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.


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