What You Can Do for Students Living in Poverty
"Keep your expectations for poor students high. Poverty does not mean ignorance."
Millions of school-age students in America live in poverty. You don’t have to teach in a blighted urban area or a depressed rural region to teach students who are from a poor family.
The lives of poor students are often very different from those of their more affluent peers. They cannot look forward to an abundance of presents on their birthday. Back-to-school shopping is not an exciting time of new clothes and school supplies. Even small outlays of money are significant to students living in poverty; a locker fee, a soft drink for a class party, or a fee for a field trip may be out of their reach. In addition, because they do not wear the same fashionable clothes as their peers, poor students are often the targets of ridicule.
Economically disadvantaged students have a very difficult time with succeeding in school. One of the most unfortunate results of their economic struggles is that students who live in poverty often drop out of school, choosing a low-paying job to pay for the luxuries they have been denied instead of an education.
Despite the bleak outlook for many of these students, you can do a great deal to make school a meaningful haven for them. You can help your students who live in poverty by implementing some of these suggestions:
• When you suspect that their peers are taunting disadvantaged students, act quickly to stop the harassment.
• Students who live in poverty have not been exposed to broadening experiences such as family vacations, trips to museums, or even eating in restaurants. Spend time adding to their worldly experience if you want poor students to connect their book learning with real-life situations.
• Listen to your disadvantaged students. They need a strong relationship with a trustworthy adult in order to succeed.
• Work to boost the self-esteem of students who live in poverty by praising their school success instead of what they own.
• Provide access to computers, magazines, newspapers, and books so low-income students can see and work with printed materials. School may be the only place where they are exposed to print media.
• Keep your expectations for poor students high. Poverty does not mean ignorance.
• Don’t make comments about your students’ clothes or belongings unless they are in violation of the dress code.
• Students who live in poverty may not always know the correct behaviors for school situations. At home, they may function under a different set of social rules. Take time to explain the rationale for rules and procedures in your classroom.
• Be careful about the school supplies you expect students to purchase. Keep your requirements as simple as you can for all students.
• Arrange a bank of shared supplies for your students to borrow when they are temporarily out of materials for class.
• Do not require costly activities. For example, if you require students to pay for a field trip, some of them will not be able to go.
• If you notice that a student does not have lunch money, check to make sure that a free lunch is an option for that child.
• Be very sensitive to the potential for embarrassment in even small requests for or comments about money that you make. For example, if you jokingly remark, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” you could embarrass one of your low-income students.
• Make it clear that you value all of your students for their character and not for their possessions
Adapted from First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide.
For more information on how to help your economically disadvantaged students, visit aha!Process (www.ahaprocess.com). aha!Process is an organization that was founded by Dr. Ruby Payne, Ph.D., a leading expert on the effects of generational poverty on students. Her book A Framework for Understanding Poverty, published in 1996 by aha!Process, is significant because it explains how the silent culture clash between students and teachers in classrooms has a harmful effect on students.