Poverty and the 21st Century Classroom

On my school’s staff blog this summer, there have been some interesting topics discussed.  One that has always been nudging me to find answers to in my classroom is poverty.

My coworker, Jacque, wrote a two part examination of how we, as teachers can and SHOULD consider the socioeconomic statuses of our students.  We never really know what is going on with them, do we?  Unless a parent comes in and tells us they’re unemployed, or that they’re only working part time and can’t pay for a field trip or get supplies for their child, we never really know.

Jacque provided two great articles (links below) on the issues children from lower income households face as they come into the classroom and how teachers can help them to rise above them. We’ve all been there: making sure there are pencils for each child, or notebooks and paper. By Spring each year, I”m the one supplying tissue for the allergies, colds and assorted issues students have.  I don’t mind; I can relate.  Who can focus when their nose is running?  How will you get the notes or write the paper without the materials to do so.  My running joke in my classroom when someone asks if I have a pencil they may “borrow” is “Do I look like Walmart to you?” The amused response from the class is “NO!”, but deep inside, YES, I am.

To add to all the issues for these families, now enters technology.  These students MUST have basic skills in order to be successful in the business marketplace they will be entering, yet, in many districts, many more than most of us realize, access to technology is extremely poor.  I sit in ed tech conferences and listen to the teachers talk about the kids and what they have and don’t have access to and how they stay after school 1 and sometimes 2 hours just so Johnny can use the computer to get the work done.  I have been there.

On a national level, the economy is turning around (and hopefully won’t crash on us again any time soon), and a lot of families are beginning to see a little light at the end of their tunnels.  We, as teachers can still help with our candles of hope, though.  One way I plan to help with technology this school year is have a “funky old cell phone” donation drive.  If a teacher isn’t using the phone but it still has internet access, it can be used in a classroom. Hopefully I can collect about 200 phones, check them out and redistribute them to teachers in sets of 5 each, so there are now portable computers in every room.  If the teacher wants to loan them out, s/he can.  Its a start and we have to start somewhere.

How do we give hope to children who are stressed, hungry, cold, and demoralized?  We can love them, show them the world outside their space, give them hope, feed them, teach them and provide the tools they will need to lift themselves out of poverty.

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Reflection: What will you do this coming year to lift up a child in poverty, whether you know they’re in a precarious situation or not?

Articles:

How Poverty Affects Classroom Engagement

Student Poverty, Lack of Parental Engagement cited as Teacher Concerns

5 Ways to Help Students Affected by Generational Poverty

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