Some of my students call me “Auntie Dukes” of “Ma Dukes”. It’s a term of endearment and I must admit, I love when they call me by either nickname. It’s usually in the halls or outside after-school when I hear a student refer to me as such and it’s in those moments that I know I’ve made a connection with them that is an ace card, a connection that will allow me reach them in a way that another teacher will not. It’s a greater responsibility because my influence over them is obvious. It’s also a badge of honor because my influence over them in obvious.
I read and write often about the fact that Black teachers are vital to the classroom. Multiple studies in multiple fields show that students from all walks of life respond exceedingly well to Black teachers and teachers of Color. Why is this? I ask myself this question and I get asked this question — a lot. I’ve come up with a plausible answer: The struggle is real and it’s the residue of our collective and individual struggle that adheres our students — often the most troubled students – to us.
Now I’m not saying that White teachers don’t struggle. As human beings, we all encounter some obstacles; however, we must admit that there is White privilege but not Black Privilege or Brown privilege. White teachers may just not be as familiar with the struggles that their students face — particularly if they teach Black and/or Brown students growing and living in the lower socio-economic sector of our society. White teachers’ lack of experience with the world of their students is the glass ceiling I see for them. They’ll never be an “Auntie” or a “Ma” to their students.
From what I’ve seen, it is often the White teachers who have a Black spouse or a half-Black child who experience the discrimination and then have a better understanding of the reality of the struggle of their students. That has nothing to do with pedagogy or philosophy of education. That’s life experience.
I remember sitting in a parent-teacher conference several years ago where a Black mother, parent of a Black son, tearfully broke down and confessed to us when asked about her son’s apathetic attitude towards school, that she was in an abusive, unfaithful relationship with her son’s father. His infidelity and abuse was with a woman in their projects and it had become the talk of their community. The whole thing was a mess and she was seeking to exit the relationship. When she left the room, all the Black female teachers in the room immediately remarked at how you just never know what’s going on in a student’s life and how each of us could relate on some level to what that mom had shared with us. The one White female teacher stated how she’d never heard of anything like that outside of Jerry Springer and that she just couldn’t relate.
How did her lack of understanding affect the way she worked with that student? While it may not have necessarily hurt the student, I can’t imagine that it helped the student either.
There is a senior this year who comes into my class every so often and, mind you, I’ve never taught her before. When I asked her why she connected to me she said because I seem genuine and that her White teachers just don’t get it. “Black teachers just relate, y’feel me? Last week I was talking to a teacher and like we was talking about how we eat the same stuff for Thanksgiving and stuff. If I go to a White teacher, I don’t feel like they even eat the same stuff I do. Like do they know about curried chicken and candied yams? The vibe and the bond just be different.”
Out of the mouth of babes.
The glass ceiling for White teachers working with students of Color is real.