‘Young Brown Teacher:’ Why Representation is Valuable to Students of Color

by Sandeep Virk – 

As a student, I always hoped to have a teacher that looked like someone in my family or me: a young brown teacher. Why? I wanted to relate to an educator on a personal level.

I was always motivated and inspired to become a teacher. More than half of my cousins are educators. My mom was my biggest supporter. As a matter of fact, my father was studying to become a Punjabi professor in India but decided to immigrate to Canada for a better life in the late 1980s. I memorized all of the lines in Matilda and forced my best friend and brother to sit in my room while I taught them math and English throughout my childhood.

Surprisingly, I faced more scrutiny and adversity from outsiders than my immediate family and friends. “You’re only doing it to get your summers off.” “Good luck being on the supply list!” “The pay sucks. Do something else instead.” However, this negativity encouraged me to work even harder and prove that those with a true passion for ongoing learning, inclusivity and diversity can accomplish their goals. With the odds stacked against me, I landed a permanent teaching job within months of graduating. And for those who believe that teaching is easy, I can confirm that it is quite the opposite. It is pretty freaking hard.

[Read More: Why I Find Incredible Value in my Teaching Career]

So now what? My ultimate goal is to be a safe outlet for every student. I want all learners to confide in me, with both personal and academic issues. I actively aim to create an all-encompassing and welcoming classroom environment where students are able to build upon their past knowledge and individual strengths. I take responsibility for creating critical thinkers in the classroom, in which teenagers are able to gain transferable skills to become leaders in every aspect of their lives. Being able to self-reflect on my teaching pedagogy and transform student feedback into an action plan is becoming second nature.

At the end of the day, high school should be fun. It can be a place where you meet your best friends, buy a prom outfit and have your first “relationship.” In certain parts of the world, high school has become the opposite for many adolescents. Cyberbullying, discrimination and social isolation are apparent in several schools. I want to help transform high school experiences from negative to positive by staying after school to help students or supervising school club meetings at lunches. Let’s get some high school musical vibes up in here.

I am excited and optimistic about the future. I do not know what my personal or professional life will look like in ten years, five years, or even two years, but at least now that young brown girl has a young brown teacher.

Planning an adventure, creating a unit plan, or obsessing over a new television show? Sandeep Virk is probably doing all of the above (possibly at the same time). She is a high school business studies teacher for the York Region District School Board in Vaughan, ON. Education is her passion, and she ensures that her lessons (and movie suggestions) are embedded in moral values that students take with them outside of the classroom.

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