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

In the CNN documentary The Poor Kids of Silicon Valley, poverty is a reality 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 in California set at $11.00 which equates to just over $22,000 annually (below the poverty line) it's no wonder so many families work more than one job and continue to live in poverty. 

If you're like me you most likely teach students who are living in poverty.  Here are my 5 top tips for supporting students:
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.  

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?               

My parents worked hard but very late, getting help with homework was not an option. 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.  But translating my ideas to paper was a different challenge and the teacher would often think I cheated because my math problems were solved mentally and all she would see was the solution.

Don't assume your kids are not doing what you asked or are not capable of meeting your expectations.  Research has consistently found that teacher expectations of students become their outcomes.  

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 positive affirmations and stories of encouragement.  

Bring in guest speakers from the community and connected with people who can serve as positive role models.  Read stories with resilient characters who overcome adversity and share personal stories from your live where you made difficult choices and persevered. You can also play songs that are inspirational, read poetry and short stories that connect to your students culture.  

Tip #4: Give Students your most precious gift, your time...

Do your best to be present for your students each and every day.  Show you care by greeting them at the door and creating curriculum that connects to their lives and who they are.  Take them on field trips to places that can influences their career choices and inspire them to see the value of education. 

Tip #5: Be the teacher you wished you had as a child.  

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.  

Tip #6: When it comes to managing a classroom new teachers need to be aware of not only the social context in which they work but the experiences of the students they teach as this will certainly influence their interactions and decisions in the classroom. 

Get to know your students and what their day-to-day life is like.  Drive around the community and visit with neighborhood people and meet the people in the community.  I'll never forget when I went to visit my student who had broke her leg after school.  She was living in a studio with her three brothers and parents.  There was loud music playing outside and no place for her to study or have any privacy.  From this experience I decided to open my classroom doors early for help with homework or after school for a quiet place to study.  Just showing that I cared really improved my students' performance in the classroom and kids showed up and collaborated.  A community of learners cannot be created without understanding the needs of your students and creating solutions to support them in achieving their best.   

       Dr. Dickenson first grade teacher Menlo Avenue Elementary school Los Angeles, California. 

Join our Facebook Group to be part of our discussion on teaching and learning.  Leave a comment in this blog to let us know how you connect with the students you teach.

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! 

6 Tips to Working with Students in Poverty: From a Former Student of Poverty 6 Tips to Working with Students in Poverty: From a Former Student of Poverty Reviewed by Dr. Dickenson on 12:17 PM Rating: 5


  1. Great article! This is the type write my essay reviews of information that are meant to be public around the internet.

  2. Thank you for educating me on this topic. I have come to understand how it is to quickly form a judgement on children from poverty families without really understanding their way of life and how it influences their behaviors, attitudes and world-view. I think that as Early Childhood Educators, it is important to develop an in-depth understanding of the effects of poverty and its influence on children. I think that is essential to building a much stronger relationship with children based on mutual trust, respect and understanding.

  3. Working with children in a lower income area myself, one might see or know what each child is facing. Rather it be living in a house with 8 other people or the family being homeless. When teachers think that children can’t meet their expectations then students are set up to fail just by the teacher not giving them the outcome before even working with them, it’s sad to see and know that no matter what children economic status is that children are treated differently and or not healed with the same expectations and given the same guidance. All kids should be given the same kind treatment and encouragement. Giving them the greatest gift of all is time to each child. Thank you for this article as it will help my staff look at teaching children in a lower income area some guidance to help and support them on a different level.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this article. When I first thought about becoming a teacher I imagined an idilic classroom where students had the resources and stability they needed both at home and in the classroom. However, in reality, many children are living in poverty all over the country and it is likely that the classrooms we teach in will be far from idilic. As teachers, we have the power to create a nurturing classroom where children feel safe, understood and inspired no matter what is happening outside of the classroom. They deserve the best education possible but many time that depends on the teacher they have. We should all strive to be the kind of teacher that we would have wanted to have as a child for ALL of the children in our care.

  5. The post below did not show my name.

    UnknownMarch 16, 2019 at 7:44 PM
    I really enjoyed reading this article. When I first thought about becoming a teacher I imagined an idilic classroom where students had the resources and stability they needed both at home and in the classroom. However, in reality, many children are living in poverty all over the country and it is likely that the classrooms we teach in will be far from idilic. As teachers, we have the power to create a nurturing classroom where children feel safe, understood and inspired no matter what is happening outside of the classroom. They deserve the best education possible but many time that depends on the teacher they have. We should all strive to be the kind of teacher that we would have wanted to have as a child for ALL of the children in our care.

  6. Hello,
    I really enjoyed reading this article! I teach at a Head Start in Los Angles, California. All children deserve a high quality education, no matter what. I love what I do and have learned so much from my students and the community. During a home visit, I had to hold back my tears because their trailer was so small that I myself couldn't fit inside. We had to do to the home visit outdoors. Thus, it is so important to be an advocate and provide the best resources for children and their families. This is why we have to know our students and not just assume what they are going through!

  7. Such a great article with valuable information! Sometimes we can forget the experiences and challenges that our young students can face outside of the classroom and how they can have an impact inside of the classroom. This article is a great reminder of that, and that we must always be aware and take notice in order to help our students succeed throughout their educational journey.

  8. Hello, I chose to read this blog post, because I work in a low income community myself and reading others experiences and or advice in the matter is always helpful to become a intentional teacher. I learned so many new valuable information, many times we forget that many of our students and their families are currently dealing with difficulties and it is our jobs to be supportive.

  9. Hello, I chose to make a comment on this blog due to constantly working with the thought that as an educator, you never know exactly who is going to end up coming into your classroom. It is so crucial for all educators, not only early childhood educators to be mindful of the children they are working with. Every child is different and not one of them is going to come from the same background, as their educator it is so important to recognize them as individuals and see them for who they truly are outside of where they come from. Young children will regress and pull away from those who do not accept them for who they are, teachers must be open and up front with these children to make them aware that they are cared for and accepted despite their backgrounds.

  10. Professor: That was a very touching and insightful post which really made me think about being an inspiring teacher. As teachers we encounter so many different students with diverse and varied background and socioeconomic statuses. As was described in the post, the educator and her tips are premised on empathy -- a skill fundamental to engaging children who may face difficulties outside of their own control and feel different about things when compared to their peers. Moreover, the empowerment of these students is critical to their success in the classroom -- often they need to develop independence to develop some type of control over a situation they cannot control. The tips further highlight the integral elements to be an effective inspiring educator - especially knowing the students, giving the gift of time and being the teacher you wished you had as a child. It is about placing ourselves in their shoes -- our hindsight is always 20/20 as we reflect on our life experiences. By following these tips we can avoid playing Monday Morning Quarterback and make the most decisive and best decisions during the game. A teacher’s presence, partnership, and active caring are essential to help your students and their families, and engaging in actions that are fundamental of inspiring teachers can help lift the children and their families to improve their situation as well as give them something everyone needs - HOPE. ---- Heather K.

  11. Mahsan Moosavi TabarshiyadeSeptember 11, 2019 at 7:02 PM

    I chose this blog post because my mentor works with many children who can be considered impoverished. We do not know each child's situation and we should get to know their situations. For children in poverty, I often see a lot of single mothers and that means half the support system is gone. As others have said, there is a lot of emphasis on empathy which can help with a child's social and emotional development.

    We must work closely with vulnerable children because they are more at risk for not succeeding. My mentor told me about a single mother of a child in her ECE program who often had various relatives such as the child's grandmother and other relatives (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc.) who would pick the child up because the mother did not have stable working hours. In the case the mother could not attend parent-teacher conferences sometimes she had the grandmother go in her place. The Hispanic/Latino community is very supportive in that extended family will step up, but not all children are that fortunate.

  12. I selected this blog because often times as a human you get caught up in thinking that everyone has this normal life. When you think you’re not passing judgment, you’re passing judgment do you have a child in your classroom that may not want to participate, may have some challenging behaviors, or just appears though they don’t want to learn, having zero interest. I’m always reminding myself to look at the bigger picture, and sometimes having to dig deeper. Most times when children and families are in my care I have to come there safe place, my classroom becomes the safe place. So therefore I try to remember to greet them every day with a simple hello because that could make their day. To let a parent know that you appreciate them bringing their child to school because the child can see the TV close connection with you and the parent and will want to be at school. It’s important to remember that each and every family is trying your best to be the best in to do their best for their children. It is my job to create and faster and environment that allows the child to feel comfortable and successful at the end of the day.
    This blog has a lot to do with advocacy that an educator will have for a child. I resonate with the notion that every day I understand what my calling is. And I know that every day I’m going to stand tall and proud for every student in my care. I’m going to make sure that their day starts and ends on a good note.
    What I found most interesting in this blog, was reading about opening up your classroom so that this child and have a safe and quiet place to study. That reminded me of when I was able to and would open up the center that I worked at to let a working mom come in a little bit early so that she won’t be late for work and continue to provide for her family.
    I find that using a digital tool helps get your message and your word easily since everyone has access to some sort of technology every day in your life. Additional two is another way of creating a collaborative piece to where you sharing information with others, and other people are learning that information.

  13. This blog is very applicable to the setting that I work in. I appreciate the genuineness of this post and really the tips are mostly things that I do in the classroom and there are other great ideas of how to connect with my group of children. Working in a high needs community which is also impacted by poverty has really helped me understand the difficulty that some children face. Knowing about children's hardships allows us to understand them better. I also grew up in a setting of poverty. I did not know I was poor until I grew up and my parents could not afford certain trends that other children had and that I wanted. One day reality hit me when all we had to eat was beans. I think this blog really had me reflect on my up bringing and how all these components really had an impact in my adulthood. This is why it is crucial to develop caring relationships with families and children. I always tell myself to provide the most nurturing and most caring relationships to my students. I always have to remind myself to take a step back and look at a much larger picture because many children face different adversities. It is our duty as educators to adapt and learn about children in order to know what type of services to provide for them and their families. This is the true meaning of being a teacher, everlasting connections and being culturally sensitive to their needs.

  14. I choose this blog because, it is almost mirrors the children who live in the community to which I'm employed. I feel like the children from the community do not have a fighting chance if we as educators, in the community that we serve, do not advocate for them, as well as equip their parent with to tools to advocate for them as well.The children do not have a fight chance at successful without this support. Often times enough, these children come to school hungry, and their last meal being the one they had when the left school the previous day which is often the reason they have behavioral issues. I feel that we as educator have a moral responsibility to make there learning environment inviting, safe, nurturing, and free of cultural bias, that is conducive for learning to take place. The families also must be comfortable in the environment. We should be meeting each students' individual need and setting goals that are obtainable
    and realistic for the children. It is extremely important to include the parents at an early stage to be involved in their child's educational path. We educator should be making a positive influence in children's lives and setting the tone for success.

    Mary Waller-Moorer

  15. Thank you for sharing the tips for working with children living in poverty.
    I selected this blog because I work with children and families living in poverty. This blog provides resources for teachers and the community in general. There were many aspects in this blog that I found interesting. I really enjoyed the six tips to working with students in poverty.
    As an early childhood educator, we can use these tips as we interact with the families that we serve. I agree with your first tip to not judging. I remember a single mother that will come to school looking dirty and will bring her children wearing bigger size clothes. When I tried to schedule a home visit, she always gave me excuses. Later on, I was able to find out that she was living in her car. This is why I believe that it is important to not judge. I also liked your tip of being the teacher I would love to have. I remember that I always said that, "I want to be the teacher that I wish I had". This belief encouraged me to be more patient, caring, loving, and understanding. I really believe that children living in poverty need extra caring educators that know their children and their families and are able to provide a safe place for learning.
    Again, thank you for your blog and for sharing a little bit of your knowledge and resources. Digital tools help improve my practice by being able to have access to all kinds of information including research-based best practices.

    Maricela Guido

  16. Thank you for sharing the tips. I can relate to many of the tips because I work with so many children living in poverty and every time I visit their homes I can see all the struggles the parents are going through. Sometimes the homes I visit are full of children because they live with other family members so it's always loud and busy. Some of the parents are always stressed or they're always working. Some of the children I visit don't really have someone that spends quality time with them and I am the only one that is actually teaching them.

  17. I truly appreciated every single one of these tips. They are so simple yet so impactful. My experience as a Wraparound facilitator and an ECE educator, has taught me so see the bigger picture when it comes to all children. Tip #1 tugged at my heart the most because teachers get so caught up with their responsibilities, paperwork, expectations, etc. that they forget that most of these children are dealing with challenges, struggles, and poverty. Sometimes, their only way to release it is to act out or appear uninterested. I’ve experienced children who witness domestic abuse where police officers and social workers are up with them the night before school. The children come to school with so much trauma that they tend act out or not care. Before my role as a facilitator, I wouldn’t have understood the importance of tip #1, now my priority is to open the eyes of educators to see beyond challenging, defiant, quiet, and “lazy” children. Thank you for bringing awareness to such important topics.

  18. Thank so much for your tips.. I work in skid row therefore many of my families live in poverty. My job can be difficult at times because many of my families did not make it passed middle school and more often than not do not understand the importance of an education. I did something very similar to you, I began to come in to work at 6:45 am rather than 7. I provided 15 minutes of open time with whomever needed them. Surprisingly, many parents would come to simply look around the class. We even planted once! thank you for being an inspiration!

  19. I truly enjoyed reading the article and learning distinct tips on supporting children living in poverty. Currently, I teach and reside in the city of San Bernardino, Ca. It is ranked as the thirty first poorest city to live in California. In reading the article, I concur that time is a precious gift to give. In our classroom, I have the "How would you like to be greeted" poster. I make sure to acknowledge every child and give them my time and attention.

  20. Sarah G.
    When I read this blog I was able to relate to the teacher and the students. I work in an area that is infested with poverty, crime, homelessness, neglected children, foster care placed children, parents are incarcerated, and drugs are plentiful. It is is important that we advocate for the families and students we serve. These students and families deserve a chance to uplift themselves from the claws of poverty and those issues which limits their chance of a better life.

  21. This article was very well written and easy to relate to. I teach in a district where every school is now considered Title 1. We offer free breakfast to all students and most students qualify for the free lunch that is offered. I feel that it is so important to establish relationships with our students so we can understand where they are coming from. I teach first grade so sometimes it is difficult to know exactly what is going on in their world. I try to be available to them, someone they know they can come to and trust. I encourage them daily and we do a lesson on Persevere at the beginning of the school year to help them build confidence and know that they might not know how to do something right away, but if they persevere they will be able to succeed. Thank you for your article and for being a great teacher to your students!

  22. I really loved and identified with this post! I wholeheartedly agree that the most important thing you can do as an educator is to establish a relationship with each and every student. Get to know their family life, their likes and dislikes, and what brings them joy. Every morning we have "community" time, where i greet each child by name and ask them how they are doing and if they have anything to share. it takes about 20 minutes but it is the most valuable time spent in my day. My students know i cherish them and in turn they feel a part of our classroom community of learners! :)

  23. Thank you for writing this article. It was very well written and easy to relate to. The first reason I can relate is that I am from Silicon Valley and it was impossible for my husband and I to purchase a house and be able to be there for my children. That is why we moved and came to the city we currently reside in. The school which I teach in has recently been designated a Title 1 school. Most of my students qualify for free lunch. Our district provides breakfast for every student if they qualify for or not. I agree that the most important thing I can do for my students is to develop a relationship with them. Sometime, however, it is not as easy as I expect it to be. I teach 2nd grade and some of my students have already had a difficult life and do not trust anyone easily. I greet each of my students at the door each morning and tell them that I am glad they are at school today. We have a sharing time each day that anyone who wants to can tell us what is happening in their life. My students also know that I am available to them during recesses if they have something to share that they do not want everyone to know. Thank you for all of the other tips you gave which will help me understand what some of my students might be going through!

  24. Good read. I related to many points in the post.I like that you opened your classroom for study time. Im sure it was life changing for the students.


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