Tips for Teaching Students of Poverty from Dr. Karen Allmond

Dr. Karen Allmond is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at UTA. She is also faculty in the UTeach program at UTA. 

I worked for 18 years in Elementary Education as a math and, at times, a science teacher. Throughout those years, my time was spent in Title One Schools. This experience provided me with great insight on how to work with students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds and how to meet the needs of these students.

Children of poverty have unique skills developed by the stresses and home lives they lead. Many students come to school each day with a full day already put in. And it is not always a pleasant one. Bill collectors have called, beginning at 6 in the morning, and Mom and Dad (if they are fortunate to have both) are angry and frustrated. There are fights, loud voices, and non-positive ways to start the day.

The students may have fought and argued with their siblings, as they share a small bedroom in a ‘not-so-nice’ apartment complex. They then get ready by themselves, may have to help siblings get dressed, and then ride the bus to school. These students may not eat breakfast at home and have to eat at the school. If they are late, through no fault of their own, they miss breakfast. One school I was at would not allow the students to eat if they arrived past 8 O’clock am. Most of these students had not eaten since dinner the night before. One time a student told me that all she and her sister had eaten the night before were crackers and bread. Mom was passed out on the couch and Dad didn’t feel like cooking.

Teaching this unique group of students is rewarding, but can be frustrating at times. Many feel that you ‘owe’ them since so many receive gifts at Christmas from the Angel Tree, free school supplies, coats, and other necessities. I was fortunate enough to begin my teaching career at a Title One School that was 95% Free or Reduced Lunch. This opened my eyes to the hardships these children go through and their parents’ struggles and strives. I learned the first year that many times the happiest place for these children was school and my job and responsibility was to make it a home for them that welcomed them each day.

Often, I have student and preservice teachers talk about making a warm environment for their students when completing their Educational Philosophy. While I always appreciate their sentiments, it is more than a warm environment; it is ensuring that the students feel safe to be themselves. They need to know on their bad days it is all right, someone really cares about them, and creating a classroom that is one they want to come to.


Mid-Course Adjustment Is a Part of Classroom Management by Dr. Harrison McCoy


McCoy Photo
Dr. Harrison McCoy is in his 18th year of teaching. He is certified ELA 5-8, ESL, Tech Apps K-12, and Business Ed 9-12.

Every one of us knows that one teacher who has a file cabinet filled  with folders containing worksheets and detailed outlines of lessons taught in previous years. The files are numbered and dated, and every year he or she checks the scope and sequence and the calendar, then goes to the cabinet to remove that week’s lesson plan. It’s complete and ready to go at a moment’s notice because it never changes. Students may come and go, as do trends, fads, and new concepts in teaching, but these lessons never change. After all, algebra (or whatever the course may be) hasn’t changed in a really long time, right? Why change the way we teach it?

Each year, for as long as I can remember, I have planned and documented my lessons as though I were going to be that teacher next year. Then, something remarkable happens during the summer. I read a new book, attend a new training, have a fresh conversation with a colleague, or sometimes I might even have what feels like a truly original thought. Then, I throw my previous year’s lesson plans out and start planning all over again with new strategies and concepts to guide the way.

A lot of work? You better believe it. Most of the time, it’s worth the effort, though.

What happens, however, when it becomes clear six or 12 weeks into the year that what I planned in July isn’t working? Is it “damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead!“? When the students I thought I was getting aren’t the students who actually arrived on my doorstep at all?  Does it matter what I had planned?  What are my options when the way I am teaching it doesn’t engage the students, and they aren’t being as successful as they could be?  My curriculum guides haven’t changed, and I still have to teach computer applications. The “how” becomes dramatically important, and I had better be prepared to adjust course.

Classroom management. The APA defines classroom management as “the process by which teachers and schools create and maintain appropriate behavior of students in classroom settings.” As important as student behavior is, for me, management is much broader than mere behavior.

Sometimes these kinds of adjustments are driven by curriculum. For example, last year, I taught my students and assessed them using what I will call Standardized Test 1.0. This year, without changing textbooks or scope and sequence, I was handed Standardized Test 3.0 — a much more difficult assessment with significant content alterations. The plan that seemed so logical in July and August no longer worked. It would take different teaching methodologies and learning strategies to drill down as deeply as “Version 3.0” demanded.

At other times, these adjustments are student-driven. This, by the way, is where I have a problem using data from previous years to make too many teaching decisions about a current year. (For example, I know a teacher whose goals for STAAR testing performance this year are based on student performance data from 2-3 years ago when TAKS was the testing instrument. Different students. Much different assessment tool. It may not be apples to oranges, but it is at least oranges to tangerines.) My data from student performance in my class during the first six weeks is part of the reason that I began to change my strategies during the second six weeks grading period.

One of my hobbies is sailing. To successfully navigate a body of water, I must become a student of the wind and it’s effects on my sails. If I fail to adjust the sails in response to the wind, I will sit dead in the water and go nowhere. I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I am absolutely in charge of the sails. Making those adjustments — however small – is sail management. It’s just not that different in the classroom. H. Jackson Browne, Jr. is credited with having written,

“When you can’t change the direction of the wind — adjust your sails.”

I cannot change the students I have been given to teach, but I can change my methodologies. To me, that also is classroom management.

What are your thoughts on Dr. McCoy’s analogy of being a student of the wind to adjust the sails and alter course? -Peggy Semingson 

The Importance of Developing Relationships with Students by Bradley Leake

Bradley Leake, 8th Grade Honors Algebra, 8th Grade Mathematics, Girls Basketball Coach and Boys’/Girls’ Track Coach. McLean Middle School, Fort Worth ISD

This topic is very personal to me. I often hear other teachers talk about students’ behaviors and wonder: “Who are they talking about? They don’t act that way in my class.” Many kids come to school without knowing they are loved or cared about. They live in climates that I can never imagine. It is not my place to judge them or feel sorry for them. It is my place to provide a safe environment and a love of learning.

I have had several student teachers and for the first week, I only allow them to sit and talk to the students about their personal lives. Kids will not want to learn from someone they do not like! Period! If they feel connected they will jump through hoops for you. Do I have to do extra work- YES! I attend games, concerts, quinceaneras, and many other events. I have kept a calendar on my wall called a Caring Calendar. Students place special events on the calendar and I try to make it to as many of these events as possible. When they see that I care, they care! Many teachers do their planning, teach their lessons, and then head home- Not me!

My students see me all the time. Also, I do not feel ashamed to act stupid and crazy. Is there a costume I can wear to set the tone? Can I do a crazy dance and make jokes- SURE- ALL THE TIME. I always ask the students what their interests are. I create musical playlists based on their likes. I play music all the time! I am known for having strong relationships with many of the toughest students. I don’t judge them. I just let them know that I am there for them if they need me.

Building relationships is crucial in middle school. I have a saying at the end of my class: “If no one has told you they love you today, I love you!” Remember: It may be the only time they hear it!

Bradley is a graduate of the UT Arlington mid-level certification program. To learn more about this program, click here.

Technology Advice for Student Teachers from Allison Barkman

This post is from Allison Barkman, UTA Graduate and science coach, who believes that technology is a great way to engage students. 

image2However, preparing a lesson involving technology has different aspects to consider than other lessons such as the amount of hardware, ensuring the program is aligned, and other administrative goals such as becoming a Google Campus. Here are 5 things to consider before you deliver that amazing lesson with technology.

Glowing lights with bright colors, games, hands-on applications; it’s no wonder why students love technology. It’s also not a surprise that teachers want to take advantage of this engaging tool to get students involved in the lesson. When you’re a student teacher you may be very excited to get to use technology in your lessons, which is great, but there are things to consider before you start planning your next big tech lesson. See below for my 5 tips to integrating technology while you are student teaching.

  1. See what technology/programs/apps your cooperating teacher is already using.

It may seem obvious to ask your cooperating teacher (CT) regarding what apps, but it has to be stated. Your CT may already be using a program that is similar to one that you want to use. For example, if your school is integrating the Google Platform of apps, you may be better off learning Google Classroom instead of getting students to sign up for Edmodo which performs similar functions. This will not only save you time, but it will be aligned to what the school is already doing.

  1. Keep it aligned to the TEKS.

Even if your best friend told you about this amazing app where students are engaged and having fun, keep in mind your state standards. Even if it is aligned keep in mind the level of rigor the app has and how that relates to your standard. Many math apps, for example, can be glorified flash cards for calculations, which has its place, but it may be an inefficient use of time and energy if the TEKS say to model.

  1. Remember, using technology usually requires front-loading.

Edmodo, Google Classroom, KahootIt!, and even QR codes can be a great tool in the classroom, especially if you start using some of these early on in the school year. Using technology is usually an investment. By that I mean you put some extra time and effort regarding what the program is and how it is used at the beginning of the year, and if you and your CT use it continuously (another reason for Tip #1) then it will make it much easier later in the year when you don’t have to re-explain everything.

Pro Tip: Find something you want to use in the summer, test it, find all the ways you can use it, and THEN try using it all year in the classroom before you judge it.

  1. Technology can make reviewing more engaging.

Whether it’s a test review or just to practice skills, there are MANY  different resources you can use to review.

If you want to see some extreme competition try KahootIt! All you need is to come up with some questions and type them in. Once that is done you can launch the program and students can work in teams if there isn’t a lot of hardware or individually if you have access. Between the music and point system, it the competition creates a lot of engagement. Remember to slow it down if the kids are more focused on winning than reviewing.

For vocabulary, try QR codes. Word on top, definition on the bottom, and a QR code in the middle and CUT! Use multiple words and have students match the top and bottom with a QR scanner. When it scans, that means it’s correct. Use this with a guide for assessment and it can be a useful way to review vocabulary.

  1. Think of ways to blend technology into everyday lessons.

While as beneficial as reviewing can be, using technology doesn’t have to begin and end there.

  • Google Classroom or Edmodo can act as a great way to have an online classroom. Use it for bell ringers, online discussion, and posting notes for absent students.
  • Using centers in your class can be good for engagement and differentiating. Have a tech center where students can listen and follow along to a story, or an online scavenger hut where students are reading different articles to find key points.
  • Try using technology for assessment and differentiation. Whether it is a Google Form or Grade Cam, having a quick way to assess students will make your job easier.

What I have done in the past is I had 3-5 questions to give students at the beginning of class in the middle of a unit. Students fill out their answers on Grade Cam and then they come up to me with their assignment and they can instantly see their score. Depending on their score would determine the activity they did. I’d have students complete an online scavenger hunt for more in depth details on the content to help those who were excelling and the other group would complete a review game, vocabulary exercises, or online simulations to help reinforce material that was taught in class.

Hopefully some of these tools and pieces of advice help you as you are planning your lessons. The last piece of advice I’ll give is to always monitor what students are doing on their computer. Best case scenario they are following your directions, however students who are not on task could be doing anything. Off task behavior, cyber bullying, and inappropriate websites are all things that students could go to if they think you aren’t watching them. If you set your expectations high, make sure all students understand what to do, and monitor you can have a successful lesson with technology.

What pieces of advice do you have to give regarding technology? Are there any programs you like to use in the classroom? Share them in the comments below!

*Alison is a graduate of the UT Arlington mid-level certification program. To learn more about this program, click here.

Feature Blog: Aubrey Steinbrink

Teacher Aubrey Steinbrink reads aloud to students.

Aubrey Steinbrink is a graduate Student in Literacy Studies at The University of Texas at Arlington and an Instructional Coach in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford School District in the DFW Metroplex. We feature her blog to showcase one of her recent posts on “4 Steps to Continuous Improvement in the Classroom“. Aubrey writes:

Continuous Improvement is a systematic approach to reflection and getting know what strategies help our students learn best. 

Aubrey’s main blog is mrssteinbrink6. Thanks for sharing your teaching reflections, Aubrey!

We encourage others to develop a teacher blog! One of our recent webinars focused on getting started with teacher blogs. It is shared below.

For more information on our Master’s of Education in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Literacy Studies online, click here


Respect as a Student Teacher by Allison Barkman, Science Coach and UTA Graduate


Respect is something that is cultivated over time and is not always given right away. If you are a new teacher, becoming accustomed to students who don’t respect you can throw you off. Here are 3 pieces of advice that may help you if you feel like you are not getting respect just because you are a student teacher.

Allison Barkman shares tips on student teaching!

I was a senior and completing a segment of my student teaching in an 8th grade science class. Despite feeling at home regarding the age group and content matter, I couldn’t reach all of the students I had been assigned. Most of the students saw me as a fresh face who, like my cooperating teacher, was fun and excited about what they were learning. There was one student in the 5th period class, right after lunch, who worked well with my cooperating teacher, but when I taught or assigned something, he completely ignored me.

On one particular day I was teaching, the student was slumped over and had no interest in my lesson over selective breeding. I tried to follow the best practices I had been taught and once the class had been assigned their work for that class period, I pulled him aside to talk to him. My cooperating teacher stood nearby to see how I handled the situation. I asked him, “Why aren’t you participating in class?” Then I heard the most troubling words during my student teaching, “I don’t respect you. You are not my teacher.”

I had not been prepared to hear a statement like that. I knew that I would have more student buy-in when I had my own classroom, but for a student to call out probably one of my biggest insecurities as a student teacher, I stood there speechless.

I don’t know what I would have done if my cooperating teacher hadn’t been there. She nicely told him that he had no business saying something like that to an adult, any adult. While she was talking to him, I had to step into her office (science teachers in middle school can have an office in the storage area) to collect my thoughts and regain my footing. After a few tears were shed, my cooperating teacher came to check on me. She had told me what she had told him, and eluded to that if he chose to do poorly to prove a point that was his choice, but he is not to disrespect anyone in the process. She also filled me in on the fact that his mom was VERY INVOLVED in his academic career, so he’d have to deal with the consequences from his mother with him not wanting to do his work.

What I should have done is give that conversation myself. Had I have known what to say, had a thicker skin, or wouldn’t have been the introverted individual I was at the time, I would have given the conversation my cooperating teacher did myself. It probably would have solidified myself as the authority figure I was supposed to be.

With that in mind here are three things I’d suggest if you think you may be dealing with a similar situation.

  1. Let your cooperating teacher know. Your cooperating teacher should be your strongest support system in the classroom. Ask his/her advice on how to handle the situation. What happened in my situation may not be applicable in yours. I was/am incredibly fortunate to have worked with my cooperating teacher, and I am still lucky because I continue to work with her. She is one of my closest friends and it is nice that we are still able to help each other.
  2. Talk to the student. While talking to the student in my case gave me an answer I didn’t want to hear, it cleared the air. I knew that I wasn’t a bad teacher for not engaging the class, it was a product of my circumstances. I tried not to dwell on what he said and told myself that when I do get my own classroom it would be better. When it comes to students, especially hormonal adolescents, it could be any number of reasons why they are not doing their work. Talking to them and making the effort shows you care about them and what is going on. The relationships you build will be the most important part of teaching.
  3. Don’t let students take your confidence. It takes a good amount of charisma to be an authority in a classroom and keep students engaged. If one student has a problem with you, don’t let that spook you out of an amazing profession. Start each day fresh and new, and as difficult as it may be to hold a grudge against that student, try not to. You are their role model of how adults act like and sound like and you can’t expect kids to always act like adults. Show them how we act.

I can also vouch that if you need help, talk to your professors or field evaluator. The team at UTA is beyond anything I could have asked for. They are here to help you and guide you to success.

Have you ever had a situation like this happen to you before? Do you think you might be experiencing something like this now? Have advice for other teachers? Share your stories in the comments below.

*Alison is a graduate of the UT Arlington mid-level certification program. To learn more about this program, click here.