Day 3: Diverse Teachers for Diverse Learners

The third day of this enriching conference challenging perceptions and reminding us of the issues of diversity and race, kicked off with a phenomenal keynote speech from Dr Rowena Arshad. Dr Arshad is currently Head of Moray House School of Education at the University of Edinburgh and Co-Director of the Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland (CERES).

“A Diverse Teaching Workforce – Wishful thinking or is strategic game changing needed?” (Rowena Arshad)

She started by saying that people like ourselves, those gathered in the room at the time, do not need to justify why we do what we do – preserve social justice. Yet, she says, trying to diversify the teaching force is akin to watching soap opera on TV – you can miss a few episodes but the plot never changes. In other words, nothing much has changed in years. Each decade, people lobby to make a difference, but this comes to little, if any, fruition.

In the UK, we are not talking about immigrant populations such as refugee or new to English populations (although we certainly do have those as well): most people have been here for a few generations. In the main, the populations are long staying and there are no acculturation issues. They do not have citizenship or nationality issues, yet the teaching profession is not the profession of choice. Some will say it doesn’t pay enough, it’s not for them or that that’s not where their ambitions lie or might having concerns about discipline issues at schools. Perhaps it’s down to their own experiences or having been racially excluded. They might look at the predominantly white British homogenous workforce and think… is it for me?

Workforce, Dr Arshad says, remains mostly female and mostly not diverse. This does not reflect the pupil population – diversity spreads, including in Scotland, well into rural areas.

Dr Arshad proceeded now to speak about her own life experiences related to the issues. She remembers, when she started working, that people were greeting others (white people), but not herself. In such cases, she started to make excuses for them – thinking it was because of her gender, her age or other characteristics. In other words, she points us to how the person affected by such processes can end up blaming themselves for their situation whilst, too often, such go unchallenged. (Note: I recommend that you search Google Scholar for the terms “blatant racism” and “subtle racism” – in Dr Arshad’s situation that would be the latter and the subtle racism would present itself as omission or avoidance of a person rather than direct (blatant) accusations or defiance of a person. There is an excellent paper by Pettigrew and Meertens (1995) on this issue. Please see the end of this post for the reference to it.

When Dr Arshad was a lecturer, she noticed that diverse students on their teaching placements appeared to have problems there. Some were actually going through some overt racism difficulties from school staff. She described how she took one of her students to a trade union and the student in question was successfully transferred from one school to another. And yet, twenty years later, more recently, the same story repeated itself. Same school. Same headteacher.

When she became the dean, the position she holds currently, she began to press these issues. She now has the confidence to speak unapologetically about the race issues. She tweets about racial and equality issues. In fact, earlier this week, she tweeted a link to an Independent article entitled Lack of ethnic minority headteachers is ‘scandalous’. That is not just Scotland – that’s all over the UK. Have a good read of this article at:

She says that now, thanks to her hard work on these issues, BME (Black and Ethnic Minority) students are now coming forward with advice for university practices improvements and bring stories of being ‘othered’. The applications to the University’s diversity courses have grown (internationally) in numbers recently as a result. She started asking questions at the University management level about internationalizing their curriculum. Asking how they can benefit international students? How can they better develop supports for international students? She has ensured that their recruitment panels are composed of people who think about diversity and race issues.

She tells her students that they are the people who make all other professions – probably one of the best descriptions I’ve ever heard of why teaching and studying are so important! At the University of Edinburgh, she is building a team of lecturers, creating a critical mass, for the changing of the curriculum. Student teachers need to be helped so they can see themselves as the agents of change – at present, the continue to see themselves as efficient / effective teachers (the discourse very much present in almost any official publication in the education field you can possibly think of, indeed!) through teaching techniques and strategies, but not through social change. In her own School, she continues hearing people complaining how “there is too much social justice in the curriculum” (sic!)

She believes that when people talk about diversity, they don’t actually think about race. She referred to an ESL professor from the University of Texas who says that white people are not “conditioned to think about race”. Thinking back to my Polish growing-up time, I cannot possibly disagree with this – this feels very true. In my experience and memory of popular discourses, race was most frequently talked about in terms of “the others”. Dr Arshad asks, therefore: how can this homogenous workforce be expected to widen the diversity approach lens if the non-homogeneity is not part of their lived experience? This reminds me of a teacher with whom I have worked in Scotland, who was actually terrified of dealing with a child with little English from non-Scottish background – this was not a part of her lived experience at all!

Dr Arshad notes that BME communities tend to be blamed for the situation and no moves are made to remedy the situation (“Oh, their parents do not encourage them to become teachers…”, “Oh, they do not have ambitions…”). She argues that we need a teacher education programme that will not only teach the required technical skills, but attend to the critical and epistemological areas: one that will change teachers’ dispositions. Linear forms of learning need to change (i.e. the placement of teachers with one mentor only) – if we want individuals to change, we need to put them in a position when such preconceived notions are challenged and disrupted.

She calls on the governments to stop being silent about these issues – otherwise, the complacency remains. She calls on all of us to be the warriors for tolerance, equality and peace.

I hope that you will be such a warrior yourself.



Pettigrew, T.F. and Meertens, R.W. (1995) ‘Subtle and blatant prejudice in Western Europe’, European Journal of Social Psychology. Vol. 25(1) pp.57-75


Teachers with international background crafting their professional identity (Hafdis Gudjonsdottir, Karen Run Gisladottir, Samuel Lefever, Robert Berman  – NordForsk Researchers Network – presented by Prof Gudjonsdottir from the University of Iceland

In this presentation delivered by Prof Gudjondottir spoke of the experiences of diverse background teachers within the Icelandic education system. She reported on the study exploring the stories of those teachers, aiming to develop an understanding of how they draw on their cultural resources in their teaching, how they develop their identities and respond to the diverse social and cultural background of their students.

In speaking about various personal and cultural resources that diverse teachers might draw on, Prof Gudjonsdottir referred to:

  • personal resources of teachers shaping their practice (Connelly and Clandinin, 1999)
  • cultural resources as tools for teachers to make meaning and act in the world (Wertch, 1998)
  • teachers’ use of their past experience to inform practice (Connelly and Clandinin, 1999)
  • teachers’ practice is shaped in response to different contexts and mediated by their personal values, beliefs and cultural orientations (Monzo and Rueda, 2003)

The study found the following as common obstacles the immigrant teachers have found:

  • languages
  • cultural beliefs and values
  • race or ethnic background
  • religious beliefs
  • different educational system

The study was conducted using narrative enquiry method with six teachers with immigrant backgrounds – four in primary schools and two in secondary schools in Iceland. Learning the language was found to be one of the main challenges – perhaps unsurprisingly so. The teachers said that in Iceland you need to speak Icelandic to get a good job, sometimes they were learning words by heart at home, every evening.

It required effort on their part to negotiate their linguistic and cultural resources in the context of a new different school culture. All of the teachers took their professional development extremely serious and used many opportunities to develop their practice.

The perceived social status of teachers was strong and their working experiences were positive. All the teachers in the study have social capital (self confidence and knowledge) which they were able to use to overcome obstacles. Cultural beliefs, values, race and ethnic background wasn’t a hurdle, although at times it was a challenge. Overall, in Iceland, immigrant teachers were found to have generally acculturated well and live successfully in a bi-cultural context.

Prof Gudjonsdottir, jokingly, concluded her presentation suggesting that perhaps the teachers who decide to move to Iceland are already quite adventurous and ready for the challenge in the first places, given the country’s location and distance from other European countries.



Connelly, F. M. and Clandinin, D.J. (1999) Shaping a professional identity: Stories of educational practice. Teachers College Press

Monzó, L.D. and Rueda, R. (2003) ‘Shaping education through diverse funds of knowledge: A look at one Latina paraeducator’s lived experiences, beliefs, and teaching practice’, Anthropology & Education Quarterly. 34(1). pp. 72-95.

Wertsch, J.V. (1998) Mind as action. New York: Oxford University Press



Reconstruction and negotiation of refugee teachers’ professional role and identity: experiences of regugee teachers in Scotland and England (Dr Emilia Pietka-Nykaza, Research Fellow at the University of Southhampton)

As the title of this presentation suggests, it was about how refugee teachers in Scotland and England negotiate their roles and identities. I was particularly interested in this session, given that the Refugee Week is coming up in around 2 weeks’ time. Refugee teachers are known to share similar background with some of their students from ethnic minorities and sometimes may be role models for their students and advocates for their students. But, Dr Pietka-Nykaza reminds us, they do experience forms of exclusion related to diverse institutional and cultural barriers; they experience racism, prejudice and stereotyping.

In the course of the study reported on by the speaker, 21 refugee teachers in Glasgow and London were interviewed. Here are some of the findings emerging from those interviews:

  • Being a teacher:
    • Elements of refugee teachers’ professional identities were very clear in the interviews: some, in no uncertain terms, referred to themselves as “teachers” (meaning they considered this aspect to be the defining one of their identity), spoke of how they had worked in the profession for 20 years, said that they were teachers and should always be teachers.
  • Being a refugee teacher:
    • they reported the asylum granting processes and refugee experience processes having a knock-on effect on their ability to re-enter the profession: there were problems with their health, their family was not able to accompany them, they didn’t have enough money, described their life as “total mess” and everything was new and different to them.
    • some of them determined that the above issues needed to be dealt with first before they were even able to think about becoming / re-becoming a teacher in the UK
  • Institutional barriers erected by the teaching bodies in the UK:
    • admission criteria for the standards for registration as a teacher in Scotland and England made it difficult / impossible to re-enter the teaching profession
    • the alteration of their professional qualifications has led to the refugee teachers’ feeling that their professional capital was constantly under-valued
    • their decisions on whether or not to pursue the teaching profession in the UK depended greatly on whether they thought this was actually realistic; Dr Pietka-Nykaza quoted one of the teachers as saying, “it will take me at least 5 years before I can work as a teacher – thinking of a new profession now”
  • Socio-demographics of refugee teachers:
    • there was a permanent struggle between the maintenance of balance between their professional aspirations and perceptions of their re-entering their professions in the UK: there was not enough money for the whole family, sometimes the husband would go to the UK first and had to leave the wife behind for a while, one teacher considered himself too old to learn the new language (being 66 years old)

In conlusion, Dr Pietka-Nykaza has pointed to the permanent struggle between the refugee teachers developing their professional roles and how realistic it was for them to return to their professions. They struggled in relation to their age, gender and their family needs and with the barriers because of the UK teaching profession institutional structures (profession admission criteria). Their career paths are not necessarily results of their individual choices, but reflect their different responses to the barriers encountered, opportunities and personal dilemmas.


“Chasing a silver bullet” – teachers and teaching multicultural society (Nihad Bunar, Stockholm University)

At this point, it was time for the last keynote speech at the conference. It was most enlightening talk by Professor Nihad Bunar from the Stockholm University – on the state of provision for immigrant / diverse learners in Sweden. Some of this seems to contradict some of the positive images of Swedish education I have come across in the media in Britain.

Prof Bunar began by drawing a picture of immigration in Sweden for us. 16% of the school population in Sweden are foreign born. 20% of elementary pupils and 20% in pre-schools have a mother tongue other than Swedish. Both large and mid-size cities / towns have become ethnically and socially segregated. Sweden is currently losing ground in international educational achievement comparisons (PISA) and the overall student achievement is declining.

The importance of which school a pupil attends has increased, meaning that school segregation is growing, particularly related to ethnic factors and to ‘hidden’ factors (expectations, support at home, motivation and peer-effect). There is a huge achievement gap for those newly arrived, and that is even after 7 years at school – when compared to the majority of students in the mainstream.

Next, the speaker drew a picture of the Swedish government’s response to these issues. It appears that the entire focus of the new system is on student achievement. The reforms are clearly based on the idea that problems faced by schools originate from lax attitudes and, thus, if achievement levels are to improve, more demands have to be placed on all school actors. The link between an actor’s action and consequences have been reinforced and made more transparent (meaning more disciplinary measures). A system of greater accountability and control has been introduced. The system of vouchers, school choice, competition and free schools has been reinforced. (For those of you teaching in England, beginning to sound familiar?) A wide range of measures to enhance teachers professional competencies, principals’ leadership has been added.

Here, Prof Bunar began talking about how diversity falls into these reforms. Well – it doesn’t look like they do. According to our keynote speaker, the system is completely silent on diversity, anti-racism, anti-discrimination and tolerance. It has stopped talking about them and instead focuses solely on achievement, demands and technicalities. There is no other discourse and no idea present that the presence of more diverse teachers would be an asset to the school system.

In terms of students who are new arrivals: there are hardly any attempts in Sweden to figure out what their previous subject knowledge is. Students enjoy their preparatory classes (where they can spend up to 3 years), but after a while they want to attend a real class in order to get grades in all subjects. Some schools are setting up separate schools for newcomers only! Students praise their students in preparatory classes for their pedagogical and, in particular, social skills (Prof. Bunar said that, in his estimation, the teachers there have more social skills than pedagogical: they try to “shield” them from the mainstream schooling claiming that the “poor kids” would be bullied there, but it certainly does not help these children’s educational prospects). Does it actually strike you as a type of pre-Swann Report (1985) times in England when children would be bussed to other language provision centres to learn English instead of being socially included in the school? Wouldn’t you say that violates the principles of inclusion?

Those students who are enrolled in ordinary classes, experience the “sink or swim” situation (meaning there is no specific provision for them). They experience cultural shame – they won’t raise their hand for the fear they would be laughed at and can be ashamed of being who they are. Teachers in ordinary classes pay no attention to newly arrived students’ needs and deficiency discourse is prevalent (“they don’t speak Swedish”, “they’re poor”, “their parents can’t” – speaking only of difficulties). The mother tongues of the newly arrived students is completely abolished in ordinary mainstream classes.

The new to Swedish students believe that it is important to learn Swedish as quickly as possible, are ambitious, but are in need of help and support – pedagogical and social. They need encouragement and they need to feel they are moving forward within the system (rather than spending 3 years in Swedish preparatory classes!). They feel that in order to be accepted, they need to become more “Swedish-like” and less like the cultures from which they come.

Prof Bunar states that the system does not notice and does not confirm an individual child; rather, the children are labelled as newly arrived, unaccompanied, refugee, Somali, Afghan, etc. These characteristics should not be see as the defining aspect of their individuality – yet, sadly, in Sweden, they are. The Swedish system does not deal with their difficulties in schools, but reduces their entire life world to putting them in preparatory schools for several years, depriving them of social contacts with other kids – we’re talking 3-4 years here. No attention is paid to their loneliness, exclusion and cultural shame, but the system is happy with physical integration of all the children in the same building.

(For an excellent article about the difference between inclusion and integration, please read this article – I shiver whenever I hear inclusion mistakenly referred to or understood as integration :  )

In the Q&A session following Prof Bunar’s rather gloomy depiction of the Swedish educational system (at least for EAL learners!), Prof Vini Lauder, in the audience, inquired whether the performativity approaches can be seen as violating the rights of a child as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child – as in all of Prof Bunar’s examples of the way immigrant children educated in Sweden, the child appears to matter the least and comes last.

What do you think? I think it’s a good question!



The Swann Report (1985) Education for All: The Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Education of Children from Ethnic Minority Groups


Where do you come from Miss? (Alan Benson, London Metropolitan University)

In this presentation, Prof Alan Benson spoke of his study into how immigrant / bilingual teachers’ use of the English language (particularly when it’s perceived to be a non-standard English) might undermine their status as teachers. His study was conducted on the outskirts of London with a couple of teachers originating from other countries.

First, he drew our attention to the Standard English and language ideology in English schools. Department for Education (DfE, 2012 Teachers’ Standards) insists that teachers should use standard English correctly whatever their specialist subject. Prof Benson states that if you don’t speak standard English, it might be pointed out to you that you don’t use it properly – the status of native speaker is greater than yours, in such cases. On another note of my own, there are still numerous English as a Foreign Language schools in the UK who advertise for their EFL teacher posts stating that only native speakers of English are eligible to apply.

Prof Benson structured his talk around three themes:

  • Global Englishes:
    • Christophe, in his study, thought he was speaking The Queen’s English – but his students considered it ‘a dictionary English’
    • Dieter, upon coming to the UK, felt completely disabled as he wasn’t able to express himself in the way he would’ve liked to – he felt disabled
  • Polycentricity (this concept is about who authorizes your speech)
    • Pilvi, a Finnish teacher, following saying Hello. My name is Pilvi in her class, felt tearful – language can operate on various scales and have different centres of gravity.
  • Pronunciation:
    • Semye complained that his students tried to correct the pronunciation of every word he said. Her power is being directly challenged by native speakers

White teachers have a certain invisible power, Prof Benson claims. They can draw power from being white. An Italian teacher, for instance, might be able to talk about football teams, Lamborghini cars or a Ferrari  – concepts known to his / her students. Such knowledge reaffirms their power.

So how do diverse teachers go about developing the authority of speech – in other words, how do they learn to speak so they are respected? In the professor’s study, Doina said she’d learned to use specific ways of authoritarian speaking, and Semye found out that if she talked about football first, and then gets the children back to work – that works.

Immigrant teachers might also have to deal with imagined communities in the eyes of native speakers (children in their classes). For instance, Dieter (German) kept being asked by his students if he knew and liked (!) Hitler and could not believe that people were still talking about the World War II.

It was a fascinating talk. This, to me, also links to the idea that seems to persist in the UK amongst many (drawing from my own personal experience) that native speaker is a higher status given to one simply by the virtue of being born a native speaker of English – taking no account of the fact that bilingual teachers might very well be extremely well educated in the English language, but often, this bears no weight. In my opinion, such attitudes bear some resemblance to aristocracy perceptions that they are “better” simply by having been born into a “higher up” family. Education seems to have lower status, then, than being born a native speaker – as exemplified by the very existence of EFL job adverts such as this one:  , which lists “native speaker” as a “qualification”.



Department for Education (2012) Teachers’ Standards. Crown


Culturally Responsive Teacher Education Through the Personal Stories of Diverse Teachers and Learners: Researcher Developed Web and Audio Resources (Antoinette Gagne, University of Toronto, and Clea Schmidt, University of Manitoba)

This last presentation at the conference focused on the value of locally-developed resources and showcased some of the resources and websites that were developed through Canada-based projects for culturally and ethnically diverse learners. The two scholars have considered multiple complex identities of diverse learners involving the intersection of:

  • Languages
  • Cultures
  • Ethnicities
  • Genders
  • Religions
  • Abilities
  • Sexual orientations
  • Socioeconomic statuses

This challenges difference as a deficit and avoids the disadvantage of considering individual through just one lens – as human beings, we are more complex than that. In creation of the resources, they considered intercultural competencies of learners – defined by Deardorff (2008) as the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately in intercultural situations using a person’s intercultural knowledge and skills.

The resources included:

  • classroom scenarios involving English language learners – ESL scenarios presenting educators with challenges to consider and potential solutions
  • DiT – Diversity in Teaching website with resources (
  • ESL Infusion website (
    • This includes a particularly amazing section with Voices of Immigrant Teenagers in Canada – videos ( – these can be used for the purposes of social inclusion of learners in mainstream schools; they are videos starring diverse teenagers expressing their feelings in their own words. Here, students are talking about how they feel in schools when surrounded by Canada-born students.
  • There was also a religious and social clubs in high schools project: in the Christian club, for instance, students realized that having Christianity in common (but not their nationalities) helped them recognize and build bridges between their other differences
  • There is also the Voices of Immigrant Parents project
  • There were also videos were produced locally and all self-funded of immigrant teachers – aiming to improve the understanding about internationally educated teachers (for jurisidictions and school leaders: who they are and what experiences they might have.

All in all, a fantastic set of resources that can easily be used in other parts of the world!



Deardorff, D.K (2008) ‘Intercultural competence: A definition, model and implications for education abroad’. In: Savicki, V. (ed) Developing intercultural competence and transformation: theory, research, and application in international education. Stylus.



The Conference concluded with a few speeches, summing up the enormous amount of knowledge, issues and reflections on the state of things related to diversity, immigrant teachers and children across the countries represented by the scholars and speakers. We all walked away from it armed with a feeling of common goal – being the warriors for tolerance and inclusion of diverse teachers and children in our schools. We felt empowered and I strongly believed to be the challengers of the current state of things, wishing to fight for the higher status of immigrant / international teachers and in doing so, wishing to better the lives of our children. We commented on how the results-driven culture of performativity in so many educational systems in different countries has been noticed to be interfering and taking away from the inclusion of ethnic minorities.

We hope that our efforts will lead to the greater inclusion of EAL / ESL children and their teaches in the educational systems across the world, but also believe that it might be a never-ending dedication as there will always been something more to do.

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