“I think I’ve always been a bit of a teacher. I was the oldest of five siblings so I became the second mummy in command, making up stories and reading to the youngsters,” reflected Natalie Jones.
Natalie was born in Birmingham and lived there until she was nine years old. Her family de ella then moved to Pwllheli in Wales and she had to navigate a new life with a new language. She continued: “My mum’s Jamaican and when we moved to Wales, she said, ‘Well you are in Wales now so you are going to learn Welsh’. It wasn’t an option not to.
“All my siblings still speak Welsh. One of my sisters moved back to Birmingham so she speaks a little, but the rest of us are fluent.”
Natalie is very passionate about embracing both her cultures, as she encourages her own children to celebrate being Welsh and Jamaican. At home, they merge both cultures and explore them through food, music and what they watch and read. This was instilled in Natalie from a young age, as she found herself alienated at school.
“I hated school when I was growing up,” she explained. “I moved from a very multicultural school in Birmingham to a school in Wales where I was the only black kid in school. Children would always want to feel my hair and my mum said she had the same experience. My culture was never celebrated at school, so it’s something I make sure I do with my kids.”
Little did she know that years later, she would be playing a part in making sure all cultures are celebrated in school.
But Natalie’s journey towards teaching was not immediate, as following her GCSEs she completed an NVQ in business at Coleg Meirion Dwyfor before embarking on a career in retail and sales. She also continued her Welsh studies and completed an NVQ in Welsh, during this time she felt a yearning to go into teaching, but as she had no degree, she did not pursue it further.
Natalie did manage to embark on a child psychology course, however, and was considering a career as an educational psychologist – before she had a life-changing diagnosis.
“It was at this time I was told I had breast cancer,” she said. “I was fortunate in that it was treatable with an operation and a program of radiotherapy and medication – but as is so often the case with such experiences, it gives you a new perspective on life.”
Natalie’s aspiration to become a teacher was rekindled. She then worked as an engagement and learning mentor within secondary schools in Pembrokeshire, and delivered hate crime workshops in schools for the Welsh Government in partnership with Race Council Cymru.
She said: “I knew I liked working in schools and working with kids, so I decided to look into doing a PGCE. I then discovered a grant available to study to be a Welsh teacher at University of Wales Trinity Saint David. So any financial barriers were removed.”
Natalie is concerned with the lack of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic teachers in schools across Wales and hopes that the new curriculum will play a role in changing that.
“We need role models in all professions and teaching is no different – if you’re a pupil of color in school but don’t see any teachers that look like you, you can easily think ‘this is not the profession for me’, but we need to change that.
“Teachers recognize there is a lack of diversity and they want to know how to address that. But their job would be a lot easier if there were more BAME teachers.
“However, the embedding of the teaching of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic histories in the new curriculum is certainly a big step in the right direction. I am really looking forward to playing my part in its delivery.
“We are going to have a more enriched, cultural experience in school that gives everyone pride in themselves.”
It’s clear that Natalie’s own school experience hasn’t impacted her passion for the education system in Wales, in fact, it has ignited a fire for change.
“I’ve started my first teaching job and I’m so excited,” she said. “It’s a primary school in Neyland, Pembrokeshire, and I’ve got the added responsibility of teaching Welsh as a second language throughout the school to the children and teachers.
“I’m also determined to celebrate everyone’s culture in my class, whether it’s Welsh, English or French. I want to inspire kids to respect each other and to see the value of what each child brings.”
Natalie has also found inspiration from her children’s teachers, and plans to continue their hard work to ensure everyone feels accepted and happy in school.
“The care that the teachers show my kids is completely different from my schooling experience,” said Natalie. “I was also invited to their primary school to do a presentation on Jamaica and I did it bilingually. Things have definitely moved on and are getting better, but there is still work to be done.”
To read more stories from inspirational teachers, visit Love It. Teach It.
Teaching in Wales is varied, sometimes challenging, but always rewarding. Whether you’re looking to take the first step or you’re moving on to the next stage in your education career, visit the Educators Wales website for more information and career opportunities.