With 18 years of experience within Education, Elesha Miller, Operations Director and a senior leadership team member, leads a great operations and support team at Ark Walworth Academy. Elesha's story is part of our Black History Month feature and is the latest in our #ArkPeople series.
From south London to LSE
I was born in a council estate in south London, where I lived with my Jamaican parents and sibling. My parents came to England to seek a better life, they were working class, and although they didn't have a great education, my parents were grafters.
They taught us to study our books, and while my parents didn't understand the English education system, they turned up to every parents' evening. All they wanted to hear was that I was doing well in school.
When I left school, I went to college and started my own family early. University wasn't an option for me as I struggled to decide what I wanted to do, but my parents were keen for me to have a good job to succeed.
I worked in retail, but it didn't open doors for me – luckily, a friend told me about a part-time admin role at the London School of Economics (LSE).
I was hesitant when applying as I'd never worked in an office or had the background to fit in. However, at the interview, I demonstrated enthusiasm to learn and got the job on a trial basis. It was a steep learning curve, but I wanted to do well. I started reading the broadsheets to understand some of the vocabulary colleagues were using, to adapt to the profession. I also did a typing programme and spent my evenings practicing.
Another opportunity came up at another department at LSE, and I progressed to becoming the undergraduate admissions administrator.
I was raising my child and working to better our lives, and it was hard, and I was balancing everything. With childcare issues, I later found a job as a receptionist in a special needs school in Wandsworth, which gave me the flexibility I needed. Back in those days, support roles were mainly offered on a term-time-only contract, which meant I did not need to worry about childcare in the holidays.
As our student needs grew, the school building had to adapt, and I got involved in building works and projects. My manager encouraged me to do formal training to help me develop my skills while working across finance, dealing with premises and HR. There was lots of variety and I liked that.
After ten years, I joined another school before joining Ark Walworth as operations director. I didn't know much about Ark at the time, but after doing my research, I was impressed with the network's size and activities as a charity, so that drew me in, and I've loved being here.
Working ten times harder
Being a black woman, my parents told me that I'd have to work ten times harder than my counterparts, and I say the same thing to my children as they're at the final junctures in their school and university journeys.
My mum used to say, "puss and dog nuh have di same luck!" which translates as cats and dogs do not have the same luck, meaning life isn't fair, what works for one may not work for all, and unfortunately, favouritism plays a role in many situations. I've had moments of self-doubt and not feeling worthy because I don't have a degree or letters after my name.
However, I've been transparent about my experience and what I can bring to the table. I have always shown grit, determination and a hard-working ethic that comes from my family, and that's what I tell and will continue to teach to my children.
Giving opportunities to flourish
I was given fantastic opportunities, so I want to ensure that anyone applying to work at our school understands that while academic success is positive, their character and attitude will take them far. As a vibrant school, we want people with different backgrounds who don't just look good on paper but have something special to add to our community. In fact, a recent recruit is flourishing in their role because they came with the right attitude, and we saw their potential.
The sad truth is that my face won't always fit within education and other sectors, so organisations are missing out on people like me. I probably would never have grown my career within education to where I am now, if it weren't for getting that first chance at LSE.
Being a role model
We must ensure that students are represented at all levels in our sector. I have always said that 'you can't be it, if you can't see it', so I get myself out and about and hope I'm a positive role model to young black girls who also want to become future leaders. I enjoy my job and helping our young people at Ark Walworth, who are all bright and competent.
Regardless of our role at school, we must be advocates for children and remove anything that presents a barrier to their success.
Working in schools is a huge responsibility. We're creating an inviting environment where we can empower students to access the next chapter of their young adult life, regardless of their background.