This semester a teacher on staff asked if we could do a faculty book study on a title he had read in one of his administration classes. When staff members step forward to lead learning and change, I think it is very important to support them as well participate in their efforts. We managed to scrape up the resources to purchase enough copies for a group of teachers to read and discuss.
The book we are reading is Teaching with Poverty in Mind | What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It, by Eric Jensen. As a school in a small and shrinking mid-west community, we see the devastating effects of poverty on our student population. In the past twenty years, our school has shrunk from a student population of 800+ to a student body of 550. Although our student body has shrunk, the percentage of students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch has increased from just under 20% to 55% over the same time span. The demographics of our school are a reflection of a community that has lost many of its middle class wage earning positions and has seen many of our local businesses close up, unable to compete with the new local mega store. Our community is very dependent on the agribusinesses that are associated with the farming industry located in our region. The nature of farming has also changed. Smaller farms are disappearing as land is being consolidated under larger land holders. There are families who send their children to our schools still, but many of them are now farmers that “cash rent” as opposed to owning their own land.
Although we know we have a high population of students who experience the effects of poverty, we (I) fall into the trap of misunderstanding why our students act the way they do. I know I often lose sight of the fact that I come from a background where education was valued. I was rewarded for doing what school expected me to do well. I was taught to set goals and take steps to achieve them. Teachers as a whole are people with very similar backgrounds. They usually did well in school and at times it becomes easy for them to forget that they did not experience some of the physical and environmental variables that cause their students to misbehave, not care, and in many cases, not show up. I know that I have fallen into the trap of blaming students, parents, state policy, …etc, for why some students seem bound to fail. What this book is forcing me to do is to look into the mirror and find what I can change, what we as a school can change to better accommodate the students in our charge. The real challenge is to be a school that can challenge all of our students. In order to that, we have to own who we are. Next in this series: What are we doing well. What are we doing wrong. What needs to change NOW.