How Poverty Affects Classroom Engagement

How Poverty Affects Classroom Engagement

Poverty is an uncomfortable word. I'm often asked, "What should I expect from kids from low-income households?" Typically, teachers are unsure what to do differently.

 

Just as the phrase middle class tells us little about a person, the word poverty typically tells us little about the students we serve. We know, for example, that the poor and middle classes have many overlapping values, including valuing education and the importance of hard work (Gorski, 2008). But if poor people were exactly the same cognitively, socially, emotionally, and behaviorally as those from the middle class, then the exact same teaching provided to both middle-class students and students from poverty would bring the exact same results.

 

But it doesn't work that way. In one study of 81,000 students across the United States, the students not in Title I programs consistently reported higher levels of engagement than students who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (Yazzie-Mintz, 2007). Are children from poverty more likely to struggle with engagement in school? The answer is yes. Seven differences between middle-class and low-income students show up at school. By understanding those differences and how to address them, teachers can help mitigate some of the negative effects of poverty.

 

But first, my most important suggestion is to get to know your students well. Without respect—and without taking time to connect with your students—these seven factors will mean little.

JOURNAL: Faces of Poverty
VOLUME: 70
ISSUE: 8
PAGES: 24-30
PUBLICATION DATE: 2013