Dozens of teachers and other stakeholders met in Toronto on Saturday to address what they says is a lack of representation of Black educators in Ontario classrooms.
Educators, the Ontario Principals’ Council, community members and academics attended the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO)’s symposium, which was held at Hyatt Regency on King Street West.
“We’re finding that some of our students are not seeing themselves in the teachers or the educators that are working in the front of the classrooms across the province,” ETFO’s first vice president David Mastin told CBC Toronto.
“We’re bringing forward a lot of people, bringing together a lot of people to have a discussion about how we can improve that.”
Mastin could not provide data about the number of Black teachers in the province. He said this is one of the things ETFO will ask all of the stakeholders — including the Ontario government — to address.
“[We will ask them] to keep data, to keep statistics on what is out there right now so that we understand the magnitude of the problem,” he said.
“We know the problem, we know it’s there, [but] we don’t have the data necessarily.”
Mastin said teachers are the people that students and parents look to for guidance — not just from a curriculum perspective, but also for their values. This leaves a “massive gap” for not only Black students who perform better with a Black teacher, but for all students.
“They need that diversity, they need that broad perspective on what makes Ontario and what makes Canada and this world amazing,” he said.
Representation hasn’t improved: teachers
Tyrone Russell, a teacher in Waterloo region, says he’s had only one Black educator throughout the time he was a student.
After working as a teacher for almost 20 years, he says the situation has not changed.
“I’m the only one from the last couple of schools that I’ve been at,” Russell said.
“Occasionally there might be one or two others, but we’re definitely in the minority. In more than a handful of cases, I’ve been the only one.”
Russell said it’s important to have Black educators in the school system for many reasons — many that we don’t know the full effects of.
“When I meet young people or young students who haven’t met a Black teacher in the school system before, meeting one for the first time is a very impactful experience for them,” he said.
“Even going up to Grade 7 or Grade 8 they might have had one Black teacher … and not being able to see yourself in the system, not having role models can impact students and youth in profound ways.”
Alexandra Waithe has been teaching in Toronto for 15 years. She said one of the panelists at the symposium was her professor in college more than 15 years ago, and the same issues that he was speaking about in the classroom are still present today.
“I see changes to some degree … [but] often I am one of, or the only one there,” said Waithe, who identifies as biracial.
Mastin said the symposium was the first of its kind by ETFO.
He said the union signed on to the United Nations-declared decade for people of African descent in 2018, and part of the initiatives that they’ve put in place since then include a priority statement to address anti-Black racism.
“This is the first time we’ve done something like this and we’re going to continue to do our work to improve the situation in our schools,” he said.