06/19/2015 05:21 EDT | Updated 06/19/2016 05:59 EDT

This Is What It's Like to Be a Black Teacher in Ontario

Thomas Barwick

A group called the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators set out to complete the first ever comprehensive survey of black teachers in the province, specifically the racism they face. Racialized people make up just 13 per cent of the province's 76,030 secondary school teachers and 129,105 elementary school and kindergarten teachers. The survey was only able to reach 148 of them, but the insight they were able to provide is shocking to those who have no idea what it's really like to be a black teacher. The comments really speak for themselves, so has gone through the 72 page report and picked out the most revealing ones.

Here's what boldface racism looks like in the teacher staff lounge:

Black teachers reported hearing colleagues joking about lynching, referring to black students as "animals," and using the word "n*****" in conversation.

"The 'N' word was used in casual conversation in our staff room. I was introduced as 'home girl' to a student teacher. When showing a picture of my grandchildren they were called, 'cute little monkeys'."

"A colleague was shocked that I was raised by both parents and expressed it in the staff room."

"The stuff that comes out of their mouths is unsettling, let's just put it that way. There is definitely a bias, they don't speak about Black children the way they speak about White children."

Here's what happened when a teacher tried to introduce equity training:

"We invited one of the equity [staff] to do an equity presentation within our school. The administrator at the time wasn't in the school, he didn't stay for it. Five Caucasian teachers ended up walking out [during the presentation because the presenter suggested that the school] put images up that would reflect the community. Our school is predominately South Asian. This offended my colleagues. Now if I was sitting in a meeting that was organized by the school as a professional I may disagree, but to make a statement by walking out, would not be accepted. It's not acceptable and the issue was never addressed."

Here's what happened when teachers had to deal with ridiculous stereotypes:

"I was asked by a principal if I would ever consider straightening my hair. I was put in charge of Black History and told I was an obvious fit. If I didn't do it, no one would. Told I should steer away from too much Black history in classroom as Black history is not important when no black students present."

"I had a supply teacher tell me I am not allowed to park my car in staff parking. Standing in front of the Principal's office-dressed as a professional? Police officers asked if they were there for me. Attending a new job assignment and colleagues asking if I am a new caretaker."

Here's what happened when these teachers tried to advance their career:

"When you have an idea or initiative that could help you in your leadership journey, you either get pushed back or the idea is stolen and given to a white educator. I have written many proposals that were stolen and given to another white educator."

"When I won an honour roll award by the Toronto Star, my principal refused to acknowledge it until I challenged her. As the only male and one of most qualified teachers with a specialist in [a certain area], I was replaced, even when there were two openings."

Here's what happened when these teachers tried to report discrimination:

Blame the victim approach. I was branded as a trouble maker that everyone should be scared of. I was denied promotion for a long time.

"I approached another principal and was informed that there must be another reason for the mistreatment and that I only perceived the problem as a race issue, but it was likely just jealousy."

Here's one teacher's experience with the school board dealing with racist students and their parents:

"This parent didn't want their child attending school with Black children: I explained the situation to a trustee and unfortunately the parent and student were actually accommodated based on their dislike for black students and black educators who were called "N*****s". I explained on the phone that I was black and the parent explained that my people do not deserve an education. Again, the student was placed at a different school after calling and complaining to the trustee."

This comment from one teacher perfectly sums up why more black teachers are needed in the school system:

"Kids no matter where they are, need to see that Black educators exist and that not just Black educators, but Black people in general, are caring, kind, competent, principled, intelligent, all those things that good teachers are. I like to think that I'm changing their cognitive map - their awareness and idea of what a Black man is, is different because they've had a year with me. And even if they haven't been in my class just seeing me in the hallway, talking to their friends about how much fun we have in class, about how I'm really strict, the high expectations that I have, all the cool stuff they learned, and how they can come to me and talk to me if they're hurt. Those are the things that change a child's impression of what a good person looks like. People go through the public education system never having had a teacher of colour. So if everything they know about Black people is from a biased perspective, what are you going to think about Black people when you get to be the age of majority and you're voting, or you're policing, or you're litigating or judging. What are you going to think about Black people then and how is that going to impact marginalized people? "

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Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that there are over 25,000 black elementary and high school teachers in Ontario, in fact racialized people make up just 13 per cent of the province's 76,030 secondary school teachers and 129,105 elementary school and kindergarten teachers.


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