A Mile in Their Shoes: What Poverty Taught Me About At-Risk Students

A Mile in Their Shoes: What Poverty Taught Me About At-Risk Students

Rebekah Hammack
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2971-3.ch016
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The author begins this chapter by sharing her personal experiences growing up in poverty and how those experiences shaped school for her. Then, she shares the educational story of a childhood friend who struggled with school and eventually dropped out of high school despite only having one credit left to earn for graduation. Next, the author moves on to her personal experiences teaching students who were economically disadvantaged and the lessons she learned from those experiences. Finally, the author reflects over each of the stories she shared and how she has used those stories to shape her approach to teaching pre-service teachers.
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I am a first-generation college student. My father does not have a high school diploma because, like many teens who grow up poor, family circumstances required him to drop out of high school to help support his family. In low income families, working teens contribute roughly 22% to the family budget making their income vital for meeting their families’ needs (Rosales, 2015). It is not uncommon, therefore, for poor teens to drop out of high school for no other reason than they need to work additional hours at an income earning job. When I was growing up, my father worked as a farm hand, milking cows and putting up crops. Despite my parents working long, hard hours, our family income was considerably lower than the federal poverty limit. Living in an impoverished area of Appalachia characterized by a generational cycle of poverty meant that many of my friends and extended family members found themselves in similar situations.

School was a place where the differences between those who were living in poverty and those who were not became very clear to me. While it wasn’t always the case, the advanced classes seemed to me to be filled with children from middle class families, and peers from lower income families were in basic and remedial classrooms. I remember when my parents enrolled me in first grade, the school automatically placed me in a remedial reading group, which they said was because I did not go to kindergarten and would likely be behind my peers. My mother assured them that I had been reading for years and was not remedial, but they still placed me in the remedial group without even giving me the opportunity to show them that I could read. After our first reading assessment a month later, my teacher switched me into the advanced group. I never thought much of it at the time, but looking back on it now, I believe that the enrollment office at the school labeled me as poor and assumed that I would be low performing as a result.

According to Cummings et al. (2012), evidence suggests that teachers may underestimate the aspirations that poor families have for their children and falsely believe that they place less value on education than their higher socioeconomic status counterparts. Further, research suggests that poor people are often stereotyped as being lazy and linguistically deficit (Gorski, 2012) which may fuel the narrative that poor students will not perform well in school and result in teachers having lower expectations for low income children. Despite my teachers having low expectations for me, I performed well in school and my parents expected nothing less of me. Indeed, research has shown that low income parents work to do the best that they can to support their children’s education (Cummings et al., 2012).

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