New research into the training of overseas teachers reports that they are often unprepared for the racism they face and that school staff do not do enough to counter pupil prejudice and develop an equality ethos within schools.
Because of teacher shortages in the UK, recruitment of teachers is taking place in Western and Eastern Europe and further afield in the countries of the South. Many such teachers find themselves on Graduate Teacher Training Programmes or Overseas Trained Teachers Programmes which means that they learn on the job i.e. they have a certain amount of classroom teaching and release time for study. It is these teachers, many of whom are from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, who appear to be suffering from a lack of support, often in the face of pupil racism.
The school culture
Many of the teachers who arrive from eastern Europe, Africa and Asia have had problems adjusting to a classroom culture in which children do not immediately show respect for teachers and a willingness to learn.
Racism and ignorance
In many schools there was a considerable degree of xenophobia being directed at trainee teachers. Although overt racist abuse might be punished by senior staff, covert remarks made to or about the trainees were frequent and uncontested. In addition, many pupils appeared to be extremely ignorant of the backgrounds teachers might come from e.g. expecting Africans to live in mud huts and South Asians to be uneducated and unable to use electrical appliances.
Strategies for dealing with racism
The schools in the sample researched did not seem to ‘welcome diversity’ or find ways of turning the presence of overseas trainee teachers into an opportunity for furthering multiculturalism in the school and tackling the issue of racism head-on in the classroom.
This exploratory study into Minority ethnic and overseas student teachers in South-east England concludes:
‘The most depressing findings were the extent of racism and xenophobia, compounded by ignorance and misinformation, among many pupils in the South-east of England. This inevitably impacts on students who look or sound “different” from the white English norm. Those students brought up in Britain, or long familiar with its schools, knew, or quickly learnt, how to cope. But those from overseas and from different cultural traditions of schooling often found the pupils’ attitudes very difficult indeed.’
The report recommends that:
- Training Providers be more aware of the needs and vulnerability of minority ethnic and overseas students,
- Higher Education Institutes raise awareness of racism and xenophobia among all students as part of the ‘equality and equal opportunities’ topics and in mentor training; teach all students practical strategies for dealing with racist comment and behaviour,
- Schools raise awareness of racism among all staff and work pro-actively to create an ethos that welcomes diversity.