On the first school day following the killing of George Floyd, New York City high-school speech pathologist Tova Itzkovitz had an uneasy feeling as she logged into her virtual classroom.

About 60% of the students at Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts in Harlem, where she works, are African-American and 40% are Latino. Ms. Itzkovitz worried that the bond she had built with many of her students could be in jeopardy.

“I didn’t know how I would be received as a white educator,” she said. “Are they going to think that I’m on the side that thought this was OK, because I’m white?”

Ms. Itzkovitz said she found a way to connect to her students about the killing of Mr. Floyd and racism through her own family history and her grandfather, a Holocaust survivor.

“I’ve been asking them if they’ve experienced racism, where it was, how they felt, and what they did about it,” she said. Sharing some of her story heightened the trust level and stimulated more discussion, she said. “It’s done nothing but bring me closer to my kids.”

Ms. Itzkovitz is one of many white teachers across the U.S. who are grappling with how to support students of color in the national conversation around Mr. Floyd, a black man who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.

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