Teaching With Poverty in Mind

If you have students living in poverty – and there are many different types of poverty (see below) – this is a must read post!  This covers many problems AND proposes solutions!  If this article is a good fit for you, be sure to order the book and read it cover to cover!

Teaching With Poverty in Mind
What Being Poor Does to Kid’s Brains and What Schools Can Do About It
by Eric Jensen

Common complaints about teaching economically disadvantaged students:
chronic tardiness, lack of motivation, and inappropriate behavior (acting out, profanity, disrespect of others).

Poverty is a chronic and debilitating condition.  Poverty is complex and not the same thing for all people.   

6 Types of Poverty

  • Situational – a sudden crisis and often temporary
      – disasters, divorce, severe health problems
  • Generational – 2 generations born into poverty.  Not equipped to change situation
  • Absolute – scarcity of shelter, running water, and food.  Survival is day to day
  • Relative – income is insufficient to meet average standard of living
  • Urban – in populations of 50,000+.  Crowding, violence, noise
  • Rural – more single guardian households, less access to services

4 Primary Risk Factors

  • Emotional and social challenges-often rely on peers for emotional support
  • Acute &chronic stressors-live in chaotic households, unresponsive parents
  • Cognitive lags – less time on world discovery and more on survival
  • Health and safety issues –often exposed adverse environments/situations

Everyday life is a struggle.  One problem begets another….an endless cascade.

Parents who did poorly in school themselves may have a negative attitude about their children’s schools and, in an effort to protect them, may discourage their children from participating.

Kids in poverty are more likely to lack –and need—a caring, dependable adult in their lives, and often it’s the teachers to whom children look for that support.

Children raised in poverty are more likely to display

  • Acting out behaviors
  • Impatience and impulsive behaviors
  • Gaps in politeness
  • A limited range of behavioral responses
  • Inappropriate responses
  • Less empathy for others

Emotional responses that must be taught to SES children

  • Cooperation
  • Patience
  • Empathy
  • Gratitude
  • Forgiveness

When students lack these learned responses, teachers may believe the student has an “attitude.”

Changing what is in the students’ emotional account

  • Share decision making in class
  • Model process of adult thinking
  • Discipline through positive relationships
  • Teach meet and greet skills
  • Instill turn-taking skills – partner work, cooperative learning
  • Create a familial atmosphere by using inclusive language.
  • Acknowledgements and celebrations packed into every class

Learning to play music has a dramatic impact on students and may

  • Cause changes in sensory, motor,& higher-order association areas of brain
  • Improve attention, sequencing, and processing
  • Enhance self-discipline, wide brain function, and verbal memory
  • Improve performance in core mathematics
  • Enhance memory
  • Enhance long-term will and effort
  • Enhance the power of persistence due its time to reach proficiency

Implement 24/7 hope

  • Daily affirmations (verbally and posted on walls everywhere)
  • The GLP – grateful, learning, promise
  • High expectations are not determined by zip code
  • Build goal-setting skills and why students can succeed
  • Tell true stories of hope – past students
  • Offer help
  • Teach life skills in small daily bites
  • It’s not WHAT you say, but HOW you say it
  • All students are potentially gifted
  • Be consistent – Do what you say and say what you do
  • Avoid rah-rah speeches.  Talk about what will happen, when it will happen and how it will happen

If you want to learn more from this book, here is a link:

Related Reading:
So I Teach at a Low SES School – Language & Delivery
Motivate Your Band – Reach Higher
Free Note Name ‘Video Game’ that Teaches, Reviews and Assesses

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