Fandy Diney shares her insights and experiences in an interview with TIE editor, Shwetangna Chakrabarty.
Shwetangna Chakrabarty (SC): The purpose of this conversation is to inspire and motivate international educators to keep working towards diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) in international schools. I have with me today Fandy Diney who has been relentless in the fight for DEIJ in international schools. Fandy, I would like you to introduce yourself in the context of the conversation today.
Fandy Diney (FD): I feel like I'm constantly evolving. Every conversation pushes me forward. Because of the nature of what we are going to speak about, I'm going to introduce myself as an international educator and a teacher of color. I am the founder of iEducate Global and I do consultancy for schools; I also ideated the ID continuum, a roadmap and system of support for schools to advance and grow in their journey of DEIJ. Today I want to speak about an issue that continues to plague international schools and impacts the DEIJ work negatively, discrimination in recruitment.
SC: Let’s start with your story and then we can talk about the impact you have made with your DEIJ work.
FD: To talk about ways forward, I must go back to that point where it all started. I had already been in education for 16 years when I had an awful experience at a face-to-face job fair in London in January 2019. I was a middle years program (MYP) workshop leader for language acquisition, having taught in South Korea, Uganda, and Italy. But during this fair, it felt like it was becoming harder and harder for me to get jobs. And that's why I wanted to start with this story because I feel that fair was very pivotal in the work that I'm doing today.
I started analyzing the situation; it couldn't be just me who was not able to find a job. It had to be something here in the system. I started to recognize the elements of the culture of international schools, basically white culture, and the prejudices towards teachers of color that attended that kind of fair at the time. I'm still healing from that experience. Although these days we have a higher awareness because of all the advocacy that's been happening about educators of color in recruitment and diversifying the workforce, there are still things that we haven't talked about. Looking back on the wound inflicted by the discriminatory recruitment practices that exist to date helps me give other teachers or educators some elements of awareness and safeguard them against discrimination.
SC: I am still processing what you just said. So did you feel as if it's more than just you? It is a system that is prevalent. I'm really encouraged to see that you've changed that experience into meaningful action. So my question would be, having undergone such a drastic experience, what would you advise for teachers of color going into job fairs with a lot of expectations? What should they carry in their tool kit?
FD: The toolkit needs to address the structure. I was applying for the position of MYP coordinator. I sent hundreds of CVs, but I had not heard from a single school. Then I had to lower my expectations. While other colleagues from the big five native English-speaking countries got jobs in the first round in November, I had not even gotten a response. I changed my application to a diploma program (DP) Spanish teacher position. However, because I am not French or Spanish by nationality, I could not get the required teaching license from the U.S. or U.K. This type of job ad structuring opens up more opportunities for some nationalities while limiting the opportunities for others.
This event happens in the same city every year and is far away from countries whose teachers might have difficulty getting there. Travel expenses are high, and visas would have to be acquired just to be able to attend the recruitment fair. Hence, there weren't that many teachers of color present.
Whenever I approached the school tables, they already knew me, as I had sent all my documents, including a picture, and followed all the advice I had been given. My coworkers who had already found jobs were advising me to straighten my hair and change my picture because I had a lovely hairstyle that I had learned in Uganda. As if straightening my hair would make me look more professional! But I thought, “if a school doesn't want you because of the curls in your hair, then that's a school you don't wanna work for.” So I decided I wanted to be my authentic self. I wanted to be me when I got to the school.
I was shocked by the hair issue! There are many instances of people just running towards these tables to be valued and to get a job was so dehumanizing. It felt like we were cattle. By the time we got to the tables, there were long queues already. And as I approached the table, there was one woman who put her hand out and said, “Stop, do not approach.”
I remember approaching the table from elite schools and they said, “She's the one who's looking for an MYP coordinator position,” almost mocking the fact that a woman of color wanted a leadership position. The message was, “you do not belong here. We don't really care what skills you have. You don't belong here.” We are looking for somebody, something else, and you do not fit this picture. Interestingly, I saw a teacher from India, and she just looked so defeated. She was not even getting an interview! Alarmed by this shocking experience, my husband and I approached our associate for advice. They did not have an answer; even if he knew what was happening, he wasn't going to say it, or could not put a finger on exactly what the problem was.
We left the fair with no prospects. This experience scared me so deeply. I took it upon myself to delve deep into this climate and culture, to realize that this is how white supremacy manifests. I understood what was happening, a structural way of dehumanizing people of color.
There is a concept that I call assumed competence. When we visualize a person whom we picture as competent as an international school educator he's usually a man, a white man, and then a white woman. These are the people we want in our classroom. But assumed competence is based on biases. Just looking at a picture, country, or culture, a plethora of professional experiences that are not encapsulated in a passport are missed. We have lost so many experienced educators due to this dangerous assumed competence. Students are missing out on the plethora of experiences that educators from diverse backgrounds, diverse identities bring to the classroom. And that is mainly because we have decided that there is only one profile of teachers and there is only one profile of leaders.
SC: So, what next, what now?
FD: There was so much pain and harm that had been inflicted. Now we should really dig into the unexamined biases.
SC: I agree. Something that really resonated with me is the feeling of helplessness you had in 2019 because you were not able to name this unexamined bias, this culture, this custom, this system that was prevalent in international education. I think from 2019 to 2022, thanks to the work that educators like you have put together, who have created out of their experiences something impactful and meaningful, this culture of discrimination is now named. This gives confidence to not only teachers of color, but those who are discriminated against, those who are of the minority. Now they know what's happening. So I think that's a big, big battle won! Now, you'll be able to name it. Now, you don't take it onto yourself that it's your fault, your identity was questioned. As you said, small things like your hair, how you look, how you talk, all of this just made you feel as if you are the one who's wrong here, rather than recognizing you are being wronged. I think that's very powerful.
The whole idea and concept of diversity for me after hearing from you is that it is about a number in the profile of the school, the percentage of a particular nationality of students. But then when we have the same conversation about teachers, the preference is to localize toward white supremacy. The diversity percentage excludes us.
So while we are fighting this, there are also systems in place which are fighting us back. We really have to be very vigilant and that was one of my intentions in talking to you. The fact that you just told us your story, that itself is a wake-up call for a lot of teachers of color out there who can now start putting a name to what they’ve been experiencing, who can now start saying yes, this still happens or it's happening, and this is not my fault. I need to fight it.
So thank you so much for the courage that you've exhibited and I'm really sorry you had to experience this. Because to some extent, I think we all have contributed to this system by agreeing to it, by complying with it. Even though I am an educator of color, if I don’t raise my voice, I am helping in creating this system. We are feeding into this system by not resisting it. After three years of working so intensively to name and shame this kind of culture, we have come to a point where we can openly discuss it. What would you say are the major changes?
FD: In the next five years you will see a major change happening, which is going to inspire all those who read this article. So what really saved me was finding a community where the voices of those educators that had been marginalized by international schools were talking to each other, and that realization that it wasn't just me helped. That really galvanized my advocacy for justice. So having those conversations, joining associations like the Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color (AIELOC). I am feeling positive now because we are more aware. And recently, during the anti-discrimination task force in Geneva, I met other teachers of color who felt empowered to turn the tables around.
It is time we ask recruiters, schools, and school leaders, “how do you support teachers with diverse identities?” So I think that the picture is changing. More educators and more leaders are aware of all these barriers. We need to be more vocal about it. And there are recruitment companies that are actually built with the values of international education. Because of all this work, there is more heightened awareness. I am very excited about the anti-discrimination task force and can see the impact. We hear the conversation and we feel good about it.
SC: Thank you so much. This was very powerful, and it will inspire a lot of our readers. Any closing comments?
FD: I want to say that I'm hopeful with a lot more people engaged in changing minds, changing hearts, and changing structures. It is slow but I think a lot more people are understanding that the future of international education is a future where everyone belongs, particularly students, as they will be able to learn many ways of being human. I am hopeful!
SC: Let's stay hopeful and let's keep this conversation going. I'll see you again soon for another of these strong, powerful conversations. Thank you once again.
Fandy Diney is the initiator of iEducate Global and is on a mission to ignite transformational change in schools. As an educational leader with proven mentoring and coaching skills, she supports schools and educational teams as they inquire into their iDEIJ practices. She focuses on supporting schools in building an equitable school culture through the iDEIJ Continuum: a student-centered holistic framework for whole-school development in identity, diversity, equality, inclusion, belonging, and justice.
Fandy has worked in Korea, Italy, Uganda, China, and now Ireland. She holds a certificate in school management and leadership and is an International Baccalaureate (IB) affiliate, workshop leader, and school visit team member for the IB educator network. As a proactive international educator with 18 years of work experience facilitating linguistic and intercultural competence around the world she has supported pupils and teachers of multiple nationalities, diverse social identities, and cultural backgrounds.
As a founding member of the DEIJ committee of the Association for International Educators and Leaders of Color (AIELOC), Fandy also works in partnership with AIELOC to advocate for equitable practices in international schools. Fandy has worked with different organizations like the Council of International Schools as a presenter in the I-DEA Foundation workshop, with International School Services as a member of the Antiracism Task Force and the Diversity Collaborative, as well as with the Educational Collaborative for International Schools.