Child Development

You Can Teach Children Living in Poverty

Right after you begin your daily class starter, Johnny comes into class late and doesn’t have his supplies. He looks despondent. Next thing you know, he’s thrown his books on the floor and put his hoodie on over his head. What do you do? Consider this: Does Johnny come from a house where he has his basic needs met? How many of your students have their basic needs met at home? How do you respond? How do you teach and reach children who are living in poverty?
What is poverty?
The United States Government has identified a poverty level with a set of guidelines. But is it that simple? Do we define poverty by a looking at a chart? Well, as teachers, we have no access to how much money a family has, and we cannot just look at the free and reduced lunch students. In fact, Eric Jensen actually suggests there are several different types of poverty in his book Teaching With Poverty in Mind.
1 – Situational Poverty occurs when a student incurs a sudden loss or crisis. Sometimes parents lose jobs, house fires happen, and natural disasters may destroy students’ homes. Suddenly, everything is lost.
2 – Generational Poverty happens in families where you see poverty across generations. Not only does the student live in poverty, but the student’s grandparents and great-grandparents do as well.
3 – Relative Poverty means that students lack basic needs. For instance, the student may be homeless, lack adequate food, or live in a lower than average standard of living than his or her peers.
4 – Urban Poverty occurs in large cities. In these situations, students suffer from chronic stress affecting their daily lives.
5 – Rural Poverty, on the other hand, occurs in non-metropolitan areas. In these situations, you see mostly single-parent households and due to location, there’s a lack of services available to assist the family.
How does poverty affect our students?
Jensen (2009) uses the acronym EACH to describe the impact of poverty on students.
E, for Emotional and Social Challenges, means that although we tend to believe students should know how to display age-appropriate emotional and social behaviors, students in poverty often need instruction in the areas of patience, cooperation, and empathy. For this reason, we might see them “acting out,” showing impulsivity, lacking manners, unable to display appropriate emotional responses, or lacking empathy for others.
A, for Acute and Chronic Stress, means that that have constant stressors in their lives. Stress leads to lack of brain development, leading to a lack of coping skills, not knowing how to handle stress, and therefore lacking the ability to display their frustration effectively. They go into survival mode. So you may see more absences, lack of concentration, low motivation, and slower growth of new brain cells.
C, for Cognitive Lags, refers to the lower levels of cognitive stimulation in students with less economic resources. This has an impact on several systems, including the ability to plan, reading ability, slower processing, memory problems, and many other cognitive issues.
H, for Health and Safety Issues, refers to the impact their environment has on their overall health (respiratory infections, lower IQ, obesity, premature birth, etc.).
While living in poverty, students are at risk for lower graduation rates, more job changes, men dropping out of the workforce, and living in single-parent households themselves.

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