Can You Love the Pebble in Your Shoe?

Joan Flora and Pattie Sloan

In our last post, we promised we would address two myths about educating children from impoverished families.  First, we turn to Paul Thomas, a Furman University associate professor of education, who claims, “If education reform were committed to equity, public schools would insure that all students, regardless of race or socio-economic status, would receive rich and engaging educations.”

Ouch, but some schools do successfully provide “rich and engaging” education for all students through strategic teaching:


Myth #1: When we help impoverished students, we take away from middle and upper class students.

Actually, there’s a huge cost of not educating all of our children, see PBS’s By the Numbers, Dropping out of High School.

Also, consider the superhuman effort required for a child living in poverty to keep up with a child living in the middle class:

  • Poor students are more likely to attend schools that have less funding (Carey, 2005)
  • More limited computer and Internet access (Gorski, 2003)
  • Larger class sizes; higher student-to-teacher ratios; a less-rigorous curriculum; and fewer experienced teachers (Barton, 2004).

The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (2004) also found that low-income schools were more likely to:

  • Suffer from cockroach or rat infestation
  • Have large numbers of teacher vacancies and substitute teachers
  • Have more teachers who are not licensed in their subject areas
  • Have insufficient or outdated classroom materials
  • Have inadequate or nonexistent learning facilities, such as science labs

To ignore the differences between students living in poverty and students living in the middle class is to throw talent and intellect away.  Who do you think pays for that?  And you thought we were going to dredge up all those dusty facts about at-risk students and the billions of dollars spent on prison costs.  Nah.  You already knew all that, right?

Myth #2: it’s too big of an issue.  Teachers can’t do much to change it, so maybe it’s better to concentrate our efforts on the biggest impact: middle class students.

Actually, teachers do a lot every day for all kinds of students with all kinds of backgrounds, and we know that teachers make powerful leaders.  But Paul Gorse’s article, “The Myth of the Culture of Poverty,” breaks down smaller actions for educators and people concerned with inequity in public schools:

  • Educate ourselves about class and poverty.
  • Invite colleagues to observe our teaching for signs of class bias. Start inviting!
  • Respond when colleagues stereotype poor students or parents. Begin practicing your elevator speech.
  • Don’t assume that all students have equitable access to such learning resources as computers and the Internet, and don’t assign work requiring this access without providing in-school time to complete it. This is hard.
  • Teach about the anti-poverty work of Martin Luther King Jr., Helen Keller, the Black Panthers, and César Chávez.  Bravo, if you’re already doing this. 
  • Study the homeless map for Oregon students.

The best way to end classism is to respect our students and their parents.

  • Gary Smalley, when talking about marriage, said that, “Life is about relationships: The rest is just details.”  We believe the same is true about teaching: students first; everything else can stand in line.  That includes you, Common Core!
  • Ed John, in our interview last week, said about children struggling in poverty, “Remember, this is someone’s pride and joy.”
  • Donna Beegle’s teaching about children reminds teachers that all behavior has a why.  Perhaps one reason has to do with less comfortable situations than a middle class life (click pie chart to enlarge):
    Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 4.02.53 PM

Monica DeTota defines “Doubled-Up:” as a result of the recent economic recession, many people who could formerly afford to live in their own homes have been forced to move in with friends, relatives, or others.  While those in doubled up situations are not homeless in the sense that they have no place to sleep, their “homes” are often unstable, not permanent, and can be abusive. As a result, doubled up housing situations are potentially detrimental to the health and well being of these individuals, especially children.

For those of you who don’t teach, in October there appears a checklist in every teacher’s head that has nothing to do with student relationship and everything to do with the intensity of our work.

Pattie’s aside: it’s time to confess my mini-meltdown last week when I realized I could not do all that my administrators were asking me to do.  Thankfully, I have friends, exercise and most importantly, chocolate, that eased me off the ledge.  I realized my stress had nothing to do with my relationship to my students, but it was impacting my relationship with them, causing me to be ineffective and less creative.

After a night of healing, I walked into the classroom the next day, and I realized they were the reason I chose to teach.  And because they exist and are in my life, I am determined to pour the best of me into them.


And no, that is not my class.  But that is the energy that I want to see in students and the class I know achieve as I continue to create a classroom of respect.  Have I learned to love the pebble in my shoe?  Today, yes.

“Strive to be a person who is present at each important act.”  Osage

“Man has responsibility, not power.”  Tuscarora

“Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity”   Buddha

“Wonder rather than doubt is the root of knowledge.” Abraham J. Heschel


About Teaching it Forward

We are high school language arts teachers in Oregon.
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