Challenges of Poverty Archived Post 8.7.12

by lclarcq on December 6th, 2014

filed under Archived Posts 2012, Encouragment, Musings, Personalizing Instruction, Relationships, Students and Tragedy

(Originally posted 8/7/12)

You are not an isolated example but you are a rare one. I’ve taught high school students for 30 years in a rural area. The students whose families are above the poverty line are the ones who, overwhelmingly, hear messages of hope and support for a financially stable future via education. Those whose families live at or below rarely see outside of their own reality. In many cases, in today’s world, they have more financial aid available to them..many could go to college for little or nothing…but they and their families see little value in education. They do not even consider future careers that require education. That is clear by the time they enter ninth grade.

First of all, school is a different world than it was. While wealth has always helped, my observation is that more and more, a family’s financial background comes into play. Because so much emphasis is put on the data, more and more rewards are given to students who do well, STARTING IN KINDERGARTEN. Students who do well often come from families who read to them from an early age, can afford a good preschool program, ate well and exercised well and slept well the first five years of life. Kindergarten teachers are remarkably accurate in their ability to predict who will graduate from high school and who will not. Some of that may be from experience. Some of that may be because, in kindergarten, we have already identified who will be successful, who will not, and treat them that way (whether we realize it or not). Families with means will encourage students to play sports, take music lessons, have art supplies at home, provide computers and computer access from an early age. They will travel. They will encourage behaviors that will be encouraged at school from infancy…whereas families from lower-income social groups will not…without even realizing it.

It is not just the availability of money that makes the difference (although I promise you that a third grader who uses a computer and can afford a trip to the nearest arts and crafts store for his Solar System project will receive a much higher grade than the kid who did his on the back of a letter from Social Services.) It is the MINDSET of possibility (my own term) that money brings that is the biggest difference.

I am sure that Pat Barrett could explain it far better than I, but what I see is that these families require each member (in the family and it also often includes people in their “community” to be HIGHLY interdependent. These students have emotional, financial and social commitments early on in life. They are EXPECTED to stay home from school whenever a baby sitter is needed, or some stressful situation arises and a family member needs support. They frequently have adult responsibilities by ninth grade: paying bills, child care, negotiating disagreements between adults, visiting family in jail, arranging doctor’s appointments etc. It is very very difficult for them to even imagine taking enough personal time away from their families to put homework first, give up work time for classes, or even worse, leave home to go to college.

The other issue is harder for some of us to understand, but I assure you that it is very real. There is a cultural understanding in these families, that going to school and doing better than one’s parents is an insult to them. That a student would think himself better than a parent, and to act on it, is in many cases, unforgivable and therefore, unthinkable. The family is not going to ‘move up” with the student. In order to do better, the student would, eventually, have to leave the social environment in which s/he lives. In this kind of “closed” community, that rarely crosses their mind. They simply would never think of it.

The third issue is that doing well academically routinely requires delayed gratification…and that is simply NOT part of their reality either. But that is a deeply rooted, psycho-social phenomenon that I;m sure is dissertation-worthy, so I’ll leave it at that.

There are students who do it. And we encourage every single child to become what God would have him or her become. But, teachers are one tiny OUTSIDE voice among many closer and louder voices that they hear every day.

For me, that is the attitude of the home and surrounding environment, and my experience is that it is closely tied to families without financial resources. Can addressing poverty help that? In the sense that students might then NOT have to take on so many adult responsibilities..yes.

In addition, I believe that it would surprise many to know how many students ONLY eat at school. 1. There isn’t food at home. Either there isn’t money or the money is used elsewhere and that is beyond the student’s control. 2. High school students from these families often work evenings and do not use their money to buy dinner. It goes for gas to get to work. 3. Believe it or not, many of these homes actually LOCK up their food. For some, it is a way of controlling their children. For others, it is a way of protecting the food, many of these folks live in “communal” family situations (3-4 “families” in a household) and this is simply how they protect their resources. Also, parents who are addicts often have paranoid behaviors that lead to this…as do many parents with untreated mental health issues. (two situations which are prevalent in my area in this income bracket)

The last piece that adds to the challenges that these children face is the fact that they rarely get a good night’s sleep. They may not know where they are sleeping. They may be avoiding sexual contact from someone in the house. They may have family members up all night playing loud video games, or drinking/using drugs, arguing, etc. They often have younger siblings to take care of at night if mom works overnights. They don’t get the medical attention and medications they need when they are ill and sleep very poorly due to a number of ongoing physical ailments. They often live in crowded houses/apartments with little personal sleeping space available.

One might think that given all that they face, that they would love to get the heck out of Dodge and take advantage of a good education to do it. Well…not if they have never seen that happen. Not if, from kindergarten on, only the “rich” kids do well in school. Not if they have been an integral part of a system that requires them to put today in front of tomorrow.

Exceptions exist, they truly do, but not as often as we’d like. All human beings have their challenges, each child, regardless of his/her background can become far more than his/her childhood has dictated. But before that can happen, the possibility of such a thing must exist in his/her mind. Your family may have given you that. Let’s hope that we can find the resources to help those who weren’t so blessed.

with love,
Laurie

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You Are Not Alone ..Students and Tragedy Archived Post 4.15.13

by lclarcq on December 6th, 2014

filed under Archived Posts 2013, Encouragment, Musings, Not So Good Days, Students and Tragedy

(Originally posted 4/15/13)
Tomorrow will be the second time in the past few months that we will have to get up in the morning and go to school after a tragedy. These are the moments we feel most helpless, and yet, these are the times that we have the most to offer. We need to approach tomorrow with grace and dignity.

Parents all over the country would like to stay home tomorrow with their children…and won’t be able to. We will have the responsibility of facing the day with their children. We must take that responsibility very seriously. We cannot let our own fears, doubts, prejudices….anything negative…invade the space we bring to the classroom. Our students need to know, again, that adults feel and adults grieve, but adults are calm, strong, and caring when children need those things most. That is our job.

It won’t be easy. This tragedy too is personal for many of us. Newtown touched us because it took place in a school…in our home away from home…to children and teachers. It rocked us and it rocked our students. This situation in Boston hits close to home as well. Many of us have gone to college, or have loved ones with college connections, to Boston. Boston is a city full of American history. Many of us visited there or vacationed there with our families. Many of us are also runners. Many teachers run. It keeps them sane. Most of us know at least one person who has run the Marathon. Perhaps you yourself have run it…or have been there to see those runners pass by that exact spot.

What is hardest is that it makes us feel so very vulnerable. Particularly if you spent the evening watching the coverage over and over again. It will be tempting to share our sorrow, our frustration, and more with our students. We must be careful about what we say and how we say

it…whether we are speaking directly to students or to colleagues within earshot of students. Each age group has it’s own vulnerabilities.We must be aware of those even as we deal with our own emotions. Tomorrow, as always, the children come first.

So know that tomorrow, we will all be in this together. We’ll be tired. We’ll be sad. We’ll be worried. We’ll be angry. But we’ll be the only adult in a room full of children….who need us to be a source of calm and strength. So when it’s tough, close your eyes for a moment and call on the strength of a colleague who, that very minute, will be in the same position in another classroom.

You will not be alone.

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.