Teaching and poverty
It is often said that education is the great equalizer. Through education any person can become anything; a person can pull themselves up by the bootstraps and live the life they dream. Although this is partially true in this country, poverty takes away the equal and equitable access to education. Poverty manipulates the mind and social structures. It creates an environment of failure, that without interventions, for many children is inescapable. It is now the job of teachers to do more than teach, it is our job to combat poverty in the classroom.
Poverty comes in many forms, situational, generational, urban and rural, but each instance of poverty is damaging and causes difficulties for a child in school. Currently in New York State, there are nearly two million children living in low income homes or in poverty. Poverty is affecting these children and their ability to perform at their peak in school. A child does not choose poverty, they live in the world they are given, it is up to teachers to create a platform for every child to succeed.
Children living in poverty live according to a different set of rules than their middle class counterparts, each class has its own set of hidden rules. The rules they live by, the rules they need to survive in poverty, often times create great difficulty for students in poverty and are in stark contrast to the rules they are expected to follow in school. Children in poverty not only follow a different set of rules, but are unfamiliar with the middle class rules that much of our society runs on. It is up to the schools and teachers to return education to the great equalizer it once was and create an environment for every student to thrive.
What we Can do
This task may seem insurmountable, but there are some clear steps schools and teachers can take to make great improvements for students in poverty. First, have the teachers become allies with one another in an effort to combat poverty. Critical to academic success is relationship building. Educators need to develop a level of trust when working with students in poverty. These children come to the plate with several strikes against them, education should not be a strike, but instead a possible way out of poverty.
Developing trusting relationships is a difficult task for many people, especially for children who reside in poverty. As educators, we need to develop and model trusting relationships with our colleagues. Children need to see their mentors model expectations. This will help children trust in us and allow for relationships to develop. As the teachers begin working closer together, natural bonds will form which will help teachers create relationships. A bonded faculty is a faculty that can work towards a common goal.
Second, schools need to gather data on students in poverty and use the data in a way to identify weaknesses. Unless teachers know what needs improvement, nothing can be done. Clear data that can be tracked through time can show weaknesses and if interventions are proving to be successful. Once these interventions are put in place, it is then imperative that the school becomes a place of hope and where dreams are attainable. Children in poverty often do not see a future ahead of them. School now needs to be a place where children can dream of the great and attainable future that awaits them.
Specific ways this can be achieved in the classroom is by creating a welcoming and trusting environment. A teacher needs to be a stable and reliable adult for children in poverty; they need to feel cared for and believe that they can trust their teachers. It is through relationships that many children in poverty can be reached and find success.
There are ways teachers can use these relationships to help teach the hidden rules of the middle class to children in poverty. Teachers can have students work in groups, use specific interests to engage students, create opportunities for physical movement within lessons and opportunities to use their own unique gifts in the classroom.
With the number of children in poverty rising, teachers can no longer assume the role of a chalk and talk teacher. We must create a classroom that no matter what a child comes to us with, we can help to facilitate growth and achievement. Because every child deserves to learn.