| Volume 65 | Number 7
Poverty and Learning
EL Study Guide
Richard Rothstein ("Whose Problem is Poverty," p. 8) asserts that when we focus solely on school reforms as the cure for the achievement gap, we suppress discussion—and even awareness—of how the physical and social deprivations of poverty limit achievement. He notes:
Teachers see for themselves how poor health or family economic stress impedes students' learning. Teachers may nowadays be intimidated from acknowledging these realities aloud and may, in groupthink obedience, repeat the mantra that "all children can learn." But nobody is fooled. Teachers still know that although all children can learn, some learn less well because of poorer health or less-secure homes. (p. 10)
- Discuss a time when you observed that a student's stressful home conditions (from poverty or some other source) impeded his or her learning. Were you able to make up for these conditions by redoubling your efforts at good instruction targeted toward this student's needs?
- When you have taught students from impoverished families, did inadequate health care, frequent moves, or lack of adult attention make achievement more difficult for students? Describe what you observed and how you responded.
- Do you think closing the achievement gap is within teachers' and administrators' control—or is this a myth, as Rothstein believes? If you believe that educators can't completely close the gap even through stellar practice, what keeps you striving to do your best?
Would You Teach in a High-Poverty School?
As articles by Kati Haycock and Candace Crawford ("Closing the Teacher Quality Gap," p. 14) and Terry B. Grier and Amy A. Holcombe ("Mission Possible," p. 25) make clear, finding good teachers willing to teach in high-poverty schools is one of our system's toughest challenges. Read these two articles and consider:
For preservice teachers:
- As you envision seeking a teaching placement, ask yourself how you would feel about teaching in a school that serves a high proportion of students living in poverty. What concerns would you have? What might be positive or rewarding about the experience? What kind of supports would you need to be effective in such an environment?
- What are you learning in your education classes that would help you teach in a high-poverty area? What kinds of skills could you be learning that would help?
For practicing teachers:
- If you have taught in high-poverty areas and middle-class or wealthy areas, discuss whether the experiences differed. What challenges and rewards did you find in each setting? What different skills were called for?
- If you were to switch to teaching in a high-poverty school, what might you gain or lose? What incentives would it take to get you to voluntarily make such a move? Would the financial rewards and professional development opportunities outlined in Grier and Holcombe's article make it worthwhile for you, or would other kinds of incentives tempt you more?
Showing Respect and Knowing the Rules
In listing strategies that help raise achievement for low-income students, Ruby Payne ("Nine Powerful Practices," p. 48) mentions "building relationships of respect" first. She lists specific teacher actions that high school students have told her communicate respect.
- Look at the actions listed on p. 48 and Payne's discussion of nonverbal signals. Reflect on whether your own actions with students communicate as much respect as you would like them to. Have you had an experience where a student felt "dissed" by you?
- Initiate a discussion with your students about whether respect from teachers is important to them and what specific teacher actions they feel show respect. Do they experience most teachers as respectful? Report back to the group.
- Discuss Payne's suggestion that we must teach low-income students the "hidden rules of school." Do you think the rules and norms that help some of your students survive at home differ from those that help them advance at school? If appropriate, discuss this concept with your students. Have them list the rules governing home (or peer) behavior and those governing school behavior, and report back to the group.
Copyright © 2008 by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development