Why teaching is the next step for Black Geographers

Why teaching is the next step for Black Geographers

Since you’re being so disruptive, why don’t you come and teach the class?

Becoming a black geographer involves going against the norm, being an unexpected or unwelcome presence in white spaces. 

I recall an incident during one of my first lessons in my teacher training year. A young man, living a familiar story of being the only black student in the class, ‘secretly’ held up a sign which read:

‘A black geography teacher, really?’

This was meant to be an insult to me, and the class’s laughter confirmed that. I remember being amused rather than upset. At the end of the lesson, I took him aside. I addressed him fully, with an accurate pronunciation of his Nigerian name and asked him;

‘If you think it is a joke for me to be here, then what do you think about yourself being here?’

The look on his face advised me that my point hit home. We spoke briefly, and I ended focusing on the idea that:

‘Surely if I am here, you can go even further?’

I do not know if our conversation had any impact on him, yet this interaction reaffirmed my desire; to disrupt the geography classroom and create an equitable space. To teach in a way which does not allow the formation of self-negating thoughts in any of my global majority students. 

As many of us have, that young man likely experienced the sarcastic request from a schoolteacher to ‘disruptive’ students; ‘If you have something to say, why don’t you share it with the whole class?’

‘Well, we do have something to say, so why don’t we teach and empower more black students to disrupt the norm?’

During my career, I have taught at schools in London (UK), Chongqing (China), and Hamburg (Germany). I have felt the absence of black teachers and seen how euro-centric approaches to geography ostracises those identified as ethnic minorities. Ultimately, I have endured the vulnerability of being the only black person in the room. 

Though we were all (hopefully) taught that Africa is a continent and not a country, development was still positioned as a fight to imitate the West, poorly. A failed imitation due to the inherent failings of Africans such as drought, AIDS and living in huts. 

Critical links to colonisation are not as causative as the continents seemingly endemic struggle and suffering. The core teaching labelled our countries as ‘impoverished’, ‘undeveloped’, and called our families ‘indigenous people’ rather than locals. The black student arguing against this was simply disruptive and was quickly marginalised. 

Combined with the lack of diversity within the teaching staff (only 14% of teachers and 4.3% of Higher Education Geography staff in the UK identify as ethnic minorities), these stereotypes and inaccuracies go unchallenged and global majority students see little value in the course.

So, what can we do?

Become teachers.

Black geographers are uniquely skilled to become empathetic teachers, inspiring mentors, and advise on changes that are needed within education. Becoming teachers will add black voices to educational progress and demonstrate how successful all students can be with an anti-racist approach.

Teachers identified as minorities (and white allies) who actively challenge neo-colonial curriculums are changing the future. We must present increasingly accurate and constructive lessons that validate students and reject the stereotypes and generalisations which push many black students away.

By teaching, and introducing a new perspective into geography education, you can shatter limitations placed within the minds of students irrespective of their background. Our presence as teachers will add to the geography classroom and reframe the experience of all students. 

I have seen the impact of being a student’s first, if not only, black teacher and believe the impact of good quality black geography teachers can resonate for generations to come. 

So how can we do it?

There are many ways to get into teaching; for myself, a PGCE at UCLIOE (then simply IOE) was the logical choice. I would recommend this path for the majority of people interested in teaching. 

UCLIOE is globally recognised, and the course they provide thoroughly prepares you before entering the classroom. More theory than the ‘pay-while-you-train’ alternatives notorious for their ‘into the deep end’ tactics that leave gaps in pedagogical knowledge.

Completing a PGCE also provides access to crucial anti-racist and decolonised teaching courses. Simply being black does not mean that we cannot fall victim to spreading the misinformation we have been exposed to for so long. Students need teachers who have a critical approach, considerate of the needs and representation of all groups. 

I do not believe that diversity in the teaching staff is the cure. But the presence of diverse bodies in a traditionally white space challenges assumptions. Global majority teachers proactively engaging with the academic environment will create self-sustaining structures and cultures to improve geography for everyone.

So what’s in it for me?

No one needs to be a martyr. The romantic idea of ‘representing black people’ has ruined the mental health of many teachers and black people in white spaces. 

I do not recommend this as your driving force, this path is not for everyone, but the benefits of teaching are tantamount for passionate geographers. 

Within teaching, you will be able to build upon your passion for geography, continually learning and constructing new knowledge with young minds. All while simultaneously supporting young students experiencing the same challenges we endured. Contributing to a generation for whom a black geographer (or teacher) is not an abnormal existence.

You will be that affirming existence that tells black children: 

This is something I can do, 

This is a space I can occupy, 

and then inspire them to do it even better than you.

In sum; teaching is the next step for black geographers as we pave the way for a more diverse and inclusive geography. A geography for the future and a geography for everyone.


Daryl has been teaching for over ten years and is currently a Secondary Geography teacher in Germany. He is currently engaged with the Decolonise Geography movement alongside work with antiracist movements starting in his classroom. Daryl welcomes all constructive feedback at dsinclairwriting@gmail.com or on Twitter @dsinclair17

1 comment

  • “No one needs to be a martyr. The romantic idea of ‘representing black people’ has ruined the mental health of many teachers and black people in white spaces. "

    You bring up a good point. I have been fortunate to teach in places where Blacks made up at least 40% of the population, including the staff. This is something to think about as I transfer to another area.

    This was a good read. Thank you.

    April O

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