Helen Vangool (BA'12, BEd'14) is a teacher in Saskatoon who shares her experiences of racism with her students and encourages students of colour open up to me about their own experiences. (Submitted by Helen Vangool)

Schools need BIPOC educators now more than ever

There are too few teachers who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour, and students suffer as a result

Take a minute and think about every single teacher you have had from kindergarten to Grade 12. Were any of them a person of colour? Highly doubtful.

I am an educator, and I also happen to be Black — a rare occurrence in Saskatchewan schools. A rarity that needs fixing.

Post-secondary education programs in this province should do more to recruit people of colour and support them. Seeing more Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) in teaching positions will encourage students of colour to join the profession and at the same time reframe some of the narrow-minded thinking I encountered when it comes to the concept of white privilege and systemic racism in Saskatchewan.

Growing up, I never had a teacher that wasn't white. In fact, I was surrounded by whiteness.

In elementary school, I was always the only visible minority in the class. Everything was taught from a Eurocentric point of view. For example, Canada's involvement in the underground railroad was celebrated, but we did not learn that Canada had slaves for more than 200 years. I don't recall images, books, or teaching materials that contained diversity.

Even when there were incidents of racism that occurred in the school, I was never aware of substantial consequences or teaching behind it.

It was the microaggressions that I experienced daily — comments on my hair, skin and abilities — that made me feel like I didn't quite fit in.

Voiceless and invisible

High school was a little different. There were a few more BIPOC in my classes, but nothing really changed for me. 

All the teachers were still white, and when they did incorporate diversity in their teaching, they only seemed to use materials that dealt with the trauma of BIPOC, never joy.

One day in English class, my teacher was reading the novel Of Mice and Men. I will never forget the way it made me feel to sit in a classroom full of white people while my teacher used the N-word with no hesitation. I felt like all eyes were on me. I had this feeling of dread wash over me.

It happened again when another teacher was reading To Kill a Mocking Bird to our class and used the N-word. No one even thought to talk to me about using the word, discuss the contents before teaching these novels or even, dare I say it, leave the slurs out. No one thought to talk to me about these things because none of the teachers knew what it was like to be a person of colour, and truly, it felt like no one cared.

I felt lost in the school system, voiceless and invisible.

I had this feeling of "otherness" that I couldn't quite shake.

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