This TEDx talk teaches the teachers

Dr. Nicole West-Burns gives a TEDx talk about race and its effects in the classroom to members of the Durham District School Board at G.L. Roberts Collegiate. Photo credit: William Black

For the first time, the Durham District School Board (DDSB) hosted a TEDx talk to discuss race, culture and poverty issues in the classroom.

TEDxOshawaED was held at G.L. Roberts Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Oshawa on Nov. 21.

The event featured six speakers, each one talking for 15-20 minutes about their life experiences. These talks were directed to an audience of teachers, principals, vice-principals and other members of the DDSB.

The speakers were:

• Karly Church, crisis intervention counsellor and social service worker and survivor of sex trafficking. Church spoke about how domestic sex trafficking works and how predators take advantage of a target’s weaknesses.

“There’s four elements that have to be present in order for human trafficking to exist,” Church says. “There needs to be force, there needs to be fraud, there needs to be coercion and it all needs to be facilitated by a third party…So somebody behind the scenes is doing it to you and profiting from you.”

• Dr. Leeno Karumanchery, chief diversity officer at MESH/diversity, an organization that encourages diversity and inclusion in businesses. Karumanchery spoke about social context, safety and sexism in the workplace and in the classroom.

“If I said women are overly sensitive, gay people flaunt it, immigrants steal our jobs, prove to me I’m wrong. You’d be hard-pressed to do it. You could throw facts at me,” says Karumanchery. “You could give me quantifiable reality – and if I don’t want to see it, I’m not going to see it.”

• Dr. Nouman Ashraf, director of equity, diversity and inclusion at the University of Toronto and assistant professor talked about privilege, accessibility and how teachers need to include safe spaces in their curriculum.

“Movements are essential because their gift to us is that they actually allow ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. I can’t think of a better platform to re-imagine than education.”

• Dr. Nicole West-Burns, director of school services with the Centre for Urban Schooling at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto. She spoke about how teachers need to be mindful of what they teach and how it can affect students.

“I know there’s lots of people in the room – we do equity work. I do equity work, we want it to be better for all of our learners. But what we have to understand is that we’re starting climbing up. That actually our mainstream school systems have never been equitable places.”

• Tabia Charles, 2008 Canadian track and field Olympian from Pickering, influencer, fashion designer, entrepreneur and life coach. Charles spoke about how her beauty standard was shaped by commercials containing all white-skinned models.

“The kids I went to school with, my teachers, the administrators, the librarian, [the] majority of people I was surrounded by looked more like the women on TV than I actually did.”

• Christopher Warren, Durham District School Board facilitator and teacher grew up in poverty and says he was surrounded by the wrong people. He says his problems started after his family moved from rural Newfoundland to the capital city of St. John’s.

“I think a lot about those kids who are going through tough times and feel un-seen in the class,” says Warren. “These kids are going to look for places to escape, are they going to read books like I did? Ball hockey? Vandalism? Or are they going to head off to websites like YouTube, Reddit, how about 4chan? Are we going to see these kids and give them validation because if we don’t see them somebody else will. Somebody has to see them.”

As a kid Warren ended up vandalizing property. He saw the wrong direction he was taking. He managed to change his life and now teaches civics, business and computer technology at Ajax High School.

Warren says many young students won’t be able to change their lives without a teacher’s help.

Audience members supported the speakers.

Marija Apostolovski, a teacher and equity representative at R.S. McLaughlin High School, says she has seen these kinds of issues in her classroom before.

“I’ve had a lot of students who’ve brought up some of these conversations in equity courses and law classes, where we have disproportionate representation of certain groups over others, but we’re getting much more diverse now,” says Apostolovski.

“A lot of our students don’t feel like they’re being represented,” she says.

Apostolovski says these TEDx talks need to be run continuously to be effective.

“I think it would be great especially addressing current issues that come up,” says Apostolovski. “Obviously there are some topics that will transcend year after year.

“Hopefully this is something that even McLaughlin can look into potentially hosting,” says Apostolovski.

Lunch and snacks were prepared by G.L. Roberts culinary students and the school’s wood shop students also created and painted the TEDx letters present behind the speakers.

To attend it cost $100 and an invitation from the DDSB was required.