It was Parent’s Evening. The evening when teachers are guaranteed to return home at an ungodly hour with any remaining energy completely zapped out of them. After seeing a dizzying stream of parents and soothing their worries, I found myself again sat across from a student and her mother. After expressing some of my concerns about her daughter’s attendance, the mother firmly nodded in agreement; occasionally letting out a “mhm” sound. As I spoke, I noticed a soft, warm smile began to appear on her face. After a brief pause, her rhythmic “mhm” sound had stopped and she sighed “thank you for being natural”.
She excitedly continued: “My daughter is transitioning right now, she told me that she has a teacher with an afro and I really wanted to see you”. I gently replied with an appreciative “aww thank you.” After our meeting came to a close, I felt an overwhelming rush of responsibility and humility. I have never considered that my presence as a teacher with unapologetically kinky hair, could have such a meaningful impact on students.
I vividly remember the interview which kick-started my teaching career just over a year ago. This was my first job after finishing my masters and I was entering this new, daunting terrain of work. After a manic scramble through my wardrobe, it suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea what I was going to do with my hair. Should I do anything to my hair? I’ve always worn it this way so why change it? Will people judge me?. These thoughts had swirled in my mind and I found myself feeling unusually self-conscious about my hair. For my entire life, I’ve mostly worn my hair out and never questioned it. I was the queen of intricate gel designs on my baby hairs and my afro puff has been a distinctive part of my identity. After my mum’s insistence that my hair should be constrained in a tight low bun, I obliged. During my Thursday interview, my hair was slicked into an obedient “professional” bun. Once I had secured the job, I came in on the Monday with my hair free and true to form. I refused to be anything but my true self.