The vast majority of teachers (88%) agree that poverty is a barrier to learning effectively in schools, according to the 2015 Teacher Survey from Public Opinion Strategies and Communities in Schools. Nearly all teachers agreed that they would like to see a staff person dedicated towards helping families in poverty. Students from extremely low-income families were reported to display disruptive behavior, chronic absenteeism, and poor health, which affected not only their own education, but can also affect the entire classroom.
As a teacher who has worked in schools that have a high proportion of low-income kids, I can attest to these issues myself. Families are less involved, because the parents are often piecing together multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet, or the parents don’t know how to support education because they don’t have a high level of education themselves. Often, students from this group are less respectful, and by the time they get to high school, much more jaded about what the world has to offer them, affecting their motivation.
Yet, there are some rays of hope. There are kids from low-income families who work twice as hard as their peers, knowing that education can be their ticket out of the struggles of their families. Although these students may have parents that don’t know how to support education, they are also generally receptive to assistance the school has to offer – the key is that the school often has to offer it first, as parents don’t know how to (or don’t want to) ask.
When low-income students are able to reach a higher goal, every student wins – in those classrooms, in those districts, and beyond. There are things you can do to help, whether poverty affects your school in large numbers or not.
– Invest in school-oriented charities. Even school supply drives help put students on equal footing.
– Consider petitioning for a school breakfast option. Students that are well-fed are better able to focus in class and learn. Plus, the free meal helps motivate families to get students to school.
– Support initiatives and legislation that lowers class sizes, freeing teachers to get to know their students better and help them get the support and assistance they need.
– Encourage free tutoring programs to offer extra help to all students who need it, regardless of income.
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