long.

The Professional Master of Education, (PME) is also a common route for people to go down. This allows people with general undergraduate degrees to complete a two-year postgraduate programme qualifying them to become a teacher.

The closing date for completed PME applications varies from college to college but are generally around January / February each year. Find out more here.

To find out what options are available to you, head here.

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