The long road to teaching

By Beatrice Ngalula Kabutakapua

Ashraf Javdani outside Rokeby School in Newham. Photo by Beatrice Ngalula Kabutakapua.

Iranian teacher Ashraf Javdani recalls the struggle of finding a permanent position through the Jobcentre despite extensive teaching experience and university qualifications.

Ashraf left Iran for London in 2005, before her country was hit by a series of anti-governmental demonstrations. With little knowledge of English, yet 15 years of experience working as a speech and language therapist at the Ministry of Education in Iran she thought she could start in a UK school as a Teaching Assistant in Farsi and Dari – Iranian and Afghan languages. She didn’t expect it would be so hard.

She says, “It was really challenging to find out the correct information and the right direction.

“But I really wanted to teach.  I‘ve always loved teaching.”

In her first year in the UK, Ashraf improved her English. While looking for more information on how and where to work as a special educational needs teacher, she received income allowance.

To work in the UK overseas teachers need a recognized UK degree equivalent, GCSE English and Maths (and sometimes a science subject) and experience in a mainstream school classroom.

Unaware of the GCSE English requirement, Ashraf studied biomedical science at university in 2007. She says, “I went to an information centre, and I was told I needed a degree from here, nobody said to me I needed a GCSE in English.”

After her honors degree Ashraf spent one year as a jobseeker at the JobCentre.

“If someone had to ask me, that was the most difficult period of my entire life,” she says. Despite her qualifications and experience, Ashraf couldn’t find a suitable position and felt the JobCentre was not working well for her since they did not have enough information for professionals. Through the Internet Ashraf found the Refugee into Teaching project at the Refugee Council and Employability Forum.

Employability Forum referred her to Empowering Learning, a teacher training and recruitment agency, through which Ashraf obtained a position as a special educational needs (SEN) teaching assistant (TA) at Rokeby Secondary School in Canning Town, where the English designer Alexander McQueen also studied.

Lynne Hannigan, director of Empowering Learning, remembers helping Ashraf through her journey. In November 2010, the teacher was taken up by Rokeby school for a work experience role as a SEN TA, first one day a week, then five. After six weeks she was offered a temporary post and in January, Ashraf  was offered a permanent position at a higher level.

Ms Hannigan adds that part of the problem when migrant and refugee teachers look for jobs is that schools fear that they will not fit in and that their teaching will be too formal. She adds: “By committing to six weeks working as a co-teacher, people like Ashraf can prove they can adapt and schools like Rokeby can see the strengths they offer.

“I believe migrant and refugee teachers find it even more difficult to work in a recession, I saw this when teaching in the 1980’s and meeting professional refugee parents who desperately wanted to make a contribution.”

The Office of National Statistics says that between 2010 and 2011 the number of migrants coming to the UK looking for a job decreased by 22%. And those here are sometimes advised to use alternative services to the JobCentre.

Sarah Lawson is assistant head teacher at Rokeby School. She says they successfully hire foreign teachers. About Ashraf she says:

“No one else in the school has her range of expertise. She had worked for many years with disabled students and so had insights into working with certain types of student that other candidates did not have.

“Ashraf speaks languages that no other member of staff speaks and shares many experiences with some of our students. This gives her added insight into how they are feeling and facilitates communication with families.”

Smiling outside what she defines as “the most wonderful place” she ever worked in, Ashraf is now satisfied and keeps studying to improve her teaching skills.

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