An internal memo circulated earlier this week within the Toronto District School Board explicitly states: “The first round of TDSB interviews will be granted to teachers candidates that meet one or more of the following criteria in addition to being an outstanding teacher: Male, racial minority, French, Music, Aboriginal.”
Although the school board is taking the stance that the hiring criteria outlined above is not meant to actively exclude other groups, I can’t help but think that if I sent in a resume after graduating from York University’s education program this spring, as a female, I’d be rejected.
I’ve been constantly reminded that, as an Asian female, there are special scholarships available to me—that I enjoy a special kind of privilege offered to women of colour. A representative at a job fair stand once told me that if I ever considered applying for a position with the Toronto Police Service, I’d be a shoo-in. The TPS was running low on Asian female police officers—their words, not mine. Some would call this affirmative action. Others would cry reverse racism.
I say: why should any of this matter? Shouldn’t merit, skill and experience be what really counts?
Out of the 32 teachers I had in my four years of high school, only three were visible minorities. Eighteen of those teachers were male. Not a single one was an Asian female.
Even so, I was able to relate to them because of what they offered academically and personally. Though I never encountered a teacher who ‘looked’ exactly like me, it didn’t matter. I related to the ones who augmented their lessons with humanizing anecdotes and life experiences.
Anyone can experience personal struggles and successes. Even the best teachable moments of teachers’ lives won’t matter in the classroom if they can’t engage students. If you can’t find ways to relate, and dismiss any differences between you and them as generational or religious or racial, you’re missing a huge part of what it means to be a teacher.
Education consultant Brett Cumberbatch told The Globe and Mail that building a diverse teaching force should be an ongoing effort as opposed to using internal memos. The latter strategy, he says, fails to recruit the best applicants and creates resentment toward minority groups.
This is not to say that working to reflect the demographics of the student body isn’t important. Even in communities that are less diverse, people should have opportunities learn from a variety of voices. But even if you’re in favour of diversity, the changes shouldn’t be coming as periodical bursts of internal hiring memos requesting a person constructed from a list.
Being able to use your life experiences is one of the biggest assets a person can bring to the classroom, but boiling down a person to narrow aspects like skin colour is not the best approach.
Yuni Kim is an education student at York University.