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Teaching Economically Disadvantaged Students

Instructor: Shannon Orr
Do you know you could have the next President of the United States sitting right in your classroom? What if that student came from an economically disadvantaged background? This lesson is designed to help teachers who teach economically disadvantaged students.

Establish a Safe Place

It is the first day of school! Students are exciting about wearing their new outfits or uniforms, breaking the seal of their new notebooks, and showing off their new lunch boxes. Some students may not be able to relate to this experience. They may only have access to used clothing, they may not have new school supplies, and they may have to participate in the free lunch program provided by the school. As the teacher, it is your responsibility to not only treat every student equally, but establish an environment where all students treat each other with respect.

It is important for teachers to identify economically disadvantaged students. An economically disadvantaged student is a student whose household income is below average. The purpose of identifying these students is not so the teacher can feel sorry for them but to ensure they have access to the things they need in order to function successfully. Student experiences often have a lot to do with what is or is not accepted by the teacher. You must strive to build a safe and nurturing atmosphere for every student entering your classroom.

Treat Students Equally

The fact is despite what type of background students come from, they are individuals and should be treated as such. As an adult, it is not a good feeling to be judged based on negative factors. There are things in everyone's past that may not highlight our best abilities. There are also factors we had no control over such as who our family members are, what decisions they made, or what type of environments we were raised in. We have all heard the success stories of students who have come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and even stories of students who had every opportunity to be successful but ended up making bad decisions.

Teachers have the responsibility to model for and tell students how to treat others respectfully. They should also help students understand why it is important to treat people with respect. For example, teachers could present different scenarios and ask students how and why they should respond a certain way. For another example, teachers could ask situational questions such as 'If a new student transferred from another state and spoke differently, how could students help to make the new student feel more comfortable?' This encourages dialogue and is a great way for teachers to express how important it is to treat each other with respect and appreciate the differences everyone brings to the table.

It is very important to treat all students equally, or giving them the same opportunities. This doesn't mean that every student should be given the exact same thing. Equalizing students means to give every student the same opportunity for success. Students can tell if a teacher prefers one student over another or allows a certain group of students to do one thing but does not give that same privilege to another group. It is important to establish relationships with every student and build trust so that everyone feels free to communicate and express themselves. Having access to money and things does not make a successful student. The desire to learn and the ability to apply the skills that are taught make successful students.

Do's and Don'ts

Every person has basic needs or things they must have in order to survive. Students who are hungry cannot be expected to perform well. Some students only have access to food when they are at school so it is important to be sure that these students are qualified for free breakfast and lunch. Teachers can ensure that these students are signed up to receive free meals and if not, they can contact parents or guardians so that students can receive these services.

Ensuring students get an adequate amount of sleep is also vital for student success. Various situations such as homelessness or not having a bed may limit or hinder students from getting proper rest. If students are tired, they will not be able to perform at their best level. In this situation, the teacher can meet with the counselor and parents so that they may receive assistance with housing or furniture.

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