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5 Tips to Working with Students in Poverty: From a Former Student of Poverty

As a child I lived in an urban housing project in a town called Charlestown in the city of Boston.  The idea of being poor and living in low-income housing seemed like the norm.  I didn't know back then that my life was different from anyone else.  My classmates also lived in the projects with me.  We road our bikes around the neighborhood and played games after school, we would sneak into abandoned housing projects and play hide and seek.  When you are a kid you don't think about how your home life or environment impacts your education, nor how education could be a vehicle for a better life.  However as an adult looking back on my school experience I know that school was never easy,  I was easily distracted and would often fall asleep in class.  I wonder how my experience might of been different if I did not grow up in poverty?               
Tip #1: Don't pass judgment on kids who might appear lazy or uninterested in school.  They might be dealing with home issues that impact their ability to study and stay focused during class.  

My parents worked hard but very late, they owned hotdog pushcarts in the city of Boston which I would often work at during the weekend.  It's no wonder math was so easy for me as I was making change and calculating transactions in my head at a very young age.  Education was important to my family, but no one was "educated". Growing up in Boston where hanging out at Harvard Square was something I would do for fun, I knew college was a place I wanted to go. 

Tip #2: Know your students, their families and what "funds of knowledge" they bring into the classroom.  Use this information to make connections with your students, and design instruction around their interests and backgrounds.

 I remember going to the library to ask for help and getting tutoring at the Boys and Girls club after school.  The teachers I had growing up were paramount, they inspired me to read, write and push myself.  They not only encouraged me to do my best, but their lives modeled strength and compassion that kept me afloat through hard time in my life.  They shared stories of difficult times in their life and how they got through.

Tip #3: Share with your students words and stories of encouragement.  Bring in guest speakers from the community if you did not grow up there who can serve as positive role models. 


When I began teaching in South Los Angeles the impact of poverty came rushing through the my classroom door.  The lives my students lived reminded me so much of my childhood and what I was unaware of.  As a new teacher, I did my best to be "present" for my kids each and every day.  I wanted them to know I cared for them and I believed in them. I would great them at the door, share a smile and a high five.  My classroom was always decorated with art work and projects that my students created.  I was like a proud parent and they were my kids. There were pictures of us on field trips and in class celebrations.  I would make cupcakes for students birthdays and bring in fruit to share and talk about the importance of nutrition. There was food in the cupboards when one of my students would come in hungry and a safe place to study when their home was not an option.  I even had a teddy bear in our reading nook if someone needed a snuggle.  Being a teacher in South Los Angeles came naturally to me, because I knew that my kids needed more than direct instruction and packaged curriculum to be their best.

Tip #4: Be the teacher you want to be.  It will show in your practice.  Work in communities where you can connect with the kids and their families.  Do what comes naturally and teach with your heart. 

As a teacher educator, In Silicon Valley,  I am faced with the challenge of preparing new teachers for a classroom much similar to the one I experienced in South Los Angeles.  In the CNN documentary The Poor Kids of Silicon Valley poverty is a reality that many children and their families encounter.  From sharing a one bedroom apartment with eight other family members, to being homeless and living in a shelter.  The cost of living in Silicon Valley requires a family to gross at least 60,000 a year to just get by.  With the minimum wage set to increase to $10.00 an hour by 2016 it's no wonder so many families work more than one job and live in poverty.

Tip #5: When it comes to managing a classroom new teachers need to be aware of not only the social context in which they work but their experiences as a student, as this will certainly influence their interactions and decisions in the classroom.   

Share your experience as a student and what choices might you make as a classroom teacher to support the students in your class? How will their lives, beliefs and experience influence your interactions and management style?  

Join our Facebook Group to Teacher Prep Tech and leave a comment below with your ideas for us! 



About Me

About Me
Dr. Patricia Dickenson has taught grades K-9 she currently works with pre-service teacher candidates. She has three school aged children and loves to create curriculum.

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