Part 2: Teaching With Poverty: Learning Environment

With over 47 million people living in poverty, chances are that you are teaching students who are living in one of the 6 types of poverty mentioned in my last post. The fact is we cannot control the fact that many of our students live in poverty; however, we can control what happens within the four walls of our classroom. So where to we begin? Today we are going to discuss creating a positive learning environment.

 Here are some strategies for overcoming poverty and increasing learning:

Tip # 1 - Build Relationships

James Comer was right when he said that "no significant learning occurs without a significant relationship." It doesn't mean that we have to be buddies or friends with all of our students, but it does mean that we insist on high quality work and offer support. It means meeting students where they are at and helping them get to where they need to go. In a way, we all have a responsibility for building relationships because many of our "at-risk" learners often lack long-lasting, stable relationships in their lives. Trust is the foundation of learning. Without it, learning cannot occur. 

We often expect our kids to understand how to react and behave in certain situations. Many "discipline" issues sometimes emerge when teachers expect more than what students are currently capable of. This may mean teaching our students how to act appropriately and talking about the behavior and how it impacts others. Why? Because they honestly may not know better.

Tip # 2 - Create a Stable Learning Environment

Creating a positive and stable environment means developing a classroom of respect. Ruby Payne, is an expert in the realm of working with students in poverty, and through her research found that students who felt respected by their teachers experienced the following situations:

  • The teacher calls me by my name.
  • The teacher answers my questions.
  • The teacher talks to me respectfully.
  • The teacher notices me and says "Hi."
  • The teacher helps me when I need help.

It all comes down to Maslow’s Hierarchy and the fact that students need to feel safe in order to learn. This may mean that we need to rethink sarcasm and the way that joke with students. I personally have trouble with this and often need to bite my tongue because a sarcastic comment can create a tremendous amount of unintentional damage. Why? Many of our students are oblivious to this and may feel it’s an attack rather than a joke. Immediately the “survival of the fittest” mentality begins.

Next week, we will discuss actual teaching strategies to incorporate in your classroom.

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