No Child Left Behind

Dealing with student racism: Five ways teachers can deal with student on student racism.

Disclaimer: This article was written for the Edge Thinking Network.

A year ago, I was so crippled by anxiety that I refused to leave the house. This past Friday, I joined a real hero of mine, Dr. Emma Kell for a live webinar on the issue of race and privilege. For anyone out there reading this who struggles with anxiety, I can assure you, what is ahead is better than what has gone. Thank you Emma and a special thank you to the NTLD Bucks team. Big love.

‘Oi, you! Yes, you! I don’t like P*kis’. As a four-year-old in the playground of my infants schools, some twenty-four years on, I still remember those words. This was my first ever experience of racism and I still recall spending hours trying to scrub my skin until it turned white. I was afraid to return to school the next day, but I reluctantly told my teacher why I was so upset. The rest was a blur but yes, as a four-year-old I began my journey of identity. An identity that I now revel in, a heritage I am now proud of and an education system that I am still privileged to be a part of.

Racism is the hottest potato in the world right now isn’t it? It has the uncanny ability to abracadabra it’s way in and out of social and political agendas with such ease. However, at the grassroots level, to target the core of the problem we must attack its rotten core. In schools and more widely in pedagogical practice, the role of educators is now to reflect, change, rectify and challenge their own biases as well as those in the wider curriculum. Against the backdrop of the prevent strategy, the Windrush scandal, Grenfell Tower, Brexit, comments by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, Islamophobia in the Conservative party, the rise of far-right nationalism and extremism, racism has not vanished. Many have given it a ‘intellectual’ veneer through the rise of xenophobic politics and selective silencing on issues of inequality and injustice including Black Lives Matter. Schools and teachers are placed in a peculiar predicament, one that requires more training, more dialogue and more reflection. As educators, we cannot wait for the doors of social justice to be opened up for us, and as Malcolm X once said, “Early in life I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise”. It is time for us to create a racket!

Malcolm was rarely wrong. We do need more light about one another and no child or teacher can be left behind in this anti-racism conversation.

Schools do not exist in some sort of socio-political vacuum. The social and political spheres outside of schools overtly permeate into our classrooms and shape our own attitudes, values, norms and those of our students. A school should be a sanctuary for all, but racism is an unfortunate and regular occurrence in many educational establishments. It would be immoral and arrogant of us to deny the existence of racism in education. According to the Guardian, in 2018, 4,590 cases of racial abuse among school students lead to a fixed or permanent exclusion, up from 4,085 in 2017. The Guardian also found in an analysis of 39 local authorities, a similar rise in racist incidents was documented, surging from 2,694 to 3,651 in three years. Historical records have shown that children from Black Caribbean backgrounds are more likely to be excluded from schools thus leaving education with fewer qualifications than their peers. This is also the case for Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils. Research from the Runnymede Trust also found how ‘draconian’ zero tolerance policies which implicitly targeted Black pupils. Schools are not immune from racism and despite our best efforts as educators, so much more needs to be done.

I will be drawing on several personal experiences both as a student and teacher in helping create five tangible steps to help us challenge student racism within schools.

  1. Being sincere to the victim – they are a victim and racism is a terribly traumatic experience. I can recall one experience where a teacher claimed a child was ‘making up stories’, that he was ‘too emotional anyway’ and that ‘this is how it is in the real world’. The incident was actually terrifying. This student, who happened to be a Muslim had bacon and sausage rolls thrown at him as well as a load of racist abuse hurled his way. As a TA at the time, I was visibly moved because I thought such appalling behaviours could be relegated to the archives of history. Here we had a young lad, soaked in tears and trying to make sense of why no one would believe him. The teacher dealing with the incident was adamant this was not a racist incident; his own anti-paperwork stance took precedence. Considering there was a backlog of over a dozen pseudo-racist remarks and attacks being documented by this lad, he was repeatedly questioned, asked to reconsider his version of events and branded ‘sensitive’.  He was the victim; he never initiated this behaviour and he should have been given the time and consideration. Racism is a such a traumatic experience but having the bravery to put your faith in the hands of the system requires such strength of character. This strength of character and sign of civic responsibility deserves acknowledging, applauding and tackling with care and consideration. If you are dealing with a racist incident, just as you would deal with sexist or homophobic incident, the principles are the same. There is a victim and an aggressor, sanction and re-educate the aggressor and provide support and compassion for the victim.
  2. Following up on facts – in any incident, the facts are absolutely paramount. In some schools, racism may be the rarest of occurrences and hearsay can exacerbate and amplify a shocking event. There will be conflicting reports and the rumour mill will be spiralling out of control, however as teachers we need factual accounts of the incident before we can make any judgements or take any action. The emotive and traumatic nature of these racist incidents means facts aren’t necessarily so easy to come by. I can remember a time where a teacher, and to his defence, mispronounced my name. He then muttered, “I struggle with Asian names”. This was not racist, we laughed it off and eventually be got my name right but several students in the class took exception and made a formal complaint. I was hauled into a meeting and state my version of events and this teacher was taken out of every lesson where he had Asian students (consider the context, 40% Asian). I was caught in the eye of the storm and defied by peers in being honest and explaining nothing this teacher said was racist in any way, shape or form. These racist incidents require a cool head, a real objective position and someone who will analyse facts and come to the right conclusion. Having a factual basis can help clear misunderstanding, begin a period of intervention or take firm sanctions. When emotions are running high, as teacher we must use our diligence and integrity to help find the right outcome, based on factual evidence for all parties.
  3. Dialogue with parents – Parents need to know about racist incidents in schools. Establishing contact with parents of both the victim and perpetrator will alleviate the ‘us vs. them’ binary that such incidents can create. Parental support will prove to be invaluable as you begin to not only deal with the racist incident but also the aftermath. The next steps are, say, an exclusion is handed out, will be to create some form of closure to the situation. This may be a sincere apology or a reintegration meeting, but parents are key. Contrary to popular belief, schools, albeit an important agent of socialisation, they are not the most influential. Parents, peers and even the media have a more sustained imprint on the norms and values of young people. The school day is only a finite number of hours and much of our students experiences and formation of their opinions exist outside of the immediate vicinity of the classroom. This parental contact can really prove vital in establishing an understanding of the perpetrators ideas and also the victims reactions. I found calling home after a racist incident was always well received by parents, who wanted to hear it first-hand from a teacher, who is armed with facts rather than their child who may not even tell them what has happened. Establishing this rapport with parents is almost like staring into the souls of our students. We can then integrate parents into the dialogue, rebuild broken relationships and really have a transparent conversation about moving forwards.
  4. Re-education – assemblies, token history weeks and guest speakers alone are not enough. A sustained, holistic social movement to target racism and implicit biases is what is required. During Holocaust week, my school invited a guest speaker to give us an insight into the life and times of the atrocities of millions that were persecuted during World War Two. We were in Year 8, mere 12/13-year olds, with no real understanding or comprehension of the Holocaust. The stories that this guest speaker told us were moving but we never followed this up! This was the first and last time WW2 was mentioned until late Year 11. A great opportunity was missed and confronting our own racial biases could have been so profoundly different if this assembly was followed up. Schools must begin to register an interest in the principles of anti-racism top down, as well as bottom up. The staff recruitment policies, prayer facilities, support for our EAL staff and learners, how we cater for the needs of our SEN students and staff. This is not asking anyone to learn Martin Luther King Jr’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech off by heart and beat every equality drum under the hot son! Need tangible and visible changes that manifest themselves into how we deal with incidents of discrimination. Re-educating ourselves as well as our students into the principles of acceptance, understanding and realigning our principles with compassion and empathy comes from education and re-education. We can fight discrimination with education.
  5. Reintegration – For me, this is the most important phase in any incident of racism. How can we move forwards? If we have handed out sanctions, given both parties time to reflect and consulted all relevant stakeholders, what are the next steps? During my NQT year I was racially abused by a student who was subsequently suspended. I was furious but my anger gradually became empathy after I had time to reflect. After such incidents, as educators we need to be considering how we reframe them and attain some sort of positive outcome. Intolerance breeds further intolerance and we cannot fight any form of discrimination with anger. The reintegration phase for both the perpetrator and victim is a real honest cathartic way to talk out differences but also embrace differences. To assess commonalities and find similarities and settle the issue once and for all. These racist incidents are unsavoury, unwelcome but they should never be unaccounted for. With sanctions must come a phase of reflection and then reintegration.

In Summary

Suffering racial abuse is an indescribable feeling. The pain, trauma and deep shock it creates can form chasms between people, communities and societies. We all need to do more to prevent these incidents becoming commonplace in our schools and wider public discourse. As teachers our role extends beyond the classroom to model positive behaviours that foster the principles of acceptance, compassion and empathy for all. Although there is no universal model or pedagogical measuring stick to assess them success of the techniques we apply, we need to be mindful of the victims. In supporting these victims of racist abuse, we need to promote a culture of acceptance within our wider school community. Simply holding the odd Rosa Parks assembly is not enough, anti-racism comes through everyday thoughts, world views and interactions with one another.

In our battle against racism and reflections on our own practices, no one, especially no child should be left behind. Our policymakers may not open doors for a more accepting future, but teachers can leave it ajar for our young people to grow up in a society that seeks the equality of all and the supremacy of none.

A final massive thank you to Jess Aitken and the Edge Thinking Network. Please check out their incredible work and platform they give to authentic voices.

Thank you for reading.

Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @shuaibkhan26

Twitter: @RegionalEdge

A different shade of BAME

The dangers of racialised gatekeepers

“I’m going to tell it like it is. I hope you can take it like it is.”

Malcolm X

The term ‘BAME’ (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) has attracted a lot of attention following both global pandemic and global events regarding the Black Lives Matter protests. However, this term must be used appropriately, driven by context and lived experience. As not all BAME people are the same, nor should their experiences be neatly collated together. This is a blog which addresses many personal and intimate conversations BAME people have at home and in their private sphere. We must be brave.

The slur ‘house slave’, ‘coconut’, ‘choc ice’ and ‘honorary white man’ are regularly directed at BAME folk. Let’s get this right, these are derogatory slurs that we should not use but they are born out of very legitimate anger, alienation and disillusionment at BAME folks with a platform. I am not justifying their use but without considering the context of their existence, we fail to understand the issues many BAME folks with fellow BAME folks who have attained a platform or position or privilege, Many who fail to acknowledge their history, plight and conditions of their communities. The notion that BAME people are seeking validation from White people is incredibly well documented by Frantz Fanon amongst many others. Fanon, in his eloquent Black Face, White Masks, referred to the post-colonial psyche of BAME folk as a legacy of their historical oppression. Fanon takes the angle that the psychological feeling of inadequacy, dependence and a constant search for endorsement by White people had made BAME people self-loathe, emotionally detach and truly suppress their inner ‘otherness’. His ideas on this notion of ‘colonial trauma’ later fed into critical race theory, but Fanon is an absolute must read.

Later, Malcolm X acquired sentiments of Fanon in many of his famous speeches. A small excerpt from one of Malcolm’s’ speeches in May 1962 at a funeral service, where Malcolm asked his African American audience ‘who taught you to hate yourself?’ Malcolm followed this up with his powerful Message to the Grass Roots speech in 1963 where he differentiated between the ‘house slave’ and the ‘field slave’. Malcolm and Fanon were experiencing these issues at that time but their argument is equally as relevant today as it was back then. Their post-colonial idea remains important in our analysis of the ‘influential people’ or ‘racialised gate-keepers’ BAME folks today.

The real legacy of my hero Malcolm X is how timeless his words are. Image: Azquotes

In Year 9, I became class Prefect, but my peers saw this as at ultimate betrayal. Followed by defacing my exercise books with the slurs, ‘coco nut’ and being labelled a ‘choc ice’, they genuinely believed that I was siding with the ‘enemy’. The moral repugnance was real. Yet, when I was able to work with the School Council to get additional seating areas around the school, work on a more diverse halal school menu and prayer facilities, the tag ‘choc ice’ was merely relegated to a generic frozen dessert! This was a moment of reflection. In retrospect there needs to be some exploration of a situation where BAME people are rarely promoted into roles of influence which then puts them into an ‘individualised’ potential ‘gate keeping’ situation which then becomes totally dependent on the motivations of single individuals who may be under pressure to maintain the status quo. There is a need for multiple BAME voices on different levels and different platforms to be a vehicle to tackle BAME concerns. This is why there is such a stark disconnect between influential BAME representatives and everyday ethnic minority folk. This distance is not just founded on financial or political status but rather on an emotional detachment from BAME issues. At a time where COVID19 disproportionally impacts BAME people, Grenfell remains unaccounted for and structural racism still permeates into every aspect of our society. We may share the same heritage, skin pigmentation, religion and even surnames, but the societal grievances around these issues aren’t the same political priorities.

Before we get to the very core of my concerns, there is no ‘lefty liberal intelligentsia’ here nor is there some sort of abracadabra or primordial attachment required for BAME people to vote Labour, who themselves are tainted with issues concerning anti-Semitism. Conservative thinking may be a prominent feature of many of the homelands of BAME folk and in my opinion this is not the real issue. These influential BAME representatives should be bastions of hope, pillars of integration in British society and the epitome of meritocracy but they are still few and far between and definitely not representative of our multi-cultural society. In a more equal society in theory, BAME representatives should be our role models; they should be spearheading policy initiatives with a full working understanding of the communities they represent, where their political motivations is for everyone to thrive and to have the capacity to be to be socially mobile.

I find it necessary to question if the current BAME influential people even remember the community they once stood side by side with people still living there? Patel, Khan, Javid, Sunak, and I could go on, are BAME people who have climbed to incredible heights, yet despite coming from the BAME community, there is a sense that they are far more politically motivated to keep their positions of influence than they are to serve the people they represent. Sadly, even for them, despite who we associate ourselves with, there will always remain an ‘ethnicity’ box on a form, or an extra airport security check or the disapproving look that differentiates us from others.

Dangers of racialised gatekeepers

The danger of racialised gatekeepers is that the circle of ‘inclusion’ remains small, elite and detached from authentic BAME voices and indeed this perspective may be the very reason they have been promoted. I want to break this down into four points to really tackle the concerns many have when these ‘gatekeepers’ are actively a part of promoting the continuation of systemic racism. This is not an exclusive list but one to begin a critical dialogue.

  • BAME groups are NOT homogenous – There appears to be an assumption that if, for example, Priti Patel holds a conference about the ‘diversity’ within the Cabinet, that she is speaking on behalf of ALL BAME people. There are over 18 different ethnic groups in the UK, all unique and worthy of a voice. It is inconceivable that someone whose heroine was Margaret Thatcher can be the voice for all of us. BAME groups are internally stratified along the lines of class, age, gender, religion, sexuality and disability. The homogenisation of BAME groups is dangerous and also misleading. For example, myself as an Asian male from a Muslim background, my life experiences will not be the same as a Black Caribbean female, or British Chinese person with a disability. Clumping BAME groups together as one homogenous group which we can place under a one-size-fits-all category fails to address the individual concerns of individual BAME groups. Collectively, yes, there is a battle against historical structural racism, but individual groups face different strands of its impact. Some groups feel the full force of racism in all aspects of public life, others, less so. Stratifying BAME groups is important in enabling us to cater for their individual needs. The ‘influential’ BAME folks, many who are labelled as ‘champions of diversity’, they know full well the dangers of all-encompassing categories but do little to address them.
  • A daily lived experience –I consider myself to be incredibly privileged but there are others who look like me, speak like me, dress like me, and have similar names to me that didn’t have the opportunities or upbringing I had. I remember a family holiday to Kashmir in 2004, I walked around the cities and towns, witnessing the awful poverty, deprivation and plight of people who also looked just like me. Yet, the experience of BAME people in the communities we leave behind is so particular. The air tastes different, the water has a distinct flavour and there is a particular mindset when you inhabit the social and intellectual spaces of BAME communities. It is a lived experience and one that is engrained into our socialisation thus it evokes emotional feelings and triggers a palpable response to anyone who represents ‘the system’ even if visually they look like us. Racialised gatekeepers, often live in a realm of social prestige which may make it difficult for them to connect with people who are less fortunate. Interestingly enough due to the same systemic racism that they are keeping alive, their wealth and social prestige does not cushion them from racism. In fact, it makes them more vulnerable to being displaced into a ‘nowhere land’ where they are merely tolerated by their white counterparts and disowned by their own communities. The lived experience of discrimination stops, and search and racism are so particular that speaking from a detached position fails to capture the true pain, struggle and plight within the community. These influential BAME representatives may have experienced discrimination in many forms and using their experiences to address the root causes of this discrimination is a moral imperative.
  • Tokenism – There remains a fine line between genuine inclusion and inclusion for tokenistic reasons. The BAME community does not need another poster boy or girl to tell us the Government are inclusive’ or ‘tolerant’of us immigrants. Diversity and anti-racism are not about showboating a brown face politician to justify and validate an inclusionary ethos. Inclusion is at the grass roots, within the communities and indeed the very fabric of society. Influential BAME politicians who have climbed to the pinnacle and worked, often twice as hard, to win a seat at the table, should be willing to make a difference for all, not just seek secure their positions to the exclusion of the role they are in power to perform. In an inclusive and meritocratic society, everyone should be able to find a seat at this table, regardless of their background. Yet, the exceptional few who do make it very rarely appear to represent inclusion. The problem with the notion of ‘if I can do it, anyone can’ is divisive in a society that is so polarised by social inequalities and sadly that seems to be the intention! When Sadiq Khan became Major of London, a work colleague said, rather naively, ‘Look, another Khan doing well’. This then became his ‘go to’ phrase when we spoke about inclusivity. Token gestures to prove we are anti-racist and inclusive fail to tackle the structural inequalities that truly impact on BAME communities. These gatekeepers should keep the gate ajar for others rather than doing all they can close it behind them to safeguard their own privileges.
  • Alienation – There is further alienation and disillusionment for BAME people when their own representatives begin to flex their muscles. Sajid Javid once said something along the lines of ‘his family are safe in Israel’. The implication of this statement is a damning indictment for the ethnic minority communities that live right here in England and on his watch! How can BAME communities trust his leadership after a statement such as this? This disconnect is staggering and really divides BAME people into two camps. One that continues to believe the ‘government is diverse’ stance and the other, ‘they don’t speak for me’. It is particularly disturbing to hear BAME politicians espouse beliefs that systemic racism is a myth! This totally disregards the vulnerabilities of these communities and their need for protection, assurance and support. I was incredibly alienated when Priti Patel condemned Black Lives Matters protestors and then displayed an inconsistent approach to reframe the narrative last weekend with the far-right groups. These two MPs actively endorse a Prime Minister who has constantly used racist rhetoric on many occasions, so how do they represent us? This selective silence and unwillingness to delve into the real BAME concerns, is dangerous for communities that already feel alienated and disillusioned. BAME people’s legitimate grievances cannot be articulated by racialised gatekeepers who seek to be a collective voice for the section of the population they are so keen to detach themselves from. I feel the need to add that the absence of black BAME representation is also stark and must be concerning to black people. The irony is that Marcus Rashford has done more for disadvantaged children in a week, than ANY BAME politician has in a decade. We need to target the alienation and frustration to eradicate the racism.

In Summary

The BAME folks who acclaim positions of social, economic and political authority are BAME. Yet, a different shade of BAME. The true heroes of the BAME community are not the Javid’s, Patel’s and Khan’s. True heroes are the Marcus Rashford’s, Raheem Sterling’s, Patrick Hutchinson’s and Zara Sultana’ of this world. These everyday BAME people, who remain true to their roots and seek to challenge prejudices and inequalities within society. BAME communities are internally stratified and do not need more division, especially division created by those who no longer inhabit the same intellectual worlds. I write to you not as a Conservative or a Liberal but as a BAME man who wants a united from. The division within needs to be challenged.

To equality ‘champions’, allow your skills, experience, talents, empathy, compassion and hard work to validate this journey to equality. To our BAME politicians you may have earned your seat at the table but contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of seats for people like ‘us’. Before you begin to speak for ‘us’, make sure you believe in us, engage with us and remember, you are there to make a difference and to create a more equal society for all. I urge all BAME people to stop seeking validation and to start seeking equality, justice and compassion; to begin campaigning against issues of inequality and help to create equality for all and supremacy of none; to stay honest, remain empathetic and remember to not only look out for ourselves. We need integration, we need conversation and we need change. It is time to lobby for more authentic BAME voices both in content as well as more representative BAME politicians.

It does worry me when some of our educators remain selectively silent on the George Floyd killing, the BLM movement or never acknowledge the corporate manslaughter at Grenfell in 2017 but would want to call Marcus Rashford ‘one of their own’ and ‘my son’ when the passion lies in sport. Educators need to have passion for people. Inconsistency and the selectivity help to firmly embed systemic racism into the fabric of our society. It’s time for change. Time to do the right thing. You are BAME, albeit a different shade of BAME.

Long live Marcus Rashford.

Thank you for reading,

Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @shuaibkhan26

I’m reminded of the handshakes

‘Someday, someone will walk into your life and make you realize why it never worked out with anyone else.

Shon Mehta

Friday June 16th, 2017 was meant to like any other teaching day. I was ready to go for lunchtime duty where I was called in by the Head via radio. Her exact words, “Shuaib, a group of the Year 11s won’t leave until they see you”. I rushed down to the school gates and I mauled by my Year 11 RE class. I will never forget how they circled around, like in a huddle and gave me card. This was an extremely tough cohort, so challenging but also so resilient. This is my NQT year story.

I was so overwhelmed with these wonderful cards. This is how every teacher should feel.

‘That class’

It’s so wonderful seeing NQTs begin their teaching careers, many of whom have successfully got a role to complete their induction year. I can relive the euphoria, buzz and excitement roughly this time four years ago. I was on top of the world, overjoyed and literally ‘living the dream’. Although my career has taken an alternative trajectory, every teacher will tell you about that ‘one class’. That ‘one cohort’ where it all just clicked. Where our pedagogical just all comes to fruition. Where we feel like Erin Gruwell in Freedom Writers or John Keating in Dead Poets Society. We often look back and reflect on these classes with real nostalgia and a sense that it was all worth it. During my NQT year I had this class. I want to pay homage to these students and also to reflect on the lessons I learnt that year.

We should never single out students or particular cohorts as consistency is of paramount importance. However, given the context I found myself in and the pretty challenging behaviour across the school, my Year 11 Religious Education class kept me going. This was a mixed-ability top-set class, many of whom didn’t take to RE and missed out on key content in the previous year. I remember during the very first lesson, simply getting them to write their names on their exercise books took 30minutes. I was very keen to make a good impression and worked tirelessly to get this class on board. Also given the fact they were Year 11s and it was my NQT year, this was my one big opportunity to make my Dad proud. I wanted to be someone, to mean something and leave a legacy of my own. This class was tough but resilient, loud but engaged, challenging but winnable and at the core, just a group of kids that needed consistency. Yet, let’s not beat around the bush, I was in rural Lincolnshire, this was Brexit territory. I am Asian, perhaps the only Asian in the town and there was a sense of ‘Me vs. Them’ right away. This was my first barrier. The town had recently gone through the UKIP claptrap, banners were plastered everywhere and as you can imagine, I felt right at home!

Our Breakthrough

By November, after many teething issues, I requested a week away to visit my late Grandad’s (Dads) grave in Kashmir. The guilt I felt completing that yellow leave of absence form was enormous. I didn’t want to leave my class with Supply, they had openly told me they have supply in virtually every other subject. As I was explaining the cover work for the following week, one female student said, “Sir, you aren’t leaving us are you?” Quickly followed by a lad who uttered “You leave, we riot, you’re a legend Khan”. After explaining the reason for my week-long absence, many students were so incredibly moved. It is a surreal sight seeing a 6”4’ lad wiping away a tear as they left the class that day. Seconds later it hit me, I have won this class. I won them by being open and transparent with them, by being myself and simply, by being their teacher. A few Football conversations, rapping sessions in class and general jokes did help the cause too!

From December to June, this class who were dubbed ‘dysfunctional’ were as good as gold. Lessons would start promptly, books would be out, they would respond to marking and some of the philosophical debates we held were simply unbelievable. We could discuss euthanasia, capital punishment and abortion in a mutually respectful environment. I was able to take risks, peer work and innovate. I knew my class, and this was fully respected. As an NQT, that’s all you can ask for! My Head of Department was so understanding and supportive. She always considered the context before she scrutinised data and given that this class had little teaching the year prior, I was given the confidence to lead lessons how I saw fit. This confidence permeated into my lessons and into my students. I was at peace but with exams looming too, it was important to not to caught up in the moment and focus on preparing these students for exams.


The Final Weeks

Before intervention began, my Head of Department assured my I would not lose my class and all intervention strategies would be supported. I was eccentric, doe eyed and I wanted to change the world. With the madness of standing on tables shouting, “Jesus will save us”, to washing lines and beach balls, my Head of Department knew I had those students’ best interests at heart. The final weeks of May, there was a feeling of sorrow amongst the entire class as we knew our time together was coming to an end. An 8-month journey was about to reach its climax. My personal anxiety was heightened because I had invested and sacrificed so much personally for this particular cohort. It was my first year of teaching and I was keen to impress and for these wonderful students to succeed. We ploughed on and to achieve 86% A-C with this class in the summer was absolutely wonderful. My Head of Department said I exceeded expectations, but I cut her off and said, “No, we exceeded expectations, Gemma”.

It meant the world watching these amazing students leave school. Admittedly, I am emotional and wiped away tears many a time in class. So, at the gate, three years ago today, my Year 11 class pleaded with me to attend their end of year prom. I was in two minds as I was unable to attend my own school prom because I couldn’t afford a ticket. I was so humbled and now privileged to be in a position attend. I picked my outfit, wore my suede shoes and trilby and had a fantastic, albeit emotional night. They would openly say, ‘Sir, you’re one of us’. Words let alone a blog do this class no justice. They needed a name because ‘legend’ was being branded around by every fast food joint in the world. I named them ‘The Immortals’. Heading home that evening, I wanted tell my Dad all about it, every detail. Although he’s no longer around, I remember hearing someone say ‘Shuaib, as we lose a father figure, aspire to be one’.

If you are a Peterborian, you will know the significance of a Doria Bakery Cake. This was our parting gift days before the final exams

In Summary

My apologies if this is a bit of a soppy one. Sometimes we pay homage better through written words, than verbally. 2017 seems so long ago but so often we live off nostalgia. I have found it difficult to rekindle that love and focus towards teaching again because of how much I invested into my NQT year. However, I find myself three years on being able to look back with a huge smile of my face, pride in my heart and a tear in my eye. That, for me, is worth more than any status or role.

Again, although my career trajectory isn’t soar to the heights I once but now there is a bigger fight on our hands. We have incredible NQTs, many of whom remind me of myself. They need a school that allows them to blossom and develop rather than be trampled on. My book on toxic schools fully intends to address this post-NQT burnout and how we can support teachers so that this ‘one class’ is not a once in a lifetime experience. We do need a system that focuses on developing our young teachers, one that enables them to have the autonomy to showcase what they can do.

I just want to say a heartfelt thank you to my Head of Department, who was also my NQT Tutor. Thank you, Gemma. You really let me live the dream. Penny, you too. Finally, to my students, many of you whom may read this, when people were growing up they wanted to be Footballers or Astronauts, I just wanted to be Mr. Khan. You let me be him and I will be forever grateful. 2016-17 was immortal. Three years ago today and I’m still reminded of the handshakes.

I would like to finish off with a poem I wrote for my Year 11s. They would always ask me to ‘spit some bars’ in class as I told them about my short stint as a Rapper, ‘88Keys Khan’.

My Bars for Gleed.

Back in 2015, I entered Gleed,

It shone so brightly with potential, it moved at light speed,

I took a year away; I had to train to teach,

No longer write bars, but in E1, I preach,

 With all the negativity and Spotted Spalding,

Years 11 are the elite offspring,

We continue to rise and Year 11 continue to give me hope,

All these years of supplies, you never moan or mope,

You reflect and reject hate,

You welcome me with open arms, you’ll shout Wag1 sir, and often we’ll share a modest handshake,

See I’m just trying to use the gift that you have me,

Work with Gem and Pen to improve the year group that made me,

There are immortals amongst us, prefects sat side by side,

We’ve smiled, we’ve laughed and together we’ve cried,

But this fizzy water swigging, check shirt wearing, bar spitting teacher that stands in front of you today,

None of this would have been possible if you didn’t pave the way,

And since Dad passed away,

You make me feel like the brightest star, whether it’s night or whether its day,

As you are the brightest of stars,

Whether it’s night or whether its day.

Big up Year 11. Thank you. Bless you. Good luck.

Let’s make history.

Thank you for reading,

Shuaib Khan

The Enemy Within

COVID19: A conversation about structure, agency and social inequality. The politicisation and racialisation narrative of COVID19

People from Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) are more susceptible to contracting COVID19. Recent data shows that around 19% of COVID19 deaths were people from a BAME background, despite this group only representing 14% of the British population. Public Health England published their report on June 2nd found that ethnicity was a key denominator for those dying from COVID19. But why are BAME people more at risk? The complexity of this debate is far too much for a single article as this is a truly multifaced discussion.

Eid ul’Fitr 2020 was on May 23rd and for the first time in my living memory, there was no mass gathering for prayers due to COVID19. Days later this image appeared of Southend Beach. The inconsistent energy is so dangerous. Photograph: Finnbarr

For the first time in 28 years, I was not able to complete Eid prayers at my local Mosque but days later I saw crowded beaches and the Dominic Cummings scandal unfold. With family and relatives being self-employed and being placed in the ‘at risk’ category, a sense of panic hit when the pandemic started. Many commentators have argued there has been an inconsistent energy in the condemning of Black Lives Matter protests. The Secretary of State himself even asked people to stay at home and avoid mass gatherings. A second wave will be, more likely than not, be caused by, in large parts, schools reopening, conga-esque VE day gatherings, easing of lockdown restrictions and Cummings-gate. A protest for racial equality, an urgent matter for today, will inevitably be blamed. Yet, with growing fears of a potential second spike and Black Lives Matter protests across the country, Britain’s uncomfortable battle with racial and socio-economic equality continues.

The media and Policymakers have consistently led with this story and as lockdown begins to ease, the shift from structure to agency is being reinforced. ‘Common sense’ even its Churchillian ‘keep calm and carry on’, stiff upper lip patriotic sense has meant the majority of the British public are still confused on exactly what freedoms and liberties we can enjoy. A binary is now being formed where ‘stay at home’ was an enforced state idea where people were instructed to avoid social mixing. Whereas ‘stay alert’ has a moral autonomous overtone with ‘sensible’ adults making ‘rational’ decisions about how they prevent the spread of COVID19. ‘Choice’ and autonomy are an interesting ideal because for many BAME people, there never really has been much ‘choice’ during this pandemic. It is the ‘choice’ for people to work, gather for prayer, protest and send children to school. Yet, ‘choice’ implies some form of personally manufactured agency and largely ignores the socio-economic disparity, a decade of austerity and poor living conditions faced by many BAME people.

In this discussion, I want to tear apart three narratives of politicising and racializing of COVID19. As a small Sociological piece, with elements of empirical evidence, it is important to assess wider structural inequalities as part of our analysis of COVID19. This is by no mean an all-exhaustive article but a means to critically assess an important discussion.

  1. The disparity of socio-economic wealth – This cannot be ignored as health inequalities are inextricably interrelated to wealth inequalities. If we use the government’s own unemployment data, compared to White British people, Black and Pakistani/Bangladeshi people are twice as likely to be unemployed. The same three ethnic groups are also most likely to leave school with inadequate qualifications, with Black-Caribbean more likely than any other ethnic group to be permanently excluded from school. Poverty is also distributed more heavily amongst these groups. Without going too heavily into the reasons, we must always consider structural and institutional discrimination which prevents these groups attaining good life chances. BAME families (15% of Black African and 30% of Bangladeshi) are also more likely to live in overcrowded conditions, making self-isolating incredibly challenging. Degenerative and coronary diseases are also more prominent for BAME people. This ‘at risk’ category that has yet to have a ‘protective ring’ placed around it has been created by generations of unaddressed socio-economic inequalities. The depth and deeply entrenched manner of these inequalities means BAME people are at risk not simply because of their background but their standing in Britain’s class system. As Sociologists, we know the dangers of assessing power dynamics in isolation. Within this paradigm of inequality of BAME deaths during COVID19, we also need to be considerate of social class, age, gender, sexuality and ability. The continuation of the ‘disproportionate BAME deaths to COVID19’ are being dangerously detached from wider structural inequalities, by a government that has tormented the very fabric of our society with a decade of austerity. Nothing exists in a political vacuum; thus, we have to ask deeper questions about social inequalities to assess the true reason behind why BAME people at such risk. This small paragraph doesn’t do inequalities the justice!
  2. Types of work BAME people do – The work that BAME people do tend to place them at a greater risk. BAME people still tend to occupy roles that require them to work during the global pandemic. Around 18% of NHS staff come from are BAME and with continued fears about a lack of PPE, this ‘at risk’ category is certainly exacerbated. The first ten Doctors to die from COVID19 were in fact of BAME origin. Carers, taxi drivers, nurses, shop workers and those who are self-employed tend to come from BAME backgrounds, and many have continued in their roles during the pandemic. But the thing is, even if BAME people have higher chances of diabetes and high blood pressure, dying from COVID is still a social issue. It is still because they have less access to services, more likely to work key worker jobs i.e. the low-income key worker jobs, less likely to be able to take a day off from feeling poorly. More likely to have to use public transport. Many due to their low socio-economic standing have no choice but to work. The focus is on ‘how many more people are dying? And NOT ‘how many more BAME people are catching it’? Because if they understood why more of them are catching it they would have to address the structural causes rather than launch another App or continue to obfuscate us in daily briefings. The position of BAME people in the labour market has meant, even during a global pandemic and where furloughs are being rolled out, for many it has still been a choice to pay bills or to have food in the fridge. Again, we are looking at the wider socio-economic inequalities and life chances as, although COVID19 doesn’t discriminate, BAME people are at risk because of their social standing.
  3. Lifestyle-ism – I want to pan back to the idea of ‘choice’ here. There is a very neo-liberal plot whereby people are responsible for their actions and subsequently fully accountable for these choices. BAME people are more likely to have underlying health problems such as diabetes, coronary heart illnesses and degenerative diseases. Many of these are hereditary, as I know from my own family, high blood pressure runs right across almost every generation. With underlying health problems come a weaker immune system which is means an incurable virus like COVID19 is more difficult to fight off. If we consider poor housing for example, it is a socio-economic decision and not a lifestyle choice to live in an overcrowded home. Poorer areas have fewer lower access to parks or open spaces, when money is tight, things like going to the gym become an additional expense. Areas that are also densely populated are also high in air pollution, but again, this is very often not a ‘choice’. It is a ‘choice’ out of a limited number of choices. Nobody on earth wants to breathe in dangerous chemicals as they take a stroll. When we focus too heavily on agency and render the existence of social structures, we implicitly lay blame on individuals who have suffered from decades of generational disadvantages, many of which they have no control over. This lifestyle-ism approach also subjects bias and imperialistic interpretations of what are healthy and unhealthy lifestyle choices. Secretary of State advised people not to attend the Black Lives Matter protests over this past weekend and that they would be risking public health if they did protest. However, what has really been done to tackle inter-generational disadvantages? Where was the denouncing of Dominic Cummings or those packed beaches? Lifestyle-ism dangerously disconnects the impacts of austerity, inequality and structural disadvantage on COVID19.

In Summary:

Although the Black Lives Matter protests will inevitably have an impact on the R rate, we cannot ignore the impact of wider structural inequality and the lowly position of many BAME people in the labour market, and in wider society. The media and political narratives are very much based upon Sociology’s most potent debate, structure vs. agency. Yet, the choice to work, self-isolate, pray and send children to school is one option out of a limited number of options. Although BAME people are more likely to contract COVID19, what is being done to address the structural causes of this? Simply placing a bandage or more topically, a facemask over the problem does not address its underlying causes.

There has been political incompetence that also must be called out. Dispatches on Channel 4 just last week discovered that with an earlier lockdown and real leadership, 13,000 lives could have been saved. In a world of 7.8 billion people, 400,000 COVID19 deaths have been recorded. The UK has 10% of these recorded deaths, with only 0.87% of the world’s population. What on earth is going on? People continue to die, we continue to hear about this ‘world leading’ track and trace App, daily briefings continue to have this ‘look at us we are changing the world’ sentiment. We must be critical, analyse carefully, take no ‘facts’ for granted and really consider the choices and options that are available to us. It isn’t as simple as, keep calm and carry on. The most vulnerable in our society need to be protected.

Finally, I just wanted to finish off with the inconsistent energies in the condemning breaches of social distancing. As mentioned, I was unable to read Eid prayers, Ramadan was odd because the tradition of seeing family and relatives was not an option. There remains crippling fear and anxiety living in the community, even shaking hands, an absolute sacred gesture has become a taboo. With regards to Black Lives Matter, certain quarters of society will be looking to assert blame towards these protests. Protests that wouldn’t even need to happen if we had used the past century to sustain racial equality! These protests were urgent, needed and a real reflection point for British society. BAME people are calling for change. Change that begins with challenging our own personal biases and a willingness to hold conversations that matter, no matter how much discomfort they create. Ultimately, consistent treatment must also be matched with consistent condemnation. If bullying down a statue slave owner receives public condemnation by political leaders, then where is the justice for those who lost their lives in Grenfell Tower? Has Boris Johnson apologised for his appalling racist marks? Can we have an update on the Windrush scandal? Where is the conversation about Kashmir? The inconsistent energy is adding fuel to an already incredibly challenging time for us all. Until then, these biases are our enemy within as we aim to process and reflect upon this truly unprecedented time.

We are stronger together. We all need to read more, connect more, think more and do more to improve the world around us. Black lives matter.

Thank you for reading,

Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @shuaibkhan26

My open letter to Educators,

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Some topics and some names really cause unease for people here in Britain. Privilege, racism, Xenophobia, Islamophobia and also Black Lives Matter. Amidst a global pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement, I do believe Educators across the country are having a real ‘I’m not racist, I have a black neighbour’ moment. This is a moment of real reflection on our role as Teachers, and the privileges and platforms we occupy. It’s uncomfortable, I know. But if you can’t tackle these uncomfortable topics with fellow professionals, you sadly never will.

You see, I’m from the streets. May be not Harlem or Brixton, but I still faced the wave of trials and tribulations. As an angry BAME youth, I firmly placed my faith in the education system. It was my only real legitimate route off these streets. I invested into the system, worked twice as hard and like many BAME people, I scrapped and clawed for every opportunity. So, now as a Teacher, why can’t my fellow professionals unite around me? I know my faith was never misplaced but why won’t they share their platform with me? Why won’t they engage in sensitive debates? Edu-celebs, with huge social media following have made a personal choice to remain silent on the current state of affairs in the United States. We’re always told as children that if we haven’t got anything nice to say, not to say anything at all. Silence can be golden, it’s often the moral standard we all should aspire for. Yet when lives are being lost, the world is on its knees and you choose silence, with no real validation, silence isn’t the virtue.

At the very core, this is a human being. Nobody deserves to die the way he did. The last thing we should lose, in a life full of loses and grief is our compassion and empathy. RIP George Floyd.

It feels like the use of my platform in debates has become a topic within itself as well as a defence mechanism to justify silences. You see, every platform we have is like a dining table. There are enough seats but not everyone at the table can something to eat. Big personalities can dictate, discussions get blocked out by those with big statuses or louder voices/echoes. Everyone wants to share but not everyone wants to care. And there also those who just want to throw food.

Since I published my article entitled Nothing New, I have connected with some incredible people. They believe in the power of unity and solidarity. However, on the flip side I have also seen unsavoury and classless bickering, validation and yes, ‘I can’t be racist, I have a Black neighbour’ sentiment across various platforms too. I have muted, unfollowed, blocked and responded to many but it became consuming, tiring and trying to get others to reflect on their own biases, I suppose I have to confront my own first. I am very disappointed that a number of high-profile Educators have gone mute on Black Lives Matter and as such as I understand freedom of speech, our moral obligation to our BAME colleagues and students should take precedence. Yesterday I saw a Tweet from a teacher who was calling for someone to consider the privileges and act in sensitivity. This toxic cliquey Edutwitter culture of ‘they are my friends; I will support them even if they are wrong’ really boiled over. It was disappointing. People are angry, disappointed and very hurt. Watching suffering from afar, a vantage point of comfort and detachment, with no intention of consoling those in pain, that is simply a question of one’s own empathy and compassion, or lack of it.

The three main justifications I have read for this silence, I will highlight in this article. This is not an exhaustive list but a method to confront a difficult topic in the hope to prolong dialogue.  

1. I’m tired, I’ve been teaching all day – We all are. Putting it bluntly, we are all absolutely exhausted with 2020 and the uncertainty it has brought about. From Brexit, to COVID19 to everything. Every teacher is tired, and the expectations of virtual teaching have definitely perpetuated the teacher workload crisis. We 2020 has felt like a complete write off and I can fully appreciate the strain it has caused on us all. But I am also tired of racism and all other forms of discrimination. I am tired of political leaders endorsing Nazis and Police Officers killing unarmed Black people. I am tired of the deafening silence on the treatment of Palestinians, Kashmiri Muslims and every other genocide that is going on in the world. I am tired of being lied too and gaslighted, as well as being told how to feel. With the current climate, is being tired an excuse? What is Martin Luther King Jr was too tired to deliver his famous I have a dream speech? As Teachers, ‘tired’ is somewhat of an accepted and banal part of our existence but tired doesn’t mean turning a blind eye. Tired doesn’t mean we lose our sense of humanity, our willingness to do the right thing or moral obligation to help others. If you are tired, just imagine how the family of George Floyd have felt over the past ten days.

2. I don’t know how to confront it – So, what are you doing to face it the next time it happens? Because, as history will tell us, it will happen again. There have been and will continue to be many more George Floyd’s. Racism is one of those things, until it’s experienced, we tend to have an arrogant view. The number of times I have had to confront racism in the classroom is unimaginable but my own experience of it places me in a somewhat privileged position to challenge it. Racism is the elephant in the room and the Black Lives Matter movement, much like the murder of Stephen Lawrence, it awakens this elephant. We are being asked to answer difficult personal questions and confront personal biases. It is very uneasy, but this can become a real moment of reflection for teachers. The number of teachers who are now working on embedding BAME literature, historical figures and confronting structural inequalities in their classroom settings is absolutely incredible. We can only confront a problem by actually acknowledging there is a problem in the first place. Therefore, it is nothing short of shameful for those who won’t admit there is a problem. Yet, I don’t know what is more dangerous for victims of racism; those who fail to acknowledge its existence or those who are silently complicit with it’s existence. We must read more, talk more, share more and love more. Confronting racism is not a disjointed individual effort, it a collective range of actions to systematically remove biases from our social institutions. Many are also concerned about the notion of ‘selective silencing’. That it is hypocritical to wade in on the current debate without any previous condemnation of injustice. Honest advice, start now. The first stand is always the most difficult, but start now.

3. It is not my place to speak – When did we ever surrender the moral oligation to call out injustice? My shock and anger at those with enormous platforms have nothing to do with resentment but I do resent the misuse of a platform. We will be judged, not by the number of followers, assess them on how they use this platform whilst the entire world is on its knees. As a White male or female, why isn’t it your place to speak? Take race out the equation for a second, are you human? Do you not have compassion or empathy? How did you feel watching that Police Office suffocating George Floyd? What were your reactions to Schindler’s List or the Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas? The ability to ‘switch off’ our emotional capacity as the plight of others is absolutely disturbing. This forms a dangerous form of tunnel vision where we begin to value the lives of some but not all. It is always your place to speak. I remember full well in Year 10 I was badly beaten up by a gang of racists, literally a stone throw from my school. My teacher, who happened to be White was the first to intervene, he threw himself in harms way and shielded me from these attackers. When I later asked him, ‘Sir, why did you help me?’. He replied, ‘You’d do the same for me’. That moment made still sits on my heart till this day. It wasn’t Mr. Pearson’s’ place to step in, but he made it his place. We should all make it our place to fight injustice of all kinds. I am dumfounded how anyone can work in profession centred on the principles of social justice but then detach themselves so glad-handily during a discussion on racism. As Alison Kriel put it, “Racism is everyone’s business”.

Leslie Dwight really conceptualised how I was feeling yesterday. Thank you.

In Summary

Despite the awful abuse, gaslighting and racism that many teachers have encountered over the past few weeks, I still have faith in the system. But this faith BAME teachers, parents and students place in the system must now be reciprocated through dialogue and change. Black Lives Matter cannot be another ‘I’m not racist, I have a Black neighbour’. BAME folks are angry but this anger isn’t at White people, it is at a systematic culture of bias, hostility and racism. With platform comes privilege and with privilege comes a platform, thus equates to complicity.

Finally, to my fellow Educators. Those of you who have been defensive, blasé with your responses, refusing to engage with the discussion or looking to justify your silence, I truly hope this reaches you in time. We need to read, discuss, collaborate as opposed to using our platforms to justify selective silencing through nonchalant responses and justifications. Both of which implicitly help validate the sub/conscious biases, privileges, emotional distancing and the ‘intellectual’ veneer given to racists, bigots and ignoramuses. Malcolm X once said, “Racism is like a Cadillac; they make a new model every year.” Selective silencing and emotional distancing adds to this new model.

The world is on its knees and you choose silence. Innocent people are dying, and you decide it’s too uncomfortable to use your platform. For Educators and those with a platform, I sincerely hope you can find it within yourself to place value on the lives of others, acknowledge their plight and proactively use influence in the right way. Black Lives Matter and until they matter, no lives matter. My late Grandad taught me, that in order to deal with problems in the world, we must rectify ourselves first. I now know exactly what he meant. Thank you, Dad. X

Thank you for reading,

Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @shuaibkhan26

Nothing New. #Blacklivesmatter

“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against.

– Malcolm X

We are amidst a global pandemic but the world, and more specifically, the United States is on its knees again with the murder of George Floyd on May 25th. The shocking footage of a white American Minneapolis Police Offer with his knee on the back of Mr. Floyd’s neck opens up the deep wounds between African Americans and racism, which have been engrained in their experience for over 400 years. As riots gather pace, this is a time of unity against COVID19. However, the world, just like the USA has never fully found a cure for its most deadly virus, racism.

President Trump labelled protesters as ‘thugs’ as tensions continue to rise in the US following the killing of George Floyd. Image Copyright: Gossip-Live

Despite suffering from racism throughout my childhood, it was only in Year 8 where a teacher called Mr Pearson recommended Malcolm X’s autobiography, a book I later picked up at university. I discovered Franz Fanon, Angela Davis, Akala and Stuart Hall amongst others and although I was always a firm believer in assimilation. My Grandad always taught me to remain silent, but injustice must always be challenged. Well, he was crasser in saying, in Punjabi “If someone does something worthy, say well done. If they are a bastard, call that bastard a bastard”. It was only in 2012 where an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin was murdered, when I began to realise that silence is unacceptable. Throughout my upbringing, I was told I have a chip on my shoulder yet for victims of racism, and I will quote Malcolm X here, “That’s not a chip on my shoulder, that’s your foot on my throat”. By no means is my experience of a handful of stop and searches and racism anything on the scale of the daily fight for equality and justice for African Americans. Yet, silence enables racism to prosper, so whoever you are, as long as you are fighting inequality, let’s collaborate.

There is no easy answer. How can we change centuries of learnt behaviours, reboot societal norms and values, and change an entire power structure which prospers from some form of racism, institutional or otherwise? There truly is no easy answer. I don’t believe silence, fence sitting, objective, neutral or passiveness is enough anymore. Your silence makes you complicit in the cover up of racism. My own platform of education and social media entertains a mere few thousand followers, that’s if I am lucky. Don’t judge anyone by the number of followers they have, assess how they use this platform whilst the entire world is on its knees. We all have a moral responsibility to stop all forms of discrimination.

Why people won’t engage in the racism discussion?

There are four prevalent themes I have witnessed over the past week or so relating to conversation about race. Those who are unwilling to entertain the topic have three ‘rationales’ which I would like to breakdown. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list but a means to prolong dialogue on this topic.

I don’t want to get involved – Turning a blind eye to evil doesn’t make evil disappear or heighten your own sense of self-worth. ‘Not getting involved’ means you are unwilling to use your moral obligation to help others. Comments like this seep in both privilege and emotional distancing. In a classroom, we would be quick to condemn a child drawing a swastika wouldn’t we? We are quick to use # and change profile photos when it fits our own interests and agendas. The plight of one group is the plight of humanity and refusing to engage in the discussion makes you an accessory to injustice. Plato once said, ‘Silence gives consent’ echoed in the sentiments of Martin Luther King Jr’s “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” The number of people who have an incredible platform form, Edu-celebs included, who are unwilling to call out injustice, it’s astounding. There was a time where you didn’t have your platform, and someone helped you build what you take for granted today. Honour those people who helped you by giving those who are lowly a voice. ‘Getting involved’ could mean you sign a petition, as this micro-protest could help reform government policies. This isn’t a time to dwell, contemplate or give blasé half-arsed responses. The world needs all of its citizens to fight racism and America is where our conversation is currently at. As Alison Kriel succinctly put it, “Racism is everyone’s business”.

It (racism) is not really an issue here in the UK – I am absolutely astounded with the ignorance of this comment. Ignorance or naivety but either way, it is simply untrue, misleading and dangerous. This Churchillian imperialism that over here in Britain our police don’t shoot down innocent black people and that we are somehow socially sanitised of all racial biases. Many of seem to develop some form of selective amnesia when we hold dialogue about racism in Britain. I’m going to throw down some statistics here. During the current global pandemic, Anti-Asian hate crimes have gone up by 21% during pandemic,. As of 2019, black people are 40x more likely to be stopped & searched. 2018, Islamophobic incidents rose by 375% the week after Johnson compared veiled Muslim women to “letterboxes”. I could go on and on, even mention the many dozens of unlawful killings in police custody of BAME people. Racism is not exclusively an American experience and to render it invisible is not only misleading but also a vast oversimplification of racial equality in the UK. Overt racism in Britain may be less prevalent and an odd shocking YouTube post or unsavoury incident during a sporting event. However, racism in an institutional form, which is formed through microaggressions and unspoken and unseen behaviours. When the Prime Minister of the country has used slurs like ‘piccaninnies, ‘watermelon smiles’, ‘letter boxes’, ‘bank robbers’ and ‘tank-top bumboys’ to describe minority groups, we clearly do have an elephant in the room don’t we? Even Brexit, which only a fool will tell you has nothing to do with immigration is built on the pillars of xenophobia. If you find it uncomfortable to admit, try sitting on a train with a Hijab, or being stopped and searched for the umpteenth time. Denial of racism is arrogant and such tunnel vision is incredibly divisive. It is uncomfortable to admit but we must challenge it together and our unity will break this unease.

I haven’t really been keeping up to date with it – Is this even conceivable at an age of 24/7 news, social media and the constant bombardment of media? Riots have ensued in dozens of cities; Black Lives Matter activists have been protesting right across the world. It is uncomfortable to hold a conversation on a subject matter that we personally have little experience of. Being an informed citizen doesn’t mean you need to be ‘woke’, turn to yoga and spend hours researching Veganism. It is in our benefit to make informed decisions through being informed properly. Ignorance is bliss and the sheer breadth and depth of coverage of global events can create apathy, but lives have been lost, people are being attacked for peacefully protesting and injustice is rife. At the very core of keeping up to date with current events is our ability to have the agency to differentiate between the facts and the lies, the reality and the fake news. With regards to the killing of George Floyd, this is a Human Rights issue and that is something every human being should be aspiring to support.

White people are victims too? Don’t our lives matter? – When we begin to see one of the most maligned, degraded, hated and abused race, African American as equals, only then can we begin to brandish around the ‘All Lives Matter slogan’. All lives do matter, as life is both fragile and precious. The uncomfortable fact is, because of racism and the hierarchical system it has formed and further stratified through the dynamics of social class, age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and ability, not all life is equal. The White race is a race, it too can be the victim of racism, prejudice and discrimination. I think the saddest element of when someone mentions their own race in discussion of the plight of others, it forms a racial point scoring system and benefits no one. It causes more defensiveness, more division and more distance between groups. I am not here to critique White privilege but as a light-skinned Asian male, this privilege was once projected onto me when I visited my Grandparents homeland of Kashmir. We know full well that victims of racism come from all backgrounds, as do the perpetrators. However, until we challenge our own internal biases, move away from primordial ‘us vs. them’ sentiments and consider the sacredness of all lives, nothing matters, and nothing will change.

In Summary

Everyone has their role to challenge discrimination of all kinds and silence is no longer a virtue we can glad-handily endorse. The struggle for racial equality in the United States is over 400 years old and there appears to be no end to this nightmare. George Floyd is one of many and until there is a radical overhaul of the system, this will not be the last case of police brutality towards Black people. COVID19 may be today’s global pandemic but the virus that is racism has yet to be vaccinated.

The world is on its knees and you choose silence. Innocent people are dying, and you decide it’s too uncomfortable to use your platform. For Educators and those with a platform, I sincerely hope you can find it within yourself to place value on the lives of others, acknowledge their plight and proactively use your influence in the right way. It’s true, our lives begin to end the moment we stay silent on the things that matter.

RIP George Floyd. Until Black lives matter, no lives matter as we are one. One humanity, one love. Black lives matter 🖤

Thank you for reading

Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @shuaibkhan26

Back to the Future

How the current hysteria about trade unions is a familiar distorted narrative.

A comparative historical analysis.

I want to take us back to the 1980s and draw the harrowing similarities between the Coalminers Strikes and the current state of affairs surrounding reopening schools. Although it’s difficult to compare different epochs, the contempt towards unions is still the same. This goes beyond a handful of ‘celebrity’ parents and Journalists dragging teachers over hot coals, this is a historical and sustained ideological attack on unions and workers’ rights. A movement that gain notoriety in the Thatcherite years and a legacy that lives with us. The state ability to construct a distorted narrative of key social events cannot be downplayed.

Dr. Emmett Brown: You’ve got to come back with me!

Marty McFly: Where?

Dr. Emmett Brown: Back to the future!

The plight of the Miners during the 1980s, albeit very different, still draws striking similarities with the narratives of union bashing that have been regurgitated during the reopening of schools debate.

Between 1984-85, Everton were crowned First Division Champions, Polka Dot was the latest fashion trend, Michael Jordan made his professional debut, Prince had released Purple Rain and Doc Brown and Marty McFly were tampering with the physics of time travel. During this period, Arthur Scargill was leading the National Union of Mineworkers against the Margaret Thatcher backed National Coal Board. Trade Unions became the enemy of the state and the debilitating puncture in the wheel of socio-economic progress. The Iron Lady once famously said “I can’t help to spit nails when just thinking about Trade Unions”. Clearly the abhorrence towards Unions perpetuated some of the most iconic scenes of Thatcher’s tenure of collective action and unrest. However, this vision of ‘union bashing’ and narrative that unions holding back progress has been a salient theme in the reckless, hasty and unsafe push to reopen schools amidst a global pandemic. Teaching unions have yet to call for Scargill-esque direct action and many schools remain very poorly unionised. Yet without proper safety procedures and no definite evidence that students could spread COVID19, these are truly extraordinary times.

Teachers are itching to get back into the swing of things. Remote learning, albeit equally as arduous in terms of workload, it fails to capture the social essence of teaching. The interactions and micro-interactions, the challenge and energy of the classroom and the sheer joy we get from working with young people. The COVID19 global pandemic has halted many facets of society but the show must go on for teachers. It is pure misinformation by various tabloids and prominent public figures that teachers are unwillingness to ‘get things moving’ or that against the reopening of schools. We are against the unsafe reopening of schools. Without a beret, militia, copy of the Communist Manifesto to hand or any sort of revolutionary defiance, at the very core, teachers want to return to work when it is safe to do so. This is because we have a duty of care to our students and because we fear for our own lives. Is it ‘militant’, ‘uncooperative’, ‘difficult’ or ‘overly sensitive of us to want, rigorous risk assessment during a global pandemic? A pandemic that has taken the lives of 75 people working in education. We want to return under a ray of certainty and cloud of doubt that we could save lives and protect the NHS.

Is there a more iconic duo? What lessons, themes and prevailing narratives can we see during the current pandemic?

The narrative of teachers being unwilling to partake in the reopening of schools has been built on five misinformed points. Although this is not an exclusive list, it begins a conversation that matters at a time where it appears the safety and integrity of Educators has been rendered invisible. Ironically also, by those who have never inhabited the intellectual world of a classroom.

  • You’re on holiday – the notion of a holiday usually evokes some form of relaxation, light entertainment and escapism from the stresses and strains of daily life. The dissonance this creates between teachers and non-teachers is very powerful. The past nine weeks or so have been far from a long walk on the beach! Teachers up and down the country have seen their workload increase, working patterns and habits change, skills refined and attaining a work-life balance has become more difficult. In many sectors, once you arrive home, work is left at the door. For teachers, working from home has meant a greater investment at home in their professional roles. Working remotely as a teacher does not mean internal pressures from schools in terms of data, planning, assessment, meetings and administrative activities come to a halt. Despite what the press says, I have yet to spend a single day away from work. Has your holiday ever meant you spend more time thinking, worrying and caring for other people’s children more than your own? That is a stark reality for many teachers during this pandemic.
  • You must put the students first – the guilt trip being used by the policymakers and the media. 99.9% of teachers place the progress of their students at the very heart of their role. This ‘refusal’ to return to work narrative is based on the fact we want to put our students first. There’s still inconclusive evidence around the impacts of COVID19 on young people and even if they are immune, adults aren’t. Students are resilient but they are not invincible, and neither are their families who will have to take their children to school. Teachers aren’t millionaires, so why do people become teachers? Why do teachers complete more unpaid overtime than any other profession? Why do they put up with constant criticism from the general public, media and politicians? It is banal but yet beautiful, we do it for the students. Our commitment to providing a world class education in not such a world class context cannot be matched. The irony when teachers are asked to put students first. Did MPs put the children first when they unleashed a savage reign of austerity and cuts to school budgets? We need to put the students first? No, Policymakers and the media need to put students first by ending this farrago of abuse and spite towards teachers.
  • Care homes are at risk, not schools – the true number of care home deaths in care homes is uncertain but given that schools have been relatively uninhabited for the past 9 weeks, this has certainly stemmed the number of cases in schools. Research on young people getting Coronavirus suggests there is a correlation between formative years and their ability to fight the virus. However, these are extraordinary times and panic is growing over the ‘Kawasaki disease’. It’s alleged over 100 children have been tested positive for this illness which could be a variation of COVID19. Fevers, rashes and swelling are key symptoms which demonstrates the real dangers of hastily trying to bring the economy back to par. If adults are susceptible to COVID19 and children may develop symptoms of the Kawasaki disease, who on earth is making the decision to bring us back into mass circulation by reopening schools? We have no definite data about schools because, unlike care homes, action was taken early to ensure they closed to protect us. These are uncertain times, of course we are disgruntled and petrified of what may happen. Although schools may not be a high-risk, how do we know for certain? International comparisons have been shot down by policymakers and with only a handful of weeks left in the academic year, do we take the risk? Isn’t all life precious? Shouldn’t we be protecting the NHS? There’s no easy answer here but moving recklessly with hundreds dying everyday is not the answer. I will quote the most recent DofE framework, “There is no evidence to suggest that children transmit the virus any more than adults. Some studies suggest younger children may transmit less, but this evidence is mixed and provides a low degree of confidence at best”. If there’s a low degree of confidence, why does the life of a teacher have to be left in the hands of probability?
  • Unions are holding back economic recovery – this narrative and paradigm was born during the Thatcher & Reagan years. Unionisation is nowhere near as strong and forceful as it was in previous decades, with teaching unions now being seen as personal rather than political advisory bodies. What do unions want? Gone are the days of military tactics and clenched fist salutes, unions nowadays are mediatory forces. The NEU and NASUWT have called for risk assessments, PPE for teachers and a careful consideration for the safety of students and staff. Neither union has called for collective action, strikes, public stand offs or violence. Rather tellingly, Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson did not attend today’s meeting with the experts and the unions because he doesn’t want to politicise the opening of schools. Wow! Unions have the contractual and moral obligation to protect their members, are their demands unrealistic? With over 30,000 deaths in the UK, isn’t it the duty of unions to defend the rights of teachers? In this case, it appears, teachers are being given a choice between life and death. This is appalling and union bashing must be placed in its historical context. They are no cesspits for Socialism, held together by quasi-Marxist propaganda, they genuinely want teachers back in the classroom doing what they do best. But only when it is safe to do so.
  • We are listening to the science – Watching BBC Question Time last night, Professor Devi Lalita Sridhar, Chair of Global Public Health said that there was a fear COVID19 cases could increase. She eloquently stated that bringing an end to lockdown early without the appropriate infrastructure to adequately detect and trace the virus was pointless. Although this is one opinion, it is a well-informed opinion and not a lavishly titled tabloid judgement. The science is available and is clearly indicating that more planning, research and though needs to be in place before any sort of normality ensues. Thinking with an economic rationale and hastily making decisions with no consideration of their impacts could lead to the loss of more lives. Not only is there large-scale misinformation, there’s also large-scale contempt of scientific evidence. We are still seeing hundreds die every day and even Drs are being told to watch their tone by politicians. Truly extraordinary. When the DofE’s Chief Scientific Adviser admitted he had not seen reopening guidelines, the sense of despair gripped hold of the teaching profession. It is a simple statement of intent, are we going to listen to the science or the millionaire celebrity, who clearly has astronomical insight into both the pedagogical and medical fields, respectively. We are told to listen to the science but any conclusive scientific evidence about COVID19 disappearing when schools reopen, well that doesn’t exist. Is social distancing even remotely possible? Is the ‘catch it, kill it, bin it’ just another ‘stay alert’?

In Summary

We have fired up the DeLorean and headed back to the 80s where unions were depicted as the enemy to socio-economic progress. Three decades later, Doc Brown and Marty McFly are back in town as the narrative of union bashing has resurfaced on the same pretence of its foundations. The demonisation and dehumanisation of teachers echoes the experience of the Miners in 80s. The same disdain, distrust and dislike of unions exists across the media and politics but it’s now the teachers who are the enemy within.

At the very beginning of the pandemic, teachers were given homage and respect but, society often through the moving lenses of the media, can develop selective amnesia. When did it become ‘inconsiderate’ or ‘uncooperative’ to want to go to work without the fear of contracting a deadly virus? Is it ‘unreasonable’ to want to go to work and return home safely to our loved ones? Is it simply a progress issue as politicians and the tabloids say or are parents struggling to keep their children engaged? It remains empirically unproven that schools are safe to reopen and that children are totally immune from COVID19. When celebrities and people with enormous platforms are on the streets clapping for our NHS heroes, they are destroying and demoralising those with superpowers in the classrooms. And, if heroes don’t wear capes, they wear PPE, where can teachers get theirs from?

I urge us to learn from history and to defend our profession as not everyone can be a teacher. Also, I wholeheartedly plead with any teacher out there to join a union. It is so important.

Thank you for reading,

A massive thank you to Shirley Beller. A fantastic Lecturer and friend. You guided my political awareness so well during my undergrad. I miss our chats about the 80s.

Shuaib Khan


Enemy of the State

How the ‘disadvantaged children’ narrative and politicisation is both misleading and damaging.

What a difference a few months make. The death of Caroline Flack shocked the nation and we were all ‘throwing kindness around like confetti’. To a global pandemic, hoarding of bog roll and more recently, the return of the nation’s favourite sport – teacher bashing. 2020 is not even 6month in!

A narrative being used to justify schools reopening during a global pandemic is two-fold. Firstly, ‘disadvantaged children’ are falling behind their more affluent peers and secondly, teachers need to be more resilient and willing to return to work. The latter I will not delve into too much as I believe it is a complete myth and a way to divert attention away from the incompetence of political leaders in dealing with COVID19. It’s truly remarkable. Where the government prioritises sending children back to school amidst a global pandemic but does nothing to tackle annually rising child poverty. What a time to be alive. Has anyone asked these ‘disadvantaged children’ if they want to go back or if they would prefer homeschooling until it’s safe to return? This silence and ‘intellectual’ arrogance shown towards the deprived quarters of society is appalling.

It is estimated that by 2022, 5.5 million children will grow up in poverty. Instead of plugging this ‘disadvantaged children‘ narrative in relation to schools, we need to assess wider socio-economic issues that permeate into our classrooms.

‘Disadvantaged children’ is a term that interests me. I was classified as a ‘disadvantaged child’ at school. My father was a Salesman, mother was a Carer and I was entitled for Free School Meals. English was my second language and I remember full well the school initiatives and ideas tested on me like a Guinea pig. I had TAs, spent time in Sure Start centres, placed on AimHigher schemes and Educational Maintenance Allowance at the heart of my formative years in secondary school. Yet, ‘disadvantaged’ doesn’t mean ‘disillusioned’, ‘disengaged’ or even ‘unloved’. I was ‘disadvantaged’ according to socio-economic circumstances which permeated into my school life, but it didn’t thwart me. What I didn’t have in cultural capital, my family made up with working hard so I could focus on my studies. This is not to say many in my peer group were as fortunate, but I believed in meritocracy and education was my only realistic route to social mobility.

In the context of today, as I left school in 2011, ‘disadvantaged’ groups of students come under a plethora of umbrellas such as Pupil Premium, EAL, FSM, SEN and many others. The narrative in the press about these groups of young people and their families oversimplified, dangerous and misleading. I have five major concerns with this ‘disadvantaged children’ narrative and although this is not an exclusive list, it starts an important dialogue about our purpose and role as Educators. Also, the role of the media is misleading public debate and prolonging this phase or orgy of ‘teacher-bashing’ that has gripped public space.

  1. Disadvantaged children need saving – they don’t. The notion that a disadvantaged child needs a saviour is far from the truth, as what they need is an education system that enables them to thrive, a democracy that gives them voice, an economic system that rewards their skills and talents and a welfare system that supports them during a time of need. They need good teachers which makes the current wave of teacher bashing by policymakers and journalists very counter-intuitive. You can name the policy relating to disadvantaged learners and it has been rendered ineffective. The coloured marking policies, the Pupil Premium book swaps, etc. The best way to support deprived students is placing a good teacher in front of them who can lead good lessons. A self-righteous, sanctimonious saviour of the masses are not required.
  2. Inequalities can be equalised within schools – neutralised to an extent, possibly through the equality of opportunity but not equalised. Richard Tawney back in 1932 stated that the underachievement of working-class children was the ‘hereditary curse of the English education system’. Policies such as AimHigher and SureStart which I am a product of didn’t create this Blairite utopia. The inequalities that begin at birth can only be somewhat slowed down by schools, not equalised by them. Schools have insurmountable pressures on them, both internal and external, thus for them to be vehicles of equalisation, the social structure of society would have to change. We need a radical redistribution of wealth, changes to models and frameworks of education and tackling social class inequalities. There is clearly no attempt to radically reform society thus pushing this ‘disadvantaged children’ narrative fails to look at the wider socio-economic dynamics that have created deprivation. As famous Sociologist Basil Bernstein once said, ‘Education cannot compensate for society’.
  3. ‘Disadvantaged parents can’t adequately home-school or monitor their children’ – this is classism. There is also an underlying implication that parents who are less affluent, are unable to support their own children. This may be true for some, but not all. Disadvantaged families face the burden of having to return to work amidst a global pandemic simply to cover their living costs and also to home-school their children. The simmering classist assumption about working-class intellect is wrong and needs to be challenged. All parents want the best for their children and will do whatever they can to support them. When times were hard, my Grandad would ensure I had lunch money or the correct books for school, even if it meant he wouldn’t eat for a week. The sacrifices disadvantages families make for their children cannot be ignored and to say they can’t adequately home-school, perhaps this is more of a reflection of the deeply polarised and unequal society we live in.
  4. Since when did the government care about ‘disadvantaged kids’?– The past decade has seen brutal cuts to educational funding, rising child poverty and austerity. In all this, when have the government ever stepped in to help the most disadvantaged? I understand that we are still in the neo-liberal Thatcherite phase of ‘there’s no such thing as society’. When I read Lord Adonis Tweet about disadvantaged children, did he mention the wider socio-economic inequalities that have caused this disadvantage? When did someone who cared more about privatising schools through academisation ever care about the children and their families? When has Katie Hopkins or Isabel Oakeshotte ever mentioned disadvantaged children on their various platforms? It isn’t ideological, it is fact. A serious period of self-reflection is required here as the chasm between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers is increasing but teachers are working harder than ever to bridge this gap. Are the government? Is Lord Adonis? Where was the uproar when the UK Child Poverty Report was published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in February?
  5. Singling out – by singling out the that disadvantaged children are falling behind, there’s an implicit assumption that teachers are allowing these students to go into free fall. There’s an assumption that teachers are not putting in interventions and differentiating for the needs of these students. Contrary to popular belief, teachers are not sat in their gardens with a Pina Colada, sunbathing whilst taxpayer money pours into their accounts. Teaching remotely has created it’s own workload, demands and pressures. Setting work, monitoring students, completing data, emails, meetings, marking and the plethora of new software packages to get accustomed to, it is no easy feat. Teachers are catering for the needs of their pupils as I know my school monitors the work of targeted students very closely to make sure there isn’t a widening attainment gap. By listening to the spewing nonsense in the press and on social media, it is assumed teachers are passively allowing disadvantaged students to fall further behind. This is not true and a real shallow claim against teachers who continue to work with the tools at their disposal to give every child the best opportunity to succeed.

In Summary

This article analyses the dangers of the ‘disadvantaged children’ narrative that seems to be at the very heart of this teacher-bashing movement we are seeing during the COVID19 pandemic. We never refer to ’privileged children’ do we? Disadvantaged children need good teachers not saviours nor the pity of a handful of poorly informed media personalities. This account of disadvantaged children needs to be observed carefully and considered alongside wider contextual factors. The assumption that poor kids just ended up on this earth from another planet, thus need to be ‘saved’ is so deeply classist.

Returning to school has nothing to do with ‘disadvantaged children’ falling behind. This is an economic imperative that is being hastily pushed through with such embarrassing short-termism. A complete disregard for teachers and a mere reflection of the professional mistrust in the countries educators. ‘Disadvantaged children’ were further disadvantaged by austerity, poverty, cuts to children’s services and the tripling of university tuition fees. Track and trace that back to the 2010 Conservative manifesto. I’m astonished with people who want to talk about ‘disadvantaged children’ without reference to the origins of this disadvantage. E.g. austerity, poverty, cuts to children’s services, etc. Without some element of historical, social or political context, you are dangerously overlooking key social issues. This is just mind-boggling hypocrisy, classism and whimpering tokenism.

Are kids falling behind? Absolutely. Nothing beats being in the classroom, the routine and the interactions we have with our students. It is challenging to monitor students progress when we are not in direct contact with them but if COVID19 has taught us anything, it is a disease that does not discriminate, we are all at risk. Many students will fall behind but teachers will work night and day to help them catch up. A reasonable solution is to continue to encourage vulnerable and disadvantaged children to come into school but not use their status as a means to recklessly force mass reopening’s. The dangers of this outweigh the benefits.

Teachers are being dragged over hot coals at a time where our public service counterparts in the NHS are being applauded as heroes. Yet our plight is similar as we occupy professions that are criminally underfunded and underappreciated. Why are teachers unwilling to go back? We are continuously told that we cannot overwhelm the NHS. So, reopening schools and potentially spending more cases to the NHS, aren’t we simply just going to overwhelm the NHS? With no PPE, tens of thousands of people who have lost their lives and with a virus that no one seems to have any concrete understanding of, we are all fearful. We are not workshy or ‘lefty snowflakes’ and to suggest otherwise, I would love to see Lord Adonis et al complete a day of supply at my local comprehensive. Let’s see how you handle these ‘disadvantage children’ as clearly you are their mouthpiece! These people will incorporate them into discussion when they see fit. It’s a dangerous homogeneous, oversimplified category that is misleading public debate on reopening schools.

Teachers should not be the enemy of the state as only we know what’s right for our students. finally, can we take a moment to think about all those who have lost their lives to COVID19 and our fantastic NHS staff who are working tirelessly.

Thank you for reading. P.s, whilst our fellow professionals are being eviscerated by the press, we must use our forum to defend one another.

Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @Shuaibkhan26

I’m Walking Away…

I’m walking away from the troubles in my life, I’m walking away oh to find a better day…

– Craig David

I always told myself that if teaching became a contractual obligation, a mere method of paying bills and not something I loved, I would walk away.

A year ago, this week, I was driving to work and decided to put on the radio as a form of escapism and Craig David’s wonderful Walking Away was playing. It was a premonition that the fire to teach was fading. That day I arrived more anxious than ever before, logged into my PC, printed resources and I was ready to teach. Just as my form left for period one, I was hauled, totally off guard into an SLT meeting. You see, teaching exam groups and accountability go hand in hand, so when your exam groups are below par, it can swallow you up. The meeting followed the usual routine of data crunching, explaining why my results were amongst the bottom two of the school and how I wasn’t doing my job well enough. I was due to leave in July and despite being hassled to hand in my notice earlier, I requested an early resignation.

The 2000 hit Craig David is effortlessly one of the most beautiful songs I have heard. The lyrics ‘now I truly realise, some people don’t want to compromise’ will always stand out for me.

I didn’t quit as there are no quitters in teaching. There are simply those who put their own wellbeing first. Without going too much into detail, I have experienced waves of bullying my entire life and to an extent, it became a banal part of life. As a teacher, bullying was normalised through buzzwords like ‘resilience’, ‘accountability’ and ‘expectations’ amongst many others. So, what forced me to leave? The 80hr weeks, sleepless nights, after school revision sessions, evenings marking, lesson observations, organising folders for students (I know), the family gatherings missed, weddings and funerals I was absent from and break-down-worthy stress? The constant feeling of being a failure, letting others down and being undermined? The ‘CV gap’ played on my mind as did the lack of certainty over finances but I took the leap of faith. I am fortunate enough to look back and reflect with a crystal-clear gaze.

Five key questions

These are my five key questions for teachers who leave mid-year, mid-term or like me, mid-morning. This is not an all exhaustive list but just a process I went through during a dark time.

  1. What is your purpose? Why did you go into teaching? Where was this purpose lost and can it be regained? I remember the following weeks after I left, I needed to find the check shirt and knitted tie wearing, Dr Martens flashing, lanyard swinging, happy-go-lucky Shuaib again. This was a personal journey as well as a somewhat spiritual one. I came into teaching to make a difference and this was lost through the rigidity and bureaucratic nature of the system. Finding your teacher identity after having that identity supressed for so long was so difficult but my confidence is coming back, my anxiety isn’t as high as it used to be and I can now go in, teach and go home. What is your purpose? Never lose sight of who you are and why you became a teacher as sometimes, it is all we have. Take some time to reflect.
  2. But I still love teaching? – Like me, you may still love teaching and although you’ve had a difficult time of it, doesn’t mean you can’t still teach. What aspects of teaching do you most and least enjoy? Create a list, it will help you gain perspective before you make any big decisions. I love making resources, so I started making and selling resources on TES. I chose to do supply which provided me with more flexibility, albeit a reduced pay-packet but at least I don’t have do deal with the juggernaut of accountability or attend meetings. Although the was fire fading, it never extinguished. Even if I don’t teach full-time, the knowledge and experience I have can benefit someone, right?
Most enjoyable:Least enjoyable:
Teaching my subjectMeetings
Working with young peopleWorkload
Making resourcesMarking and assessments
The routineNot having a work-life balance
This will inevitably vary from person to person but the aspect is to redevelop a sense of what you enjoy about teaching.
  1. What can I learn from my experience? What was the key life message? – When I left my school, I felt nothing but ‘done’ and ‘done’ is an emotion in itself. I had given it my all, worked as hard as I could and there were no regrets. But feeling ‘done’ was like being swarmed with thousands of emotions at once. Done for me was the realisation that no matter how hard I tried, I was fighting a losing battle, so I suppose the key life message way, to leave what causes you uncertainty and anxiety. I began to put my mental health ahead of work, looking past my pile of marking and doing the things that make me feel okay. I learnt from my experience that it won’t say ‘Shuaib Khan, achieved a positive progress 8 during 18-19 academic year’ on my headstone. There is so much more to life than work, it just took a toxic experience for me to realise this.
  2. Is it like this everywhere? Teachers who leave a role mid-year or mid-term, especially those without a new job to go to, our bad experience can make us more inward-looking. If you’re leaving teaching, have you tried another school? Although your current school may not provide you with job satisfaction or a work-life balance, what’s to say it is the same everywhere else? Sometimes when we leave a situation, there’s always the subconscious thought in our mind of ‘what if I stayed?’. I remember on a day of supply being run ragged by a group of feral Year 8s and coming home slightly teary wondering ‘is the grass greener?’. Considering what I left behind, a few hours dealing with poor behaviour is a mere walk in the park. Not every school is the same and although it can feel this way, the personnel of a school can make or break our experience. Don’t walk away from a job you love, go somewhere where you’re appreciated.
  3. Have I found closure? I think we are all looking for closure from any experience we have. It hurts so much that I never got a chance to see my Year 11s complete their exams or the fact I never really got a chance to say goodbye to friends and colleagues. Seeing someone who made my role impossible gain promotion make me wonder if there’s any justice in the world. The pain ran deeper than the blue sea. I was heartbroken. Could I have stayed and coped with going through that process again and the pressure that accompanied it? I don’t think so. I found closure when I sat an interview for a long-term supply role, and I was complimented for my lesson. For the first time in three years, I felt like I was doing something right again. I found closure when I saw two former students whilst I was buying groceries and both were visibly moved when spoke to me. One said “Sir, it was a shock that you left but we still remember you man”. Another added “We could see you were unhappy, you did what was right for you”. This was my closure. I have closure in the fact that I can’t be hurt by that school any more and won’t allow myself to be hurt by them anymore either. That is my closure.

In Summary:

Whether you leave mid-year, mid-term, mid-day or mid-morning, the guilt and sense of hurt to your professional pride will always exist. A year ago, I couldn’t cope, I was in a bad place and it has taken some serious evaluation for me to even write this blog.

Very often I have found messages from strangers more comforting than those from family. Those strangers then became family and I am forever grateful. Even when I do supply now, there’s a constant fear of getting too emotionally invested after my experience. We kind of wrap our hearts in bubble wrap, like our Grandmas China dishes, and will do anything to stop them being shattered again. Not all is lost but to throw a punch, sometimes we’ve got to take a step back. The fight continues and although we are the ones who walk away, it’s those who hurt us that say goodbye.

Thank you for reading,

Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @shuaibkhan26

Microaggression or micro-racism?

“‘Shuaib’ is it? You don’t sound like you’re from around here”, “I bet its really hot where you come from”, “Where are you from?” – These passing comments I have heard many times but what makes them microaggressions?

Microaggressions are subtle. They are subconscious norms, values and ideas. We use them without realising but their foundations are deeply-rooted and entrenched in our historical understanding of identity.

The notion of microaggressions really came to light when I was talking to a friend about racism, identity and power dynamics. After watching the BBCs version of Malorie Blackmore’s – Noughts & Crosses, I just felt it was time to hold a conversation about the experience of a BAME (Black, Minority and/or Minority Ethnic) teacher. I am by no means the national spokesperson for all BAME Educators nor can I homogenise all the experiences of BAME teachers. The aim of this article is to highlight microaggressions that I have personally encountered and provide practical solutions to help alleviate their impacts on staff.

I am a British Muslim and as an identity marker, I am proud of my heritage. Despite my first experience of racism coming in a playground when I was 4 years old, I was adamant that I would never use the word ‘racism’ in vain. My Grandad (Bless his soul) had his face smashed in by the BNP, thousands of Indian soldiers died in both World Wars for our freedom and the history of empire in Britain, all remain important for my very existence. I will always call out discrimination of any kind, but the power dynamics of the word ‘racism’ hold a greater significance for BAME folk. As a teacher I have, sadly on many occasions, been racially abused by students. Also, the statistics do paint a pretty uncomfortable picture. BAME teachers being labelled as ‘oversensitive’ or ‘paranoid’ when challenging poor behaviour (Gibbons, 2020). NASUWT also found that 46% of BAME teachers were not confident in reporting racial discrimination, racial bullying or racial harassment to their employer because of lack of support. We are amidst a teacher workload, wellbeing, recruitment and retention crisis. Therefore, we need to create an education system that allows everyone from all backgrounds to thrive. This needs to start with us challenging microaggressions, both our own and those of our students and fellow staff.

What is a microaggression?

The definition of ‘microaggression’ isn’t necessarily set in stone. It occupies the ‘fuzzy’ logic of so many of the words and phrases in education such as, ‘wellbeing’, ‘expectation’ and ‘non-negotiable’, just to name a few. A microaggression doesn’t have to be intentional, overt or even conscious. According to the Miriam Webster dictionary, microaggressions are:

“a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority)”.

I don’t believe microaggressions are intentional or malicious. I think they are built upon our socialised preconceptions of the norms, customs, ideals and values of others. I don’t believe we are born with prejudice in our hearts and minds, it is a socialised human condition with historical foundations. It is important to realise also that, like any form of discrimination, it evolves and it is in constant ebb and flow.

This illustration really captures the institutional nature of prejudice. Microaggressions like prejudice always evolving. As Malcolm X once reminded us ““Racism is like a Cadillac, they bring out a new model every year.”

5 microaggressions

We could list dozens of microaggressions, but I just want to focus on the five I have personally encountered. Many of these come under the umbrella of pervasive questions and assumptions.

  1. “Where are you from?” – This was an actual conversation by the way. “Shuaib, where are you from? I know you said you were born here but where are you from?”. I was born in the UK, grew up on the staple of beans on toast and my first words as a baby were in English. Why can’t it just be expected that I really am just from here? This becomes a microaggression when a distinction or focus on ‘otherness’ is created. Does it matter where my Grandparents or Parents are from? It shouldn’t but this is a microaggression that is common. I have a friend who is mixed-race, and he always gets asked “Your Dad is black, right?”. Does it matter? We share the same civil liberties, don’t we? The subconsciousness of this means many people simply accept it and, to be honest, I do find it humorous because I was socialised out of prejudice as I got older. That alone is bizarre, as it took a Social Science course at GCSE, A-level and Degree to make me reflect in a more profound way about my own biases.  Where am I from? Peterborough. Happy now? 😊
  2. “That’s an unusual sounding name” and then walks away to later mispronounce your name wrong another 5000 times! – I remember going on a visit to Kashmir where people at the airport were in tears of laughter hearing the last name “Smith-Jones”. Mr. Smith-Jones was a passenger on the flight and a lovely chap to be fair. Our names and pronunciation of our names is culturally relative right? There must be over a hundred variations of how my name is pronounced and, I suppose out of courtesy, we should try to learn everyone’s names and pronounce them accurately. As teachers, we should aim to learn the names of our students pretty much as soon as. It doesn’t give me sleepless nights that my name isn’t being pronounced properly but it does get somewhat frustrating correcting people. For the sake of staff morale, we should be doing the very best we can to learn how to pronounce our fellow colleagues’ names properly.
  3. “You will know what to do/say”Anticipating that my gender, race, ethnic, age or sexual orientation makes me some sort of ‘national spokesperson’. This is a mere correlation and not a causation. I was once asked to do duty in the boy-heavy Year 11 yard as it was assumed “we have many commonalities” and that the kids “relate to people like me”. I didn’t read into it, just did my duty and loved it. I think it’s a dangerous subconscious assumption to presume an identity marker makes a person have greater empathy with a group. Some of the best teachers I have observed strike rapports with all types of students and bridge the gap with them through their pedagogical knowledge and skill. As opposed to their gender, religious dress or youthfulness. I don’t believe this is a deliberate delegation of staff towards specific groups or issues but when I was asked to lead a trip to a Sikh temple as being a Muslim was ‘”close enough”, I think you get the idea. A friend of mine was asked to attend a meeting about FGM. Leaving that meeting she did ask her Head why she was chosen, and the reply was something along the lines of, “It’s something we thought you know about”. Clearly sharing the same belief as the pupils involved meant she had ‘insider knowledge’ of FGM right? Can you see how this creates unease? Expecting anyone to represent a group is simply wrong. Before we assume, we must think.
  4. You speak really good English – This has waned as I have got older, but I still hear teachers use this as a passing comment, especially towards EAL students. This comment is built upon the assumption that people who, at face-value don’t look like or sound like they have native British family (if there even is such a thing), that their mother tongue isn’t English. This is a microaggression as it presumes cultural traits of others. I am as guilty of this as anyone! At a parents’ evening I had a Polish student whose Mother I complimented for her English. Her reply was “I have been living her 10 years”. We may assume with certain names or last names, linguistic traits and even writing styles that other people may not have the levels of fluency with English. Albeit a passing comment, we should be promoting good levels of literary fluency amongst everyone in education.
  5. “What are your views about… (cue controversial topic)? Or ‘We’d love a foreign perspective” – I have worked in rural settings and the whole concept of ‘alternative views’ always seems to fascinate me. “What do you think about Donald Trump?” or “How do you feel about Brexit?”. This assumes that my own opinions are widely and radically divergent from yours, right? Truth be told, I don’t think about Donald Trump and well, Brexit, suppose it means Brexit. There seems to be an infatuation that a BAME person will provide a passionately different view from everyone else, possibly even tinged with controversy? Seeking an alternative viewpoint is something we should be encouraging our students to do. It is helping embed evaluation and promotes critical thinking. Why should a ‘foreign’ perspective have to be so divergent? During my NQT year a Year 11 student asked me “Sir, as a Muslim, are Muslim funerals sad occasions?”. I was taken aback because funerals are sad occasions for everyone despite religion, race or belief. It was socially engineered into this student psyche that Muslims are profoundly different, even in grief. This was a belief he was socialised into and I am not pointing fingers, but this could become a microaggression later in life, if not worse. With such a belief system, we are looking for the differences that divide us rather than similarities that unite us.

In Summary:

How do eradicate microaggressions? How do we challenge pre-historical assumptions? How do we break this paradigm? Collectively we can but this isn’t an overnight process. With the five microaggressions I have named, and there are many others, we reflect more critically on our own beliefs and practices. The only way to tackle a problem is to identify there is a problem in the first place. Therefore, with racism, sexism, homophobia or any form of discrimination is so difficult to challenge because as they are institutional, deeply embedded and subconscious. We are all a product of microaggressions.

I just hope Educators can keep on chipping away to help create a more socially just society where everyone is accepted. Where differences are embraced and respected. Our own microaggressions need to be challenged internally and we need to acknowledge that assumptions can be nebulous, dangerous and even offensive. As reflective practitioners, teachers are best equipped to want to learn, develop and grow. Asking questions about ourselves is the first step. Lets take it together.

Thank you for reading.

Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @shuaibkhan26

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