One of the biggest challenges facing young and experienced teachers across the country is dealing with the issues that come with teaching in socio-economically challenged areas.
Because students in these areas often have unique needs that you wouldn’t normally encounter in more privileged areas where kids have access to more resources and opportunities, as well as a stable home life.
This is where the social-ecological model and ecological systems theory comes in. Both were born out of the experience of teachers who had gone through similar experiences in socio-economically challenged areas.
Based on their experience, the following are some of the most effective solutions that teachers could apply to help kids from poor areas to thrive and get the most out of their education.
- Consider Social Needs
Social conduct issues are common in children that come from low-income families. This isn’t always the case with every child but it’s more likely.
According to the latest behavioral research, children that come from poverty-stricken homes tend to exhibit maladaptive social functioning compared to children that come from more stable and affluent backgrounds.
That’s why it’s important to apply the social-ecological model as a way to prioritize social skills throughout their schooling years.
This includes seemingly simple skills such as turn-taking when talking as well as meet-and-greet skills that should form part of every child’s education. This can be achieved by having a dedicated social etiquette class for each grade.
One could also introduce something like a book club that the kids can use to not only develop a love of reading and literature but to learn how to discuss the gender, cultural and broader social issues contained in those books. You can have a book club for both boys and girls if resources allow so kids from both genders can benefit.
- Check Health Issues
Poverty-stricken children are also more likely to experience a myriad of health issues such as malnourishment or lack of access to proper healthcare services.
Schools can turn to ecological systems theory by working with health care officials such as a nurse or a doctor, who can visit the school to perform check-ups on the kids. The school can also arrange routine dentist visits.
These measures can help to ensure that students develop in a healthy way both emotionally and physically.
After-school teaching programs and tutoring is another great way to lend a helping hand to students who might have health problems that cause them to miss classes.
Organizations like rprogress.org are a great example of what can be achieved through citizen activism and it all starts with the individual and the way in which we show up in our work every day, especially as teachers.
- Be Creative
The fewer resources a school has to work with, the more difficult it is to meet children’s needs and unfortunately, this is a daily reality for schools that are located in impoverished areas. That’s why it’s important for school teachers and administrators to employ some creative thinking to try and find cost-effective ways to address this problem.
The Teaching with Poverty in Mind book is a great resource that can empower teachers with some great ideas on how to tackle problems that come with teaching low-income students.
For instance, when implementing a teaching model that requires the use of computers, you could compile a list of places within the neighborhood that offer free Internet, such as McDonald’s or the local library.
Take it a step further and create study blocks and time blocks before and after school during which the kids can dedicate time to the projects that require these special resources.
You’ll find that some students are more willing and able to seek the help of tutors and complete after-hours school work in the mornings before school, while others are only available after school.
You may need to dig into your own pockets to sponsor some of the stationery or equipment needed in your classroom, but this is a small price to pay compared to the payoff.
Resourcefulness is key here, and you can even team up with other teachers facing similar problems in the school so you can all share in the resources that you’ve helped to create and help your kids prosper.
One teacher could buy markers and pencils, while another buys crayons. Sometimes, all it takes is a bit of creative thinking to apply the social-ecological model and give your kids a fighting chance.
- Include Everybody
It doesn’t matter what tax bracket you’re from; we all want to feel like we belong and for kids this drive is even stronger.
Peer acceptance is incredibly important during school-going years, especially for kids that don’t feel understood or seen at home.
That’s why teachers should try and create projects or methods to help all kids to feel accepted and included in all activities. However, not all teachers may be willing to sponsor clubs for the kids to participate in.
You could help to sponsor a girls’ book club, the student council or even the school debate team, and give the kids something to get involved in and feel like included.
- Challenge Students
Teaching with Poverty in Mind also teaches us not to make assumptions about kids coming from low-income households and areas.
The most common assumption is that they’re more likely to experience stress, tiredness, and will have less access to intellectual stimulation, emotional support, and other resources at home.
But, not all kids who hail from disadvantaged backgrounds are doomed to fail. Keep in mind that our beliefs play a huge role in how we show up in the world, particularly in our work as teachers.
That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on your own biases or commonly-held assumptions that you might have about your child before you come to any conclusions.
Set the bar high for all students and give each child the chance to challenge themselves. Give them a chance to show up as an individual because the more you expect from them, the easier it’ll be for them to believe that you truly do believe in their potential.
Show them that they too can achieve the same goals as their more affluent and privileged counterparts.