“SHE UNDERSTOOD ME.”
Aaron graduated from the Buffalo Public Schools last year without ever having a teacher of color.
The only exposure he had to a Black school staffer was a librarian, who he felt a strong connection with.
“It was easier to talk to her because she was Black,” said Aaron, now 18. “She understood me. It was an outlet I had at school. If I was having a bad day, I would go talk to her.”
He felt more at ease going to her with his problems than other white teachers.
For Aaron and some of his peers in Buffalo, having that kind of relationship can determine whether they feel engaged and understood in the classroom.
Although the Buffalo district has made culturally responsive training for teachers a priority, Aaron says it will be difficult to replicate the bond he felt with his school librarian, who was the same race as him.
And, he noted, differences in background and viewpoints can become particularly pronounced in certain subjects, such as history.
He recalled that in classroom discussions about slavery he often felt white teachers “tread lightly” around the topic, rather than helping students explore their feelings.
“You can’t train a White person to teach what they haven’t experienced,” he said. “In some subjects, it can be awkward.”