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The Effects of Poverty on Teaching and Learning

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“Let my body dwell in poverty, and my hands be as the hands of the toiler; but let my soul be as a temple of remembrance where the treasures of knowledge enter, and the inner sanctuary is hope” (Eliot & Hardy, 1967).

There are many reasons that people may have difficulties learning. Some of them have nothing to do with poverty, but unfortunately poverty has an adverse effect on many families and how students learn. Poverty can be a key factor in learning in the classroom and at home. Even though there are programs to help families, many continue to still struggle with poverty. Unfortunately, this seems to be a generational problem among families that continue the trend of poverty whether by systemic issues or other reasons.

Statistically unless parents become a driven force in the lives for themselves and their children many will continue to live in poverty which will have adverse effects. With 0t0.he assistance and knowledge of resources from educators and the community, families can have the opportunity to better their lives and the lives of their children. Parents and teachers can work together to help students academically.

Children from lower socio-economic backgrounds were already behind their peers in terms of language, social and emotional development. Social class at birth remains, thus, a reliable indicator of the educational input that children will receive throughout their childhood. This achievement gap is a major factor in perpetuating the social divide and the patterns of social mobility across society. It is very difficult to break the barriers of social mobility, but it can be achieved through determination and hard work.

According to Fass, Dinan, and Aratani (2009) “42 percent of children born to parents in the bottom fifth of the economic distribution remain in the bottom as adults and another 23 percent rise only to the second fifth, while 39 percent of children born to parents at the top of the income distribution remain at the top, with another 23 percent moving to the second fifth”.

The United States has more children living in poverty than any other industrialized nation. More than a quarter of all children grow up in poverty. Almost 50% of minority children live in poverty. Children in the highest socioeconomic group entering kindergarten have cognitive scores 60% higher than those of children in the lowest socioeconomic group”. According to the NCES, students who live in poverty have 16% less chance of graduating compared to their peers who do not live in poverty. Research has shown that poverty is one of the contributing factors to illiteracy, which results in few reading resources for children in poorer areas. Despite the United States’ image of being the land of opportunity, for many children living in poverty, access to gifted education opportunities is often limited.

Noguera and Wells (2011) described three ways that concentrated poverty directly affects students’ performance at school. “First, students living in poverty generally have limited access to academic and social supports (e.g., tutors, academic enrichment opportunities, summer learning experiences, and homework support) outside the school. Second, these students are often exposed to conditions that influence their health, safety, and well-being (e.g., limited access to health care, food instability, unfavorable housing conditions, and decrepit neighborhoods). Third, parents of (and schools that serve) students living in poverty usually do not have access to elevated levels of social capital because of exposure to adverse conditions (e.g., a dearth of potential partner organizations, community leaders, local services, and social networks in certain communities).” “Combined, these poverty-related factors present serious challenges to the academic development of students. Although living in poverty does not define a child’s ability to succeed in school, it can certainly have a significant impact on school performance and outcomes”.

It is also known that effective parenting is critical to enabling children to flourish. Parents are the primary-contributing factor for their children and academic success. As part of this Government’s drive to make our society more family-friendly, it sets out how we will enhance relationship and parenting support. According to Duncan (1994) “children who are not in a learning environment at home are at a disadvantage because they lack basic information and skills necessary to be on the same level with other children entering school who are their same age”. Even though this is the case for many children, not all students who are poor lack basic information. It just means that children from a poorer family may not have or know that specific resources are available to them compared to their counter parts such as books, technology, libraries, tutoring and experiences. Research showing parents are familiar with resources.

“Academically resilient students are students who are academically successful despite coming from low socioeconomic status backgrounds”. Teachers have a significant impact on how well gifted students will do in school. Teachers have found that it is very pertinent to recognize the importance of home culture that students bring into the classroom. As a result, there was also some discussion regarding the need for teachers to become more culturally competent.

Health, education, and literacy are closely interrelated; when children receive a basic education, it leads to healthier families. Children living in poverty come to school hungry, often sick with low energy, with no motivation or confidence, and are thus ill-prepared for learning.

The available research suggests behavior problems occur at higher rates in children living in poverty and may have long term negative outcomes if not identified and properly treated. According to Soares (2010) which drew on data of several thousand children, “found that 35 percent of boys from the poorest fifth of households had clinical-level symptoms of behavior problems at age three, compared with 15 percent of those in the higher four-fifths of the income distribution. By age seven, 22 percent still experienced behavior problems, compared with 10 percent of those from wealthier homes”. Unfortunately, we see this in the classroom where students who come from homes of poverty have seen parents have difficulties with authority figures such as police officers, court houses, and children services. Since at this age, parents are the primary contributing factor within a child’s life, it can be assumed that if a parent has difficulties with authority, such as in and out of the prison system or other related areas that students begin to understand that it is not necessary to obey authority which can be considered a behavioral problem at school. This behavior can be deemed as defiant and rebellion in the classroom and can make it difficult to teach this student which can have an impact on learning. Since this research shows that schools are not the primary contributing factor at this age, we would need to assume that behaviors at this young of an age would be introduced at home.

“Low-income families are at higher risk for family and social stressors (e.g., job loss, poor quality child care, inadequate supervision, unaddressed medical issues, maternal mental health issues, and unsafe neighborhoods) which in turn, negatively impact parenting practices that have been found to be related to the development and exacerbation of behavior problems in children”. Therefore, it is so important as educators to have a relationship with families. Having a connection to the families can create an opening in which teachers can offer resources. These resources can be contacts for jobs, education, child care, and food and housing assistance.

Books are the most needed item in both classrooms and in homes. More specific needs were bilingual books, magazines, newspapers, pens, pencils, paper, current maps and globes, art supplies, educational videotapes, and computers. In our school we have books fairs where students can purchase books and other items. Our PTO offers students who cannot afford books to receive a coupon that allows them to get books for free. I know quite a few teachers who purchase books for their students to take home as long as they promise to read them. Parents and local libraries will also donate books and school items to students who live in poverty. At our school, local churches, and other organizations will take up donations for students that are in need for school supplies such as pencils, paper, etc. Students would then see that the community and educators value them and their ability to succeed.

Unfortunately, because of where we live, school districts have limited funding for students. This has been an issue plaguing Ohio for decades. The inequality of school funding does have an impact on resources within the school but luckily, we have a phenomenal community which rallies behind our students offering support and resources. There have been times that residents of poorer districts have filed lawsuits against their school districts charging that they violated the constitutional rights of children in poorer districts to an equal education but unfortunately many of the districts do not have control over how much money they get. Therefore, it is so important that students have the support of parents and community to be able to thrive.

For students living in poverty, the break from school can bring hidden challenges that school psychologists should be aware of when preparing for vacation. Research has shown” that school breaks affect students from varying socioeconomic status (SES) levels differently, causing a widening gap in achievement between students living above and below the poverty line”. “Students of low SES experience summer learning loss, and variability in achievement has historically been found between SES groups returning to school after the summer break”. The achievement loss happening with impoverished students during the summer break has been attributed to lack of exposure to school-based resources. School breaks have the potential to negatively impact impoverished students’ ability to keep up with their peers academically and may increase risk for students living in potentially hostile environments. At our school we have created a summer reading program in which students can come to school one day a week to trade in books in which they received at the end of the school year. At that time, many teachers and community members have volunteered to help. They will read to the students while they are there, they can have snack, and donations of food are given out as well. All the parents need to do is provide transportation. If they are unable to do that, some food and supplies have been delivered to their homes. It is important that we remind ourselves of the difficulties faced by students living in poverty when away from school services. Providing at-risk students with supports that they can seek out can help bridge the gap over both summer and holiday breaks.

Because of the present, increasing economic circumstances, poverty is fast becoming a crisis, and teacher preparation programs must begin to prepare teachers to explicitly address the needs of poor children. Schools alone clearly cannot solve problems of poverty. Nonetheless, because education is so directly and strongly affected by poverty’s deleterious consequences, poverty should be an important educational concern.

As a community and educators, we need to come together to find solutions to help empower families of poverty by using local resources. I do believe though that families also need to take responsibility and have the drive to make changes that occur in their lives as well.

On a personal note, I was a child who was brought up in poverty. I lived with a single mom with three children who worked and went to school full-time. It was this drive that made an impact on us to do better in life. She taught us the importance of education and working hard for what you want. I also know many families who have also made changes to better their lives and the lives of their children. The transformation is phenomenal when we empower people to do better by giving them the tools and support that are needed. I also have seen families who have continued the path of poverty and relying on the system in which it seems that they are (generational) with how they live. If this is the case than it doesn’t matter how much support is given because they have made their choice. So even though I can sympathize with others who live in poverty, I also know what it takes to change the path you’re on. Because, of the resiliency of my mother, support of my family, teachers, and other community members I have been able to succeed with my goals and offer support to all of my students.

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