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Teaching with Poverty in Mind

Tuesday, July 5, 2011
So, when I attended the DCPS Urban Institute a week or so ago, I found Teaching with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen in the Institute tote bag.  It looked like an easy read, so I decided to start reading.  What a wonderful experience the text has been.  The book is about "what being poor does to kid's brains and what schools can do about it".  Knowing this was right up my ally, I started reading.  I will summarize each chapter in case you don't have time to read the whole text, although I highly recommend it.  Until next time, take a few minutes to Understand the Nature of Poverty..........

Chapter 1:  Understanding the Nature of Poverty
·         Poverty calls for key information and smarter strategies, not resignation or despair.
·         Poverty is a chronic and debilitating condition that results from multiple adverse synergistic risk factors and affects the mind, body and soul.
·         Six Types of Poverty:  Situational Poverty, Generational Poverty, Absolute Poverty, Relative Poverty, Urban Poverty, Rural Poverty
·         There are four primary risk factors afflicting families living in poverty:
o   Emotional and social challenges
o   Acute and chronic stressors
o   Cognitive lags
o   Health and safety issues
·         Poor children often breathe contaminated air and drink impure water
·         Single parenthood strains resources and correlates directly with poor school attendance, lower grades, and lower changes of attending college
·         Common issues in low income families include depression, chemical dependence, and hectic work schedules-all factors that interfere with the healthy attachments that foster children’s self esteem, sense of mastery of their environment, and optimistic attitudes.  Poor children often feel  isolated and unloved, feelings that kick off a downward spiral of unhappy life events, including poor academic performance, behavioral problems, dropping out of school, and drug abuse.  These events tend to rule out college as an option and perpetuate the cycle of poverty. 
·         Children who experience poverty during their pre-school and early school years experience lower rates of school completion than children and adolescents who experience poverty only in later years.

Action steps
o   Deepen staff understanding:  Teachers don’t need to come from their student’s culture to be able to teach them, but empathy and cultural knowledge are essential.  Form study groups to explore the brain based physiological effects of chronic poverty.
o   Change the school culture from pity to empathy:  Encourage teachers to feel empathy rather than pity; kids will appreciate your ability to know what it’s like to be in their shoes.

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