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Prepare Teachers for Poverty and Education

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Imagine that you are a new teacher. This has always been a dream of yours and finally you have reached it. You have spent years in college getting the degree you need in order to be someone who helps shape the young minds of the future. You received all the certificates you needed, and spent countless hours putting together the perfect curriculum. This was the job you were meant to do. What if all the schooling, all the degrees and all the time you spent putting in to making the perfect curriculum wasn’t enough? The Civic report states that current Federal data shows the number of homeless students in kindergarten through 12th grade has grown by 70% within the last decade (Camera, 2019. p.1). Poverty is one of many different factors that can contribute to homelessness. These students you set out to teach and help mold actually need more than what you were ever taught about and prepared for. So how do we help students from backgrounds of poverty? We have to first help our teachers understand these backgrounds and prepare them for the environment.

What It’s Like for Students from Poverty

For students from a background of poverty, education seems like something they can’t do. One more thing to think about that seems probably unattainable. Most often these students have an overwhelming feeling of “We don’t belong here. People like us do not get educated” and a feeling of being powerless in their lives (Beegle, 2012, p.4). Mainly they just feel alienated from society because of their socioeconomic backgrounds. On top of all of these feelings, they often have the physical barriers that contribute to making education an overwhelming task. In the article, “Washington State works to meet the needs of its homeless students”, Casey Leins (2018) interviewed superintendent Chris Reykdal who stated “If you don’t have a stable place to live, and you don’t have secure food, the learning is so minor in their priority array”. The article ‘Homeless students’ by Author Marcia Clemmitt gives examples of what some of these students go through. The first student was eleven year-old Rumi who stated “I struggled in school because of having to sleep in different places, and not being able to rest”. His mother considered going back to his father despite the domestic abuse just so Rumi could have a stable place to live. The next student was twelve year-old Brooklyn Pastor who stated that instead of focusing on school work she often had to look after her two year-old brother. The third student Army Pvt. Brittany Koon lost her access to permanent shelter when she was too old for the foster care system. She stated “When you are sitting in class you are worried about where you are going to go after, where you are going to eat, and how you are going to get your homework done”. This is a weight that most students from poverty have to carry daily.

Teacher’s Impact on Students

When it comes to the role of a teacher, they have the ability to have some of the greatest influence on a child. They have the ability to impact their lives in more than just an educational aspect. Rita Pierson has been a teacher for the past 40 years and in her Ted Talk ‘Every kid needs a champion’, she talks about a time when she had one particular class of students who were so low in not only their self esteem, but also in their academic performance, that she realized she needed to help change both circumstances. One way in which she did this was to give them a saying “I am somebody. I was somebody when I came. I’ll be a better somebody when I leave. I am powerful, and I am strong. I deserve the education that I get here. I have things to do, people to impress, and places to go”. Pierson explains that if you get to know your students and their backgrounds you will come to find out that students who usually don’t learn is because of poverty, low attendance, and negative influences around them. Sadly this causes them to ultimately end up dropping out. The influence a teacher has can ultimately give a student a sense of power they didn’t know they had. It is a relationship that is often not valued as much as it should be. These are role models that can have a huge positive effect on not only academics, but how a student from a background of poverty can thrive.

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Teacher Preparation

When becoming a teacher, there are certification programs put in place called “teacher preparation programs”. Although these programs might differ slightly from state to state, the idea behind them is usually the same. The article ‘Teacher preparation program overview’ breaks down what these programs primarily include. To assist teachers the program runs through specialized course work, student assessments, and early childhood development among other things. Although these are all helpful tools for teaching methods, none of these acknowledge the issue of different socioeconomic backgrounds and the effect it has on education and a student as a whole person. Carolyn Nelson explains in the article ‘Education: Reclaiming teacher preparation for success in high-needs schools’, that although teachers can be highly qualified in an academic aspect this usually doesn’t help them. The teacher preparation programs don’t prepare them for environments like students struggling from poverty; therefore, teachers often find themselves unsuccessful. This has the harsh effect of students falling through the cracks of the educational system.

No Child Left Behind Act

In January of 2002, ‘The No Child left Behind Act’ was signed into law. Although good intentions were in mind, there have been many issues found. The idea behind this act was that all children no matter their race, and socioeconomic background would have an equal opportunity for education. The Federal Law requires that established learning standards are in place of what these students should know and should be capable of doing in academic subjects. The law requires a set level at which students are considered proficient and assessments to measure their progress of reaching this standard (National Center for fair and open testing, 2008, p.2). Although this law did have the benefit of more inclusion for all students, and it did set the bar that all students no matter their background should be learning as well as and as much as their peers, it did not look further than that (Lee, 2014 p.4/5). The Law was more focused on holding schools accountable for test scores than focusing on the students as a whole person. Ultimately, this requirement put more pressure on the teachers to teach kids for scores instead of their well being and what would have actually benefited them.

Possible Solution: Teach the Teachers and Provide Support

Teachers should be provided and required to take courses to help them better understand and assist students from different socioeconomic backgrounds. These changes should be made starting with teachers working with students as young as preschool or kindergarten. In the article ‘Educating students who live in poverty’ Donna Beegle states that, “The more assets a student has, both internal and external, the more likely they will succeed”. Beegle explains that we must attempt to find out the why in order to understand the behavior and therefore know how to better assist. In order to do this, we must help our teachers first. One example of a successful transformation is in Walla Walla, Washington. The documentary ‘Paper Tigers’ follows Lincoln Alternative High School as they adjust their teaching methods to help students through Stressful events. They formed the concept Trauma Informed practices (Beyond Paper Tigers, 2020, p.1). When the documentary first started, most of these students had nothing to believe in. They came from all different backgrounds and believed there was no point in trying. Lincoln High didn’t focus on increasing test scores or pleasing a federal law. Instead they changed how they interacted with these students, they got to know each student and their hardship. They helped them build resilience (Mongeau, 2016. p.6). When Lincoln High decided to take on the task of changing their teaching methods and understanding these students as a whole they had a 90% decrease in suspension rate, 75% decrease in fights and a 5 fold increase in graduation. If we implemented these methods into teaching courses to begin with, and started them at a younger age there may be a significant difference in students from backgrounds of poverty succeeding.


There is no denying that poverty is a huge crisis we face today. There are many physical barriers that contribute to why students suffer academically when they come from a background of poverty. However, if we have the ability to change these circumstances, shouldn’t we? A teacher may not be able to change some of the physical barriers of poverty for students, but they have more power to help students from poverty thrive than they are given the tools to do so. If given the tools and the support, Teachers would have the ability to focus on these students as a whole. They would not see them through the small lense of a challenge that will never be overcome. Teachers represent a positive role model that can show students more than just academics but teach them how to be resilient. In ‘Educating Students who live in Poverty’. Beegle stated it best when she said “Mentoring is the single most important action educators can take”. For this alone, we should help teach our teachers how to mentor, how to support and how to assist students of poverty. Not all students’ stories are the same, but teaching methods of support and understanding should be.


  1. Beegle, D. M. (2012). Educating students who live in poverty. Retrieved from
  2. Camera, L. (2019, February). Number of homeless Students Soars. U.S News – The Civic Report. Retrieved from EBSCOhost, te=pov-live.
  3. Clemmitt, M. (2013, April 5). Homeless Students. Retrieved from
  4. Lee, A. M. I. (2019, October 18). No Child Left Behind (NCLB): What You Need to Know. Retrieved from
  5. Leins, C. (2018, November 2). How Washington State is helping Homeless Students Graduate. Retrieved from
  6. Mah, T. (2018, April 19). Beyond Paper Tigers: Trauma Informed Strategies. Retrieved from
  7. Nelson, C. (2004, March 22). Reclaiming Teacher Preparation for Success in High-Needs Schools. Retrieved from
  8. Paper Tigers. (2015). Retrieved from
  9. Pierson, R. (n.d.)TedTalk: Every kid needs a Champion. Retrieved March 8, 2020, from
  10. Teacher Preparation Programs overview. (2019, January 2). Retrieved from
  11. What is the ‘No Child Left Behind’ Law? (2008, January 4). Retrieved from

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Prepare Teachers for Poverty and Education. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from
“Prepare Teachers for Poverty and Education.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
Prepare Teachers for Poverty and Education. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 31 Jan. 2023].
Prepare Teachers for Poverty and Education [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 25 [cited 2023 Jan 31]. Available from:
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