All educators are familiar with the process. You see the vacancy, you submit your CV, you interview. An offer is made if it’s the right fit. If you’re qualified, if you’re experienced, if you have good professional chemistry or even...the right look.
You accept it because it feels right, or maybe it doesn’t, but circumstances say you better feel right about it.
My process began yet again.
As I sat in the waiting room, a student no higher than my hip approached me with a wide dimpled smile. Asked if I was waiting on someone and if she could help.
The principal came down 5 minutes later fresh from a session with the teachers. Again... wide smiles. She introduced herself and we started the interview. I immediately felt at home.
The principal: a competent, experienced, educated, articulate , visionary, friendly and immensely qualified leader.
An instant connection in the commonality of education being a medium of social and academic excellence and inadvertently a vehicle for social justice and the dissolution of of long held prejudices and stereotypes.
Post interview, I did my due diligence and social media stalked the school. Nineteen teachers. Two administrators (if I included myself) making up eight people of colour. Eight strong, passionate, creative and innovative African American staff members, among a wonderfully talented, innovative, creative, and dedicated staff.
A few months in, I began to hear stories, stories of students younger than the shoes I’d been wearing to school, speaking confidently and articulately about the fact that black and brown were dirty, black and brown were nasty, and who by the end of the week with their teachers, said brown was their new favourite colour. I saw stereotypes challenged.
I began to see students who were exposed to people who looked like them, and who looked completely different. I began to see parents who didn’t care about the skin colour of the teachers who educated their children, but who focused instead on the care, individual attention, and support that allowed students to make progress that exceeded even their wildest expectations. I saw dedication, commitment and remarkable skill.
I saw a minute portion of a generation that had the unique experience of being able to look among all the professional, qualified, ambitious staff at the school, and see someone that looks like them. I saw representation.
I saw parents, who watched what was happening in the world, and asked teachers for advice on how to navigate difficult conversations with their non- black children about privilege, and equity and equality. I saw empathy.
I saw MAGIC.
I was excited to perform! I was excited to show what a staff full of people who were long used to having to work twice as hard to be recognised in the same manner could do!
I saw potential.
And then we heard the school was closing at the end of the school year and that we all needed to search for new jobs. And the magic was gone.
I was back in the rat race competing with colleagues for jobs that advertised for many positions, but controlled by optics, could only take “one of us.”
I was back to the disheartening routine of submitting colleagues’ CV’s with pictures attached and being asked if I had any less diverse candidates.
I cried for the position we were put in and the effect on our potential. I cried for the fact that our experience and qualifications would never be enough to justify having more of us on a team.
I cried for the fact that even in Dubai I was still at the bottom of the totem pole.
I cried for my colleagues, who need to be here because the place they call home isn’t comfortable or safe for them because of the colour of their skin.
I cried because I was nervous even to write such an post, fearing that penning such a candid account of my experience would result in my exclusion from the consideration of future employers, and that in the grand scheme of things it wouldn’t even matter.
But I am an educator first and foremost and it’s my responsibility to elucidate truths and just maybe, act as an agent for change.
Just for a while, it was incredible to be able to work alongside people of colour and to be seen for what we are and what we have to offer.
It was nice to matter.
Susanna Thomas is a passionate Jamaican educator and animal rescuer currently residing in Dubai.
This article first appeared as a post in the International Teachers of Color group on Facebook.