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Being A Teacher With Natural Hair

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.