‘Thank you to the people supporting this programme’: Maggie McWilliams on her Black Bristol Scholarship

Maggie McWilliams discusses how studying for an MA in Black Humanities will have a huge impact on her role as a secondary school teacher.

I’ve been teaching humanities in secondary schools for 20 years. I wanted a way of re-engaging with my subject, but career development and training opportunities are finite where I live in Cornwall, compared to places like London where you can do courses on a Saturday or an afternoon. The first time I tried to do a master’s the funding dried up so I couldn’t finish it; the second time my son was born prematurely, right in the final window. I had a year to hold the course over, but he wasn’t signed off until he was four and a half, so it was a really intense time.

As a single mum with three young children, it’s hard to justify studying as an expenditure for my family, so when I found out I had a scholarship it felt amazing. It means I can afford to drive up to Bristol every week for my day of lectures, which would otherwise have been prohibitive because fuel costs such a lot.

I teach, come home to look after my own children, and study when they’re in bed. It’s intense, but in lockdown I was working from 8 am until midnight, teaching my own children at home, as well as teaching my schoolchildren online and marking their work, so I’m used to getting stuff done when I have a window of time.

Broadening my students’ horizons, and raising questions around how they view things and what they think, is really important. This course has given me the knowledge and the confidence to examine subjects from different perspectives. For teachers like me, who have been following the National Curriculum for a long time, finding opportunities to extend and develop what we teach has been difficult, especially when so few textbooks and resources look at non-white perspectives. Within our department we’re now talking about ways in which we can put in units this year looking at other empires, for example African empires, and talk more deeply about the impact of the British Empire on consciousness today and in the past. It has already started to benefit our faculty, as well as the feeder primary schools which I work closely with.

I’d like to say a really big thank you to the people who are supporting this programme because it’s not just impacting me – it’s going to impact a lot of children for a long time. With this scholarship you’re educating one person, but I am teaching nearly 500 students this year, and how many more will I teach next year, and for the next 20 years of my career? You’re changing the experience for young people by changing the experience of an older person, and that’s invaluable. And it’s not just my school children, but  my colleagues as well and the people I work with in other schools: your support is extending out all these little tentacles in really strong and powerful ways.

For more information on the Black Bristol Scholarship, click here.

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