Working in a high-poverty school

Discussion in 'General Education' started by Lovetoteach15, Apr 2, 2014.

  1. Lovetoteach15

    Lovetoteach15 Rookie

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    Apr 2, 2014

    I work in a school where the free and reduced lunch total is around 96%. I love the kids that I work with, however, some of the stories that I hear and some of the things that they tell me are pretty heartbreaking.

    Just a examples out of many:
    -A student in my class who had a Christmas without any presents under the tree because mom and dad couldn't afford any gifts
    -A student who was so excited to tell me about going out to eat at a popular fast-food restaurant for dinner, and dinner was an order of fries
    -Many students who wear clothes much too small/ with lots of holes because mom and dad cannot afford to buy any new clothes for them

    After previously working in a school with mostly stay-at-home moms with kids who were much more well-off, my current experience has been eye-opening. I find myself worrying about my students often and wishing there was something I could do to help them, although I know this isn't part of my job.

    For any teachers who work at similar schools, do you find with working at these types of schools longer that it gets easier? Or do you still find yourself wanting to help your students as much as you can? And if so, what do you do?
     
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  3. KinderCowgirl

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    I'm not sure it gets easier, but I do think you get a little bit more desensitized after a while. My heart still breaks after I hear some of the stories-but not much surprises me anymore.

    I was in a training once where they asked "do you believe that every child you teach will succeed in life?" and it was really hard for me to admit, but my answer was no. I wish they would absolutely, but I know the realities of the world they live in.
     
  4. Go Blue!

    Go Blue! Connoisseur

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    I think it does get easier because nothing surprises/shocks me anymore except for the little odd things I never realized or thought about (for example, the kids told me that the ice cream truck man takes food stamps in the summer).

    This is not only with students' life stories, but also with their behavior and attitudes. It is what it is and wishing it was something else only frustrates me.
     
  5. Milsey

    Milsey Habitué

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    You can't be so naive. You have to take their stories with a grain of salt.

    Many students who wear clothes much too small/ with lots of holes because mom and dad cannot afford to buy any new clothes for them
    - yet they had the money for a flat screen TV, and mom has another kid on the way by another father.
    dinner was an order of fries.
    Yes, that's what happens when mom is a teenager. Healthy eating has to be taught by a responsible adult. Chips and a soda is not breakfast.
    And yes, I worked in a high-poverty district for two years.
     
  6. gr3teacher

    gr3teacher Phenom

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    If Bill Gates fed his children nothing but dog food and dressed them in nothing but rags, I'd still feel horrible for the child, even if their condition was completely caused by the parent.

    That's ignoring the fact that you're making gross (and rather offensive) generalizations.
     
  7. bora

    bora Rookie

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    My 5 year old daughter loves pants with holes. She puts her fingers in there to make it bigger. lol:lol:

    Don't believe everything kids say. My son told me they don 't eat snack in their classroom. I found it hard to believe, but yeah I didn't give him any. When I asked the teacher lately, she said yes they can eat anytime. Well, imagine how I felt.:rolleyes:
     
  8. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    I don't think the OP is being naive. You know where you work, you can take a look at your students and their demographics (part of town the school is at, 96 % lunch is free), and I do believe what they say is true.
    My school has 100 % free lunch. We have homeless kids, runaway kids, kids from households where they'd be safer if they were homeless, etc.

    I can somehow separate the two, (home life and school life) because I know I can't do anything about their home life. If I brought lunch for one hungry kid, I would have to do it for the rest.

    These kids come to school because they get breakfast, lunch and a safe environment. And believe it or not, they come to school because they know they have teachers who care about them and they also need and secretly want the structure. The school is probably the only stable and consistent thing in their life.

    So yes, it does get easier, and be rest assured that you are helping them. Listen to them when they tell you stories (of course know that some of them will say some crazy things), and just show you care about them.

    My one big mistake is that I am more patient than I should be, I'm learning that just now, at the end of the school year. Every kid has a heartbreaking story, and I can't keep giving them chances after chances because of their situation, because they will end up as a behavior problem. They need the structure as much as food.
     
  9. Go Blue!

    Go Blue! Connoisseur

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    While I agree that kids lie, I've never had a kid lying about being on welfare, not being able to eat until their food stamps are refueled, being homeless/living in shelters, their parents/siblings being in jail, etc. We have social workers do home visits to check these things out.

    Bora, you are talking about a child lying about a snack. Not the same.:rolleyes:
     
  10. GTB4GT

    GTB4GT Cohort

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    Because the profession appears to attract compassionate people, I think your mistake is a common one and I can't help but feel that some (not all) students in my school, sadly, have learned that. thus, their efforts are expended on exploitation of their circumstances rather than taking the steps necessary to change them going forward. To be fair, overcoming difficult obstacles at a young age seems to be an exceedingly rare gift and appears to be easier said than done.
     
  11. LisaLisa

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    I've worked at schools in different income brackets, currently most of my students receive free lunches.

    The upside of teaching in a low income school is that you may have greater potential for getting grants. They may not be funded by school families but take a look at corporate sponsors. That's one of the bright sides.

    I've learned to see what programs and agencies are available for parents. There are sometimes programs for free glasses and hearing aide supplies. Typically districts have a program for homeless families or families in transition. Sometimes there are "Christmas giveaways" in the area. Talk with the school counselor, secretary, or whoever might know how to support the families. There is someone who typically does that as part of their job.

    Sometimes I've had students wear the same clothes day after day. The problem is when the clothes are not clean and there is an issue with odor. When the shoes don't fit then it's another story. I've learned to notice the little things. Sometimes a call home can help. The parents may or may not be aware of the problem.

    I agree with the other poster that some families have different priorities with spending. I don't see it as a generalization as it is an unfortunate reality in some cases. It might not be what I would do as a parent, but I'm the teacher. I can make a difference in another way.

    I am fair and consistent and provide a safe classroom for learning. We have fun with simple and low cost items. Kids can do an activity in class and take home the instructions so that the family can do the same thing at home.
     
  12. Rox

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    I teach low-income students as well, and one is homeless. In the past, I've called local organizations to explain the situation, and they do bring toys at Christmas, gift cards to food stores and gas stations, and pizza for holiday celebrations. Another thing I've done is to ask Lifetouch or whoever is doing school pictures if they can donate the photographs to the family, and they always do. I have a small group though, it may be harder with a full classroom.
     
  13. 2ndTimeAround

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    I teach high school students and I find that poverty is a matter of priorities the vast majority of the time. Students that openly say they get assistance - food stamps, free lunch, etc., have no problem bragging about the luxury items they bought. It is the quiet students that are struggling that I worry about the most.

    I've never known a child to go without anything under the Christmas tree. The truly poor students/families that we have are always adopted by the school or clubs and get plenty at Christmas. But again, the students that don't share their need with anyone aren't likely to get noticed.

    I have zero sympathy for a student that "cannot" afford paper/pencils yet has $300 Beats and $150 Jordans. My job is to provide for my OWN children and I refuse to enable such bad decision-making.

    What bothers me is the all-to-common mindset that tend to accompany poverty. Just this week the difference between the haves and the have-nots was obvious. My "rich" kids were talking about study groups and working on projects together over the weekend. My "poor" students were talking about the last time they ran away from home and how they can become emancipated from their parents. "Rich" kids were talking about summer camps and "poor" kids were talking about how many of their friends are pregnant.

    What they possess doesn't bother me nearly as much as the low expectations they set for themselves.
     
  14. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    You can't blame your poor students to talk about their pregnant friends, and not talking about study groups or projects. Poverty is a lifestyle, it's something these students were born into and the only thing they know. Their parents probably don't value education, because themselves aren't educated and haven't found its value. Although there are parents that want the best for their kids, and push them, these are very few.
    Your poor students hang out with those who get pregnant and run away and commit crimes, so that's their social circle, that's what they'll talk about.
    Their main focus is on their peers; their parents, their future and the education are not nearly as important as their friends, to survive, to belong, to validate, for everything.

    So it's not that they set low expectations and it's their choice, it's what they know.
     
  15. 2ndTimeAround

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    I don't blame them. I am saddened about their choices and expectations. Far more worried about a girl saying that 32-year-olds should be expecting GRANDKIDS, not their own kids, than I am about a girl having holes in her jeans. That's the part of working with low-income kids that bothers me. Not what possessions they do or don't have.
     
  16. GTB4GT

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    I agree with this. I had a very close family member who chose to smoke. We tried our best to get her to see the error of her ways. heck, she knew the dangers of smoking. She died of lung cancer not too long ago as a result of her choices.

    I get the same feelings inside dealing with these kids. it's like watching an impending car crash, trying to alert the driver and being powerless to stop it. a mixture of grief and rage. people choosing to make bad decisions in life is a tragedy.
     
  17. BumbleB

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    After working in a low income school for going on three years now, I agree with both of these points.
     
  18. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    I think you totally missed my point. My point was that yes, the choices they make are bad, but it's because that's what they know. So they really are incapable of making better choices, unless we continuously educate them about how things are, how they can be and what they have to do to get there. Even then it's hard.

    Generational poverty means that your grandparents (probably) and your parents lived in poverty and they had to adjust to survive. You are born into that and that's what you learn. You learn that your personality and humor is valuable, because you you can't have a conversation about educated topics. That's why some kids are class clowns, they come up with all kinds of stories (during class), because that's what makes them liked.
    You learn that you can use your body to get things, especially if you're a girl. I don't mean prostitution, but your looks. That' why a lot of teenagers in poverty dress way too 'hoochie', because that's how they get attention and they learn that's how they attract a male. Not by their intelligence, or caring personality, etc.

    These are just 2 examples. So my point is that they're around people who get pregnant at the age of 16, for them it's normal, and they will talk about it as such. No one in their family succeeded in education, so they won't even think about study groups or college. College is an abstract thing to them.
     
  19. 2ndTimeAround

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    And I think you're missing my point. You seem to be arguing against what I'm saying. Yet we're saying basically the same thing. I think it is sad that children believe these things. You're simply trying to explain it away. I don't need to be educated out of my feelings. I know why it happens - I see it just like you do.
     

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