A couple of weeks ago, I watched a PBS Frontline video called “Poor Kids” at the recommendation of my wife, a professional development specialist and former Head Start teacher. This show focuses on four families (one from Iowa) and how they deal with the poverty they are in. It was very eye opening for me as a classroom teacher, but was part of the culture my wife has been working with since starting with Head Start. Both the professional development and the classroom jobs she’s had, poverty is everywhere. Head Start works with those who are in poverty, period, having to fall within the federal poverty guidelines. She was a classroom teacher for four years, and the stories of home visits and behaviors made me cringe, yet, have become strikingly familiar in my own classroom.
In my fourteenth year here, my students are different. No, they aren’t glowing, nor do they suddenly break out in song, but they are different then those students I had at the beginning of my time here. We’ve taken a ski trip to a local resort every year I’ve been here as they cut us a great deal and it’s a way to introduce students to a different activity. The cost is $16, where if we just showed up, it would be somewhere around $110 – $125, so they work for us. In all my years, I’ve had maybe two students we’ve used a scholarship for to make sure they were coming with. This year, I have one student, with three others who were very hesitant. This is just one example of the poverty that has worked it’s way into our area. Our free and reduced percentages have continued to climb, our students are coming from homes where that poverty mindset has a firm grasp.
Today at lunch, two co-workers and I talked about that poverty, what it’s doing to our scores, but worse, what it’s doing to all of us. We continue to press on, but not addressing the elephant in the room. We leave, beat up, depressed at what we are doing, knowing that this isn’t always reaching that group. Yet, that’s what we know right now, and with declining enrollment, class size will begin to increase here soon, and that will only add another layer of “what now” on teachers who are stressed. For those students who need us, it will add another layer of distance from that caring ear, that reassuring smile, or for some, that needed kick in the pants. Now, some will say “but that’s your job”, to which I give you no argument, but I will say it’s easier for me to get to those who may slip through the cracks when my class is 20 vs. 30.
The question is: what does different look like? Is it more student directed? How is the Common Core worked in? Competency based? Multi-aged? Change for me is scary. I’m very much routine based, but what we are doing isn’t working, so what can we try? And how can this help that growing population who fall into that poverty category. These are kids that I truly worry about because they are the ones who, if they don’t see the value of what we are doing, will drop out and continue the pattern that we are trying desperately to break.
My students are different, and they need something different in order to succeed.