‘There Is an Exemplar because I’m There.’
Professional Roles and Experiences of Roma Teachers in Rural Hungary
Teachers are fundamental actors in education; without their contribution even the most progressive pedagogical ideas fail. However, few studies address how their individual biographies, community belonging, and intersectional identities impact their pedagogical views and practices. Furthermore, while the Roma are the target of numerous social and pedagogical initiatives, they are rarely considered as actors who shape education. Through an analysis of ten ethnographic interviews with self-identified Roma teachers embedded in two local educational settings, this paper scrutinizes the potential and challenges associated with the presence of qualified Roma teachers in rural Hungarian schools. Interviewees demonstrated a high level of commitment to ‘leading by example,’ and this was embedded in their relations with students and parents. Most teachers also believed that, besides professional expertise, shared ethnicity provided them with a specific opportunity to build trust, express empathy, implement curricula, and incorporate locally and culturally relevant knowledge. However, while professionalism and ethnicity often complemented each other, difficulties also arose due to the differing expectations and heterogeneity of local Roma communities. The findings suggest that Roma teachers may bring valuable resources for education through mobilizing their personal experiences and social and cultural sensitivity, but tapping these resources is limited by structural and contextual constraints.
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