It has been a trying year for people of colour, not only are we all dealing with the COVID pandemic but we are also suffering from a pandemic that has been around for a long time and has only recently been getting the attention it deserves; and that is the racism pandemic.
Being an educator right now is hard enough and has its several challenges. Now add being an educator of colour. We are tired. Racial fatigue is real. It is difficult to hear about another Black man killed at the hands of police and come into work the next day and remain positive for your students. It is hard to brush off the racial comments we see or hear on social media. It is hard to see what it is happening in the United States and hear people deny our experiences and say that racism doesn’t happen here in Saskatchewan or Canada. We are trying but it is hard. Often we are either the only educator of colour working within a school or one of a few. It is hard to not be able to really discuss or have people around you understand why it is that you are feeling undervalued, upset and alone. With all the talk about racism and white supremacy that is happening right now as a result of BLM movements, people of colour are hyper aware of the microaggressions they experience on a daily basis, and unintentional or not- this is exhausting.
Burnout is a very real thing for teachers. In a study conducted in 2017 by Werklund School of Education, it was found that 40% of new teachers in Alberta leave the profession within five years. This is not surprising considering important factors such as class sizes, expectations and issues of differentiation within the classroom setting.
We cannot afford to lose the few educators of colour that we have. It has become increasingly evident that there is a need for more educators of colour in Saskatchewan schools. Diversity benefits students. Having teachers and staff members of diverse backgrounds not only helps to affirm students’ cultural identities, it enhances the learning environment for all students. But despite the impact that educators of colour may have, they feel undervalued, isolated and pressured to be the spokesperson for individuals who belong to the same racial background. Experiencing racism has a profound effect on the body physically and mentally. Educators and students of colour need to be supported and provided with a safe space where their voices can be heard- especially in this climate.
I believe that creating a position to better support our educators and students of colour is vital in order to create an environment where all individuals feel like they belong, are valued and believed in. A position in school divisions, that focuses on recruiting, retaining and supporting educators of colour. A position, held by a person of colour, that collects information regarding statistics on the percentage of educators of colour working within their school division. Where one continually meets with currently employed educators of colour working within their division to discuss concerns, supports needed and areas of improvement that are needed within their school. A position that connects with other organizations to actively promote working within schools and the recruitment of educators of colour to enter / apply for education programs. A position that assists schools in implementing support for students of colour and creates and maintains a committee made up of educators of colour to create materials and provide professional development to teachers and administrators on how to create a workspace that not only reflects diversity but is actively antiracist.
Most importantly, a position where one can create a division wide policy on how to address racism within schools (among students, educators, parents and families, etc.), and talk about what allyship looks like in schools. Someone who can provide a safe space for educators of colour to express concerns and suggest possible initiatives school divisions could undertake and discuss concerns of racism existing within school buildings (e.g. banning use of racial slurs in classrooms).
Creating a position like this in every single school division and even at the University level to support educators and students of colour would not only show people of colour that we are trying to create antiracist environments, but environments where both educators and students of colour feel like they do in fact matter.