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Profile26th October 2023

Creating a safe space to normalise conversations about race

Courtney Wilson is a Co–Head of Department teaching English at Ark All Saints Academy. Here she shares her experience as a black educator. Her story is latest in our #ArkPeople series.

Teaching as a natural route

Most of my family is in education, so it was always going to be a route I wanted to pursue. I completed my university studies in 2019 and saw a graduate mentor position open at All Saints Academy, so I applied. I built good relationships with students and was able to motivate them. The head of the department liked how I worked and suggested I train with Ark Teacher Training (ATT). I’ve never looked back!

As a black educator, I’ve progressed very quickly to Key Stage Lead, ATT and Early Career Teacher Coach, and now Co-HOD. Our Principal, Lucy Frame, always welcomes and supports with development in the academy. It is rare to see black leaders in education so this an opportunity that I remain forever grateful for.

Not seeing yourself

I think some black people don’t get into teaching because they haven’t seen themselves represented in that way. When I started my teaching journey, I went to career fairs, but I didn’t see anyone who looked like me – not the staff on the stands or even as a delegate. It’s easy to feel intimidated and think, “Am I in the right place? Is this for me?” That can be a turnoff, especially if you don’t have the confidence to join a new sector.

I’m from an Indian and Jamaican background and growing up, I mainly had white teachers. I got into teaching to show young black children that you can be an educator and be diverse in how you teach. I want our young people to share my passion for English, be motivated and see themselves being represented.

I’m breaking barriers by making it easy to have conversations about race. We discuss our feelings and have a safe space within the classroom to hear everyone’s opinions without judgement. For Black History Month, I led the planning to introduce ‘Small Island’ by Andrea Levy and a protest poetry unit, explicitly looking at songs and poems by black people. For example, we looked at ‘Do Better’ by Stormzy, which discusses black men’s mental health. It was a fantastic chance to encourage young black boys to break down the stigma and stereotypes through his lyrics and normalise conversations within the classroom.

Rapper’s delight

My Black British icon is the rapper, Dave. When he performed ‘Black’ at The Brits, he connected with all ages. I saw him at Reading Festival, and Dave gave a big shout-out to teachers. He told his young fans to stay in school and listen to their teachers because they’re here for a reason, and we want to inspire them. That’s exactly what I want to demonstrate every day.