Hey you! The importance of teachers getting the pupils’ name right

I was once a pupil in a British school. This was in the days when the teaching profession was just getting started to comprehend the multicultural dimension of their work. Alongside incidences of racial abuse from White children. I and many of my minority peers experienced abuse of a different kind; from our teachers. This centred on how our names were pronounced. I particularly recall one teacher who used to call Asian children ‘Mush’. This has stayed with me because on one occasion when he called me that name, I refused to respond. I then told him that my name was not Mush which he did not appreciate.

But that was then. Surely, we have made progress since then. Or so I thought. Six years ago when I began my doctoral research I encountered a newsletter from an education consultancy (Antidote, 2010), which spoke of Muslim students complaining that teachers did not know them as individuals. The students reported that they were not spoken to by name. They weren’t recognised by staff outside classrooms in the corridors and canteen. They found that staff mixed up their names and regularly exchanged the names of girls that were friends and tended to be found together or, worse in their opinion, addressed them as ‘Hey you!’

Given that children’s names are central to their identities and play a critical role in teacher-pupil relations, it is important that teachers get to know the names and find out how they are pronounced. According to Kohli and Solorzano (2012) this is a particular issue in relation to minority children who are often subjected to their names being mispronounced by their teachers. Sue et al. (2007) defined such mispronunciations as an example of racial microaggression and explained that these “are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slights and insults towards people of color” (p271).


Antidote: Newsletter March 2010 http://www.antidotenews.org.uk/?p=307 Accessed 31 10 2012.
Kohli, R. & Solorzano, D. (2012). Teachers, please learn our names!: racial microaggressions and the K-12 classroom. Race Ethnicity and Education 15(4) 441-462.

Sue, D., Capodilupo, C., Torino, G., Bucceri, J., Holder, A., Nadal, K. & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life – implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist 62(4) 271-286.

The article has drawn on my PhD thesis, where there is broader discussion on the importance of teachers understanding the children they teach:
British Pakistani boys in Birmingham schools: education and the role of religion by Karamat Iqbal (2017

Is it important to have teachers from the same ethnic background as the pupils?

Is it important to have teachers from the same background as the pupils?

Following the recent decision to throw out the Trojan Horse case, I posted a link, on Facebook, to an article I had published on responsive education (for Pakistani children). In the article I wrote about the importance of employing a diverse teaching workforce; one that reflects the ethnic make up of the pupils. Upon reading the article one of my ‘Friends’ responded with the following comment:
I’ve never bought into this idea that in order for our children to be successful in education, we need teachers, headteachers from our own background. In many ways it can be counter-productive.

The comment triggered the response that follows.

To have or not to have ethnically representative teaching workforce?

Over the past six years, and many more years before that, I have thought about this question. As well as reading everything I came across I decided to undertake my own research. So I explored the question with folks I interviewed and who completed my questionnaire. This young people (especially from the Pakistani community), their parents and teachers.

The vast array of previously published literature was supportive of the idea that schools should indeed employ a teaching workforce that reflects the ethnicity of their pupils. The overarching argument is that a workforce that is representative of the people it serves is more likely to help ensure that the interests of all groups are considered in the decision-making and the policy making process becomes more inclusive. This is based on the theory of ‘representative bureaucracy’ (Bradbury & Kellough, 2011). Such bureaucracies are said to be beneficial to ethnic minorities (Eckhard, 2014), racial minorities (Selden 1997; Sowa & Selden, 2003) and in educational contexts (Pitts 2005). Based on Spivak’s work (1988), there is also the question of whether the minority people (such as Pakistanis) have a right to be represented as teachers and decision makers.

Within the field of education, researchers and policymakers have accepted that the workforce should be diverse and should reflect the ethnic diversity of society. Minority teachers are said to provide role models (Quiocho & Rios, 2000), act as cultural brokers (Irvine, 1989), cultural experts (Ross, 2001; Basit & Santoro, 2012). For Howard (2010), minority teachers fulfilled the role of advocate for minority students. They are able to act as a ‘bridge’ between, and ‘translators’ of, minority and dominant cultures (Irvine (1989), a function which had been identified by Abbas (2004). In his Birmingham-based research he had found working class Asian parents particularly in favour of having Asian teachers.

Minority teachers are said to have the potential to bridge the ever-widening divide between minority pupils and their mainly white teachers (Magaldi et al. 2016). They can, if given the space and opportunity, bring a more authentic perspective based on their own lived experience and firsthand knowledge. Through their counterstorying they can interrupt (white) majoritarian narratives, “defined as a mindset of positions, perceived wisdoms, and shared cultural understandings brought to the discussion of race” (Fránquiz et al. 2011, p282).

For Kohli and Pizarro (2016) minority teachers are likely to have a heightened awareness of educational injustice and racism while Ross (2001) pointed out that they are better at challenging racism; given they might have been its victim, they are more likely to understand some of its subtleties and nuances. He and Howard (2010) supported the concept of ‘inclusive diversity’, where it is not so much important for, say, Pakistani students to be taught directly by Pakistani or Muslim teachers but more an indirect benefit; by having them on the staff, to see them around the school and have occasional contact with them. Teachers are said to do much more than teach content; they also personify content (Howard, 2010). They provide a model of what it is like to be an educated person; something for the young people to aspire to:

If we want students to believe that they themselves might one day be … mentors, guides and educated people, then we need them to see diverse examples of such people, including at least one who looks like they, the students, look (Kennedy, 1991, p2).

Stewart et al. (1989) also supported the ‘role model’ argument. “Black teachers can have a special impact on Black students simply by being in the classroom. A Black teacher serves as a role model for Black students, thereby exposing Black students to other Black individuals who have been successful” (p143). For Steele and Aronson (1995), the presence of same-race teachers may reduce “stereotype threats” and boost minority students’ confidence, esteem, and enthusiasm. Such a threat is said to occur when a student perceives that s/he could be viewed through the lens of a negative stereotype and lowers academic engagement and performance as a result.

Roch and Pitts (2012) pointed out that where schools’ workforce was representative of their communities there was a positive influence on minority students’ performance. Eckhard (2014) pointed out that where there is a bureaucratic drift i.e. there is a lack of bureaucratic representation, policies are not effective. The problem here can be even more profound where the majority-background bureaucrats are prejudiced against minorities. Arshad et al. (2004) reported that minority students appreciated having teachers from their own ethnic group, expecting them to better understand the students and assist them to feel more comfortable. Warikoo (2004) pointed to there being a better connection between teachers and pupils from the same ethnic background arising out of their common cultural background and the teachers’ heightened understanding of the students’ family and cultural context as well as parental interactions with the school.

The attainment level of minority students is said to be helped by the presence of teachers from their own background (Weiher, 2000). Egalite et al. (2015) asserted that an absence of teachers from their own ethnic group can lead to a lack of shared values, dispositions, and symbols which might undermine classroom learning and teacher-student interactions. They also supported the idea of ethnic minority teachers serving as role models and being uniquely positioned to act as advocates and cultural translators for ethnic minority students. They concluded that same-race teachers made a particular difference for their students’ attainment. Their findings confirmed Dee’s (2005) research who had found that same-race teachers made a difference to students’ attainment. He spoke of ‘passive’ teacher effects which were triggered by a teacher’s identity, not by explicit teacher behaviours.

Basit and Santoro (2012) also supported the employment of minority teachers in schools serving multi-cultural populations. They found these teachers fulfilled important roles related to the heritage of the minority ethnic students. Many of them were appointed because of their ethnicity and knowledge about languages and their potential to develop sound home–school relationships. The teachers found that their particular expertise was often drawn upon by their colleagues who lacked the necessary cultural understanding. The minority teachers were able to foster home–school relationships for minority parents who otherwise had little contact with their children’s schools. The researchers concluded that minority ethnic teachers had significant contributions to make to the schooling of minority ethnic students because of their knowledge about their students’ cultural practices, religions and home lives.

The likelihood of discontinuity between minority children and their schools is lessened where the school employs teachers from minority background (Klopfenstein, 2005). These teachers are more able to provide the ‘cultural congruence’ for the students and match their home and school environments. For Howard (2010), minority teachers helped minority students to adjust to the lack of synchrony between home and school culture and made “connections between their own backgrounds and school systems, which are commonly founded on the values and norms of the dominant culture” (p4).

For Delpit (1995) the argument was not so much that teachers must be of the students’ ethnic group but that efforts should be made for the teaching workforce to be diverse. Carrington (2002) had described this as an inclusive form of representation: “for teachers who share the ethnic and cultural backgrounds of our increasingly diverse student bodies may serve, along with parents and other community members, to provide insights that might otherwise remain hidden” (p181).

A word of caution needs to be stated here, so to not present minority teachers as the perfect solution. They may have the potential to make a certain specialist contribution but their limitations need to be acknowledged, one of which refers to the concept ‘internalised racism’ (Padilla, 2001). This is where minorities adopt majority White perspectives and come to accept their own communities as inferior. For Speight (2007), such a process “refers to the acceptance, by marginalized racial populations, of the negative societal beliefs and stereotypes about themselves” (p129). Having lived in the UK since childhood, I have some understanding and experience of internalised racism. Kohli (2014) has suggested that there should be opportunities, through ITT and CPD, for minority teachers to unpack their internalised racism.

Local teachers can also play an important role in schools. Most schools have a small number of such teachers and support staff who are from the local community. Even if they no longer live there, they will have been raised there and will maintain contact with friends, former neighbours, and relatives in the area. They may have a unique understanding of the school’s cultural and social context and may be able to act as a bridge between the school and its wider community. Such staff usually share common ethnic, religious and cultural identities which provide a foundation on which school-community partnerships can be constructed (Reed, 2009). Reed also spoke of “commuter teachers”, who only come into the neighbourhood to work and as soon as they finish, they get into their cars and leave the area. They maybe at the school for many years but may never go outside its gate. They, therefore, maybe unlikely to understand what it is like to live in the locality, let alone understand the community’s resources. Local teachers may be better equipped for the task of delivering, what Flynn et al. (2009) defined as ‘place-based’ education. For them, “using the place as content is a viable means for increasing student achievement, increasing community involvement…” (p137).

See also: ‘National and local responses to teacher diversity’ and ‘Birmingham research on the importance of teacher diversity’

The article has drawn extensively on the PhD thesis: British Pakistani boys in Birmingham schools: education and the role of religion by Karamat Iqbal (2017

Dr Karamat Iqbal

Abbas, T. (2004). The education of British South Asians. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Arshad, R.., Diniz, F., Kelly, E., O’Hara, P., Sharp, S. and Syed, R. (2004). Minority ethnic pupils’ experiences of school in Scotland. Scottish Executive: Education Department.

Basit, T. & Santoro, N. (2012). Playing the role of ‘cultural expert’: teachers of ethnic difference in Britain and Australia. Oxford Review of Education 37(1) 37-52.

Bradbury, M. & Kellough, J. (2011). Representative bureaucracy: assessing the evidence on active representation. The American Review of Public Administration 4(2), 157-167.

Carrington, B. (2002). Ethnicity, ‘Role Models’ and Teaching. Journal of Research in Education 12(1) 40-49.

Dee, T. (2005). A Teacher like me: Does race, ethnicity, or gender matter? The American Economic Review; 95(2) 158- 165.

Delpit, Lisa. Other people’s children: Cultural conflict in the classroom. New York: The New Press. 1995.

Eckhard, S. (2014). Bureaucratic representation and ethnic bureaucratic drift: A case study of United Nations minority policy implementation in Kosovo. American Review of Public Administration 44(5) 600–621.

Egalite, A., Kisida, B. and Winters, M. (2015). Representation in the classroom: The effect of own-race teachers on student achievement. Economics of Education Review 45: 44-52.

Flynn, J., Kemp, A., & Perez, D. (2009). You can’t teach where you don’t know. Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue 12(1&2) 137-151.

Howard, J. (2010). The value of ethnic diversity in the teaching profession: A New Zealand case study. International Journal of Education 2(1) 1-22.

Irvine, J. (1989). Beyond role models: An examination of cultural influences on the pedagogical perspectives of Black teachers. Peabody Journal of Education, 66(4) 51-63

Kennedy, M. (1991). Policy issues in teacher education. Phi Delta Kappan 72(9) 1-12.

Klopfenstein, K. (2005). Beyond test scores: The impact of Black teacher role models on rigorous math taking. Contemporary Economic Policy, 23(3) 416-428.

Kohli, R. (2014). Unpacking internalized racism: teachers of colour striving for racially just classrooms. Race Ethnicity and Education 17(3) 367-387.

Kohli, R. and Pizarro, M. Fighting to educate our own: teachers of color, relational accountability, and the struggle for social justice. Equity & Excellence in Education 49(1) 72-84.

Magaldi, D., Conway, T. & Trub, L. (2016). “I’m here for a reason”: minority teachers bridging many divides in urban education. Race Ethnicity and Education.

Padilla, L. (2001). “But you’re not a dirty Mexican: internalized oppression, Latinos & law”. Texas Hispanic Journal of Law and Policy 7: 59-133.

Pitts, D. 2005). Diversity, representation, and performance: evidence about race and ethnicity in public organizations. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 15: 615-631.

Quiocho, A. & Rios, F. (2000). The power of their presence: minority group teachers and schooling. Review of Educational Research 70(4) 485-528.

Reed, W. (2009). The bridge is built: the role of local teachers in an urban elementary school. The School Community Journal, 19(1)59-75.

Roch, C. & Pitts, D. (2012). Differing effects of representative bureaucracy in Charter Schools and traditional public schools. The American Review of Public Administration 42(3) 282–302.

Ross, A. (2001). Towards a representative profession: teachers from the ethnic minorities – conference paper. London Metropolitan University.

Selden, S. (1997). Representative bureaucracy – examining the linkage between passive and active representation in the farmers home administration. American Review of Public Administration 27(1) 22-42.

Sowa, J. & Selden, S. (2003). Administrative discretion and active representation: an expansion of the theory of representative bureaucracy. Public Administration Review 63(6) 700-710.

Speight, S. (2007). Internalized racism. The Counseling Psychologist 35(1) 126-134.

Spivak, G. (1988). Can the subaltern speak? In Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (eds) Marxism and the interpretation of culture. London: Macmillan.

Stewart, J., Meier, K. and England, R. (1989). In quest of role models: Change in Black teacher representation in urban school districts, 1968-1986. The Journal of Negro Education, 58(2) 140-152

Warikoo, N. (2004). Race and the teacher-student relationship: interpersonal connections between West Indian students and their teachers in a New York City high school. Race Ethnicity and Education 7(2) 135-147.

Weiher, G. (2000). Minority student achievement: passive representation and social context in schools. The Journal of Politics 62(3) 886-895.

Parallel worlds in Moseley; in response to The Casey Review – into opportunity and integration

Extract from ‘Dear Birmingham’ by Karamat Iqbal

After a year’s break, I decided to have another go at stewarding at the Moseley Folk festival. Where else can you be useful to your community, meet friends and neighbours and experience some excellent music as a part of the bargain? And all this for free when you are a steward. Not bad at all!
By Sunday, I had done my two shifts of duty so I could just enjoy the programme. But then, I remembered that I had wanted to go to the Eid Mela taking place the same afternoon. So, I decided to take a detour and first pop down to Canon Hill Park with thousands of other local people. I then managed to get to Moseley Park just in time for one of my favourites from two years ago, Scott Matthews.
Although, the two events were taking place in different parts of our lovely community, they seemed to be worlds apart.

Having spent many years locally, I have become used to feeling at home in a multiracial environment. So, what struck me above all was that the crowd at the mela were almost wholly Asian, possibly Pakistani. There was a complete lack of any white faces with the exception of a few women who had married out of their community and, of course, some of the people who were staffing the display from organisations such as HSBC, Ford and Aston Villa Football Club who were there as a part of their outreach programme. And then later, at the folk festival, the crowd was slightly more multi-racial, predominantly white, with the occasional black or Asian face.

It reminded me of the phrase ‘parallel lives’ coined after the 90s riots in a number of Northern towns. At the time, it appeared to imply that it was the Pakistani community which was the guilty party, now I wasn’t sure who was to blame or indeed whether there was anything wrong with communities participating in distinct cultural events.

Surely, the main point is that people are free to choose what they want to do, on their Sunday afternoon. It could be having a pint of Mad Goose and listening to some up and coming folk artist with their friends and family or, a couple of hundred yards down the road, listening to Pakistani music also with friends and family but without the ale.

I did wonder, however, whether we will come to a time when we will stop having separate cultural events; perhaps a better option would be for both the events, and others like them, to have a more diverse audience.

What sort of Pakistan was meant to be?

The founder of Pakistan, Muhammed Ali Jinnah made a speech to the Legislative Assembly on 11 August 1947, in which he laid out the policy on the place of religion and belief in the affairs of the state. The main gist of the speech was that religion or belief were irrelevant; what mattered was people’s merit and equality of citizens.

Until 1977, the speech was broadcast regularly on Radio Pakistan. After this the speech was made to ’disappear’.

Now the speech has been unearthed by someone and posted on Facebook. It was delivered in Urdu. I have translated the speech and the commentary into English. (If speakers of Urdu notice any errors in the translation, please let me know).

“You are all free, to go to your temples.
You are all free to go to your mosques.
Or indeed to go to any other place of worship.
In this nation which religion, caste or creed one is, it is no business of the government.
You will see that in due course Hindus will not remain Hindu nor will Muslims remain Muslim. For religion is a private matter. But in political terms they will be equal citizens, of one nation.”

It is impossible to imagine minorities playing such a prominent role in the present-day Pakistan. But at its birth the situation was very different indeed. This was obvious when one looks at the makeup of the First Cabinet of the new nation.

The Founder was well aware of the sacrifices of the minorities and their potential contribution to the nation. Therefore, in recognition of this a number of minorities were given key roles in government:
• Samuel Martin (Christian): Foreign Office
• Sir Zafar Allah (Qadiani): Foreign Office
• Joginder Naath Mandal (Hindu): Kashmir Affairs
• Frank de Souza (Christian): Minister for Railways
• Chandoo Lal (Hindu): Deputy Speaker

Interestingly, there was no emphasis on religion whatsoever. There was no cabinet position concerned with religious matters.

Maybe one day we will see a return to the good old days!