Exploring dilemmas of race; experiences of a white teacher trainee and two white teacher educators

Activity: External talk or presentationOral presentation


A critical evaluation of the issues arising from education studies seminars focused on race, taught to primary teacher trainees in Autumn 2020. In education studies, dilemmas relating to equality, inclusion and becoming a change agent have been theorised as a response to diversity, where difference is seen as an ordinary aspect of human development and where all pupils can succeed (Florian, 2017). Ideas have been filtered through the lens of policy and practice in relation to particular marginalised groups in an attempt to understand and critique some of the social, cultural and political context of UK schools while ensuring that student teachers understand the risks associated with essentialising learners (Santoro, 2017). Our sessions focused on identifying the dilemmas for teachers in relation to race. They were embedded into modules concerned with inclusive practice and developing teacher agency.

Students were invited to write responses to the sessions; this presentation will include reflections from one of these students. The reflection raises some concerns tutors had discussed before the session; the sensitivity of the topic, negotiating a safe space where misconceptions can be challenged, and teaching race issues on a programme which is strongly tethered by government regulations and guidance. Tutors might add concerns about their own developing knowledge and teaching such a potentially sensitive area online.

The events of the summer of 2020 have heightened awareness of the imperative to decolonise our teacher trainee curriculum (Moncrieffe et al, 2020). This can be achieved, in part, by deepening the interrogation of power and white privilege, encouraging students to ask critical questions of school-based practice (ibid). This aligns with our foundational aim of students becoming change agents as they begin teaching (Villegas et al, 2017).

The dilemma for tutors, who value a relational pedagogy, is to understand the knowledge base of students and remain sensitive to their experiences; an approach which supports critical discussion and encourages agency. It also remains important to acknowledge the difficult experiences of some students which appear to have arisen from systemic marginalisation not associated with race. If a teacher educator’s responsibility is to provide strong counterarguments to the current racialised narrative which perpetuates structural racism (Lander, 2014) then the question is how to build the confidence of tutors to negotiate this without sabotaging the safe space where students can discuss uncomfortable truths.
Period7 May 2021
Degree of RecognitionNational


  • TEAN Conference
  • Race Equality
  • race
  • ethnicity
  • teacher education
  • Anti Racism