Today our Professional Development was held in the high school auditorium, bringing both middle and high school together for a presentation and mini-training on poverty.
Eight or nine years ago, my cooperating teacher and other FCMS teachers went to this full AEA training session. It was two days of in-depth training and learning about students who live in poverty. My teacher said that the concept sounded self-explanatory, but what she learned had really changed her perspective. There are so many little things, as well as unspoken rules of poverty that middle-class teachers don’t think about or can’t wrap their head around. I really saw this come true in the presentation.
At the start, we each received this note sheet to follow along:
The woman giving the presentation alternated between facts and personal stories–this was good and helped me really relate to what she was talking about. She told stories of a student who didn’t typically show up for school on Mondays. Come to find out he only had one pair of pants, that were washed on Sunday nights and not usually dried and ready for school the following morning. The woman said that an opinion of this student could be easily made because the teachers/administrators didn’t ask and didn’t pay attention to this student’s life situation. He shouldn’t be reprimanded or punished because he missed school–this was an easy problem to solve!
We also looked at models of values of people in poverty vs. values of the middle class. This was the most interesting part of the presentation for me, because I realized that relationships and entertainment were the main focuses of people in poverty. This would explain, as the woman said, why a young girl might have her nails done but no electricity at home–that just wasn’t the family’s focus.
This made me think of a girl in my 6th grade. I was told that she lives in extreme poverty–doesn’t have electricity at home, so she’s unable to use her computer and typically comes to school with late/missing assignments–yet, she always has her nails done. It sounds silly, but this is something I’ve noticed. And I have to admit, with my middle-class mindset, I did make a judgement on her. I remember thinking, How does she have her nails done so nicely but can’t come to school with homework done? How can her family afford a manicure but not electricity? This model made me realize how naive (and judgmental!) I was being. Of course I never said any of this to the girl’s face, or even out loud for that matter, but it was a mindset I had and now realized I needed to change.
The presentation discussed about ways to engage students, to help them form new, positive relationships to hopefully pull them out of poverty. The woman also talked about parent-teacher conferences and how middle-class professionals need to consider the lives of those in poverty. A parent in poverty won’t necessarily understand the expectations of the middle-class: that they should be on time to conferences, that they should ‘dress up/dress nice’ and that conferences are a time for discussion, rather than yelling. The woman gave a personal story, of how a mother chewed her out for what was almost no reason at all. But when the woman took a step back, she realized that yelling was this mother’s way of showing how much she cared for her child. This mother, who showed up late and wore grubby clothes, was doing the best she could for her child and her family–a different perspective than what you might think looking at this mother.
The mini-training was interesting and really made me think about what I want to do better as I move forward in my placement. One thing that I want to change is making sure to greet and address students by name. This is so simple, but a way that I can show I’m invested in the students as individuals, and that I care about them. I’m almost there with names already! Now I just need to be confident and use them when I talk to students.