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Growing up Poor

As a child I lived in an urban housing project  in a town called Charlestown in the city of Boston.  The idea of being poor and living in low-income housing seemed like the norm.  I didn’t know back then that my life was different from anyone else.  My classmates also lived in the projects with me.  We road our bikes around the neighborhood and played games after school, including sneaking into abandoned housing projects and playing hide and seek.  When you are a kid you don’t think about how your home life or environment impacts your education, nor how education could be a vehicle for a better life.  As an adult reflecting on my school experience I know that school was never easy,  I was easily distracted and would often fall asleep in class.  I wonder how my school experience might be different if I did not grow up in poverty?

My parents worked hard and very late, some nights they would not come home until after ten pm.  They owned a hotdog push cart in the city of Boston, which I would often work at during the weekend.  It’s no wonder math was so easy for me as I was making change and calculating transactions in my head at a very young age.  Education was important to my family, but no one was “educated”.  I remember going to the library to ask for help and getting tutoring at the Boys and Girls club after school.  The teachers I had growing up were paramount, they inspired me to read, write and push myself.  They not only encouraged me to do my best, but their lives modeled strength and compassion that kept me afloat through hard time in my life.  They shared stories of difficult times in their life and how they got through.

When I began teaching in South Los Angeles the impact of poverty came rushing through my classroom door.  The lives my students lived reminded me so much of my childhood and what I was unaware of.  As a new teacher, I did my best to be “present” for my kids each and every day.  I wanted them to know I cared for them and I believed in them. I would great them at the door, share a smile and a high five.  My classroom was always decorated with art work and projects that my students created.  I was like a proud parent and they were my kids. There were pictures of us on field trips and in class celebrations.  I would make cupcakes for students birthdays and bring in fruit to share and talk about the importance of nutrition. There was food in the cupboards when one of my students would come in hungry, and a safe place to study when their home was not an option.  I even had a teddy bear in our reading nook if someone needed a snuggle.  Being a teacher in South Los Angeles came naturally to me, because I knew that my students needed more than direct instruction and a packaged curriculum to be their best.

As a teacher educator, In Silicon Valley,  I am faced with the challenge of preparing new teachers for a classroom much similar to the one I experienced in South Los Angeles.  In the CNN documentary The Poor Kids of Silicon Valley poverty is a reality that many children and their families encounter.  From sharing a one bedroom apartment with eight other family members, to being homeless and living in a shelter.  The cost of living in Silicon Valley requires a family to gross at least 60,000 a year to just get by.  With the minimum wage set to increase to $10.00 an hour by 2016 it’s no wonder so many families work more than one job and live in poverty.

When it comes to managing a classroom new teachers need to be aware of not only the social context in which they work but their experiences as a student, as this will certainly influence their interactions and decisions in the classroom.   Share your experience as a student and what choices you make as a classroom teacher to support students? How will their lives, beliefs and experience influence your interactions and management style?me


About Dr. Dickenson

I am an assistant professor of Teacher Education at National University in San Jose.


30 thoughts on “Growing up Poor

  1. Patty,
    You have always had great memory and mind. I love you and am very proud of you.
    Your sister


    Posted by Elizabeth wadman | October 4, 2015, 7:17 pm
  2. Dr. Dickenson,
    You have a great story of humble beginnings as it seems so many great teachers share. As someone born and raised in the Silicon Valley, I was always one of the “poorer” kids in class, despite my father and mother both working for most of my upbringing. My father was a juvenile probation counselor and my mother worked mostly as a secretary. I think they must of known, even way back then, that the price of living in the Silicon Valley would only accelerate over the comings decades, because our household lived beyond frugally. Our family of 6 got by and, thankfully my parents hard work and living well within their means allowed both of them to retire before the age of 65 (my mother just retired at 62 in June).

    Since my background is so familiar with growing up with less in the valley, I am always concerned with my students feeling as they are all equal in the classroom. If I had it my way, they would all wear uniforms, because I feel a lot of distraction comes from the feeling of what you and everyone is wearing around. Since I don’t have that power, I must focus my efforts on making all students feel that they have equal opportunity as anyone else. May it be their father is a CEO or they come from a single parent household just trying to scrape by, in my classroom, they will all believe they are on equal footing.

    Mark Maselli


    Posted by Mark Maselli | October 5, 2015, 10:34 pm
  3. Dr, Dickenson,

    My experiences as a student in terms of are that to the best of my knowledge, everyone was of the same middle-class background. Although, since we were close to a church, there was a religious/ catholic rules sort of feel to some students, not teachers. Thinking back, I think there were a few students that had a slightly lower income background than the rest, but we treated everyone the same. And they did not have dirty clothes or an odiferous aura. But, one of the children in the families that had a different background, were a little more short-tempered and aggressive towards anyone they perceived as a threat, even though they were not being threatened.

    As a classroom teacher, I would make sure that if I had students with an almost poverty-level background and cannot afford food, to have a bowl of fruit or some healthy snack in the classroom for them to eat during the day. If I have students that come from an aggressive or gang background, I would try to make the classroom welcoming and encouraging a safe environment and classroom at school. Each student comes from a slightly different background and it is difficult to anticipate what sort of mixed bag you will get on the first day. After the first day, or even during it, you can assess the children and try and figure out what will be necessary to talk to and deal with some of the children. Some children might need extra comfort because both parents work and they do not have any adult figure at home to show them affection. If the student are of a rougher group that are challenging and making me think that I want to quit, I should try and instigate a system with extreme positive praise or point values to gain standing in class. Or hand out ‘class money’ for good behavior that they can use in ‘class store’. Or couple that with other reinforcers to make the class safe and encourage learning.


    Posted by Paige McComas | October 6, 2015, 1:51 am
  4. I can really relate to your story. While I didn’t grow up with the same circumstances, 99% of my classmates did. As a teacher I have those “extras” (apples, plums, oatmeal, crackers, etc.) in my cupboard for those students who might need a supplement during snack or lunch time. I also want to know (from the parents) how best I can help in an individual situation. I know that it can be a real struggle for anyone to learn when the outside pressures interfere with the inside classroom environment, which is why I am very grateful for the SEL (Social Emotional Learning) courses that we have in place for parents/guardians, and the everyday program we use within our classrooms. In the last 7 weeks of school I have noticed huge improvements in all of my students behavior and focus. I have also had the majority of parents/guardians come and talk with me about the challenges their family or student is having, which is such a vital part of being able to individualize my classroom management.
    Thank you so much for sharing your story.
    Emily Duncan


    Posted by Emily Duncan | October 6, 2015, 6:24 am
    • Emily,
      I agree with you, it is important to be prepared. Whether that means having extra snacks in the cupboard for those without the means to buy food, or having programs that help parents and teachers figure out how to help their children. I am amazed that parents are willingly coming to you to talk about problems. Usually, when there is a problem in a family, the parents try to hide it because they are ashamed.


      Posted by Paige McComas | October 11, 2015, 5:44 pm
  5. Looking back to the years of being a student growing up makes me think about how different each persons story is in their upbringing. I grew up on the central coast in California inside a small valley where agriculture was very relevant. The high school that I attended was predominately Latino, at around 70%. I was a white middle class student. Most of my friends were all Latino and spoke English.
    As a teacher in that environment I would manage the class to include everybody’s interest or needs. I would find special cultural holidays to celebrate and understand different groups. Allowing every ethnic group to feel special and important will also bring equality to the class and make for better opportunities for students to be themselves. Also, the parents of most Latino students did not speak fluent English. I would also setup discussions with the students to talk about American values, language, education, work, and society. Continued talks about life lessons and skills used in the real world can help the students have a better sense of their purpose in life and what their passions will be as they grow up. Finding and reaching the students learning potential is the main goal, and being capable of managing the classroom has a major effect on all students getting their needs met.


    Posted by Brian Aguailar | October 6, 2015, 5:35 pm
  6. I was raised in a desert community north of LA. When my parents bought their homier the 1980’s, this community was full of young parents who were looking for an inexpensive place to raise their families. By the time I was in Jr. High, most of the people from the LA Projects had been relocated to our city. Overnight, our desert community became a haven for gang bangers, drug dealers, and all around sketchy people.
    By the time I was in high school, I was taking English classes while students were smoking crack in the back of the class, and the teacher was to afraid to intervene. We experienced regular lock downs, riots, and fights. It was not uncommon that a student would be caught with a gun on campus. School was not a safe place and my educational experience in high school was less than ok. I experienced teachers and students having physical altercations on a regular basis, and attended a school where there were multiple security guards with hand held metal detectors who would search you when you came on to, and left campus. Our school was surrounded by rod iron fencing and it almost felt like the evil was kept inside the school rather than outside. By graduation, I had a 2.7 GPA. My husband and I (we are high school sweethearts) can laugh about how insane our high school experience was but we honestly both feel cheated out of an education we feel we deserved.
    Immediately after graduation, I began working in recreation at a community center whose population consisted mostly of African American children who were in foster care. These children were often left at the center from opening until closing on the weekends and after school, every day. They were given $1 to buy something out of a vending machine for lunch, or told to walk across railroad tracks to 711 to pick something up. As an 18 year old, I felt like I instantly became a parent to several children under the age of 10. These children had no money of their own and were always hungry and in desperate need of homework help, and general guidance. I would bring food daily for these children to eat. I spent time playing games with them, teaching them how to resolve problems, and helped them with homework. I am tremendously proud and appreciative of this experience, for it is what brought me into the teaching career. I feel that I have a great level of compassion and understanding for these kids, who may be seen as rough delinquents by others, but who I grew to love and value. I hope to always remember these experiences, while I strive to create the very best classroom environment as possible. Although it is challenging at times, I always remind myself that students have so many other influences that affect them and their experience at school. I hope to provide my students with a comfortable and nurturing learning environment.


    Posted by Jamie Phillips | October 7, 2015, 12:48 am
  7. I was very fortunate to grow up in a very loving middle class home, and never wanted for everything. My parents did not spoil me, at least in my opinion, mainly because my father, who grew up in the projects in Brooklyn knows the value of not spending money needlessly. I went to a very small K-8 private school that was incredibly sheltered and consisted of mostly families from similar middle class backgrounds. When I got to high school I was suddenly surrounded by some insanely wealthy people, and while I was certainly not in their league financially, it was never too big of an issue. However, I have been working for the past year as a behavioral aide and have worked with nine different students in four different schools.
    While all the schools were in the same district, the socio economics were noticeably different in the the schools I worked at. In one, many of the mothers did not work full time jobs, and were constantly coming in to class to assist with art projects, yard duty, and even bringing in snacks for the class as well as the whole staff. Not only were they able to help out in the classroom, but obviously the students most basic needs were being met at home. In other schools I worked in, some students were far less off, some were foster children living with six or seven siblings, and others shared small apartments with several other families. In these classrooms it became vital for the teacher to play other roles than just educator. Often times students would act out just to get the attention they so desperately wanted at home. Other times they could not afford healthy or substantial meals, and would rely on snacks from the teacher as you mentioned.


    Posted by Abe Goldman | October 7, 2015, 1:27 am
  8. I was very fortunate to grow up in a very loving middle class home, and never wanted for everything. My parents did not spoil me, at least in my opinion, mainly because my father, who grew up in the projects in Brooklyn knows the value of not spending money needlessly. I went to a very small K-8 private school that was incredibly sheltered and consisted of mostly families from similar middle class backgrounds. When I got to high school I was suddenly surrounded by some insanely wealthy people, and while I was certainly not in their league financially, it was never too big of an issue. However, I have been working for the past year as a behavioral aide and have worked with nine different students in four different schools.
    While all the schools were in the same district, the socio economics were noticeably different in the schools I worked at. In one, many of the mothers did not work full time jobs, and were constantly coming in to class to assist with art projects, yard duty, and even bringing in snacks for the class as well as the whole staff. Not only were they able to help out in the classroom, but obviously the students most basic needs were being met at home. In other schools I worked in, some students were far less off, some were foster children living with six or seven siblings, and others shared small apartments with several other families. In these classrooms it became vital for the teacher to play other roles than just educator. Often times students would act out just to get the attention they so desperately wanted at home. Other times they could not afford healthy or substantial meals, and would rely on snacks from the teacher as you mentioned. In order for students to be able to participate and learn in the classroom, they have to have these basic needs met, and if they are not met at home, the student will naturally come to the teacher. I have to be very aware of this moving forward in my teaching career, and while I cannot directly relate to their condition, I can be compassionate and understanding of their situation. I love the idea of having healthy snacks on hand, and stressing the importance of good nutrition. Creating a safe, nurturing environment where my students feel safe will be a very high priority for me as I begin my career. Thank you for your post Dr. Dickenson, and I look forward to meeting everyone tomorrow evening.


    Posted by Abe Goldman | October 7, 2015, 1:31 am
  9. Dr Dickenson,

    Thanks for sharing your story. It makes such a difference to know the people you work with.

    I also grew up quite poor, though we were in a rural setting, and so the effects were quite different. People can get by on a lot less in the country by hunting for food and bartering with one another. My parents traded turkeys for beef and eggs for milk. While it sounds quaint, I can remember stealing shoes for gym class out of the lost and found at school. Still, we were more fortunate than others in my community, as my mother had a steady job. In second grade, my desk-mate regularly brought old dusty bread that looked like it was found under the stove, and that was if she brought anything at all. My classmates often had the diseases of poverty and neglect too: scabies, open sores, tooth loss, infections.

    Like with urban poverty, there are many social problems in poor rural areas as well. As a five year old, I heard a neighbor attempt to kill his wife, then himself. My mother was careful to teach me which families were notorious for incest, alcoholism, or domestic violence, and should be avoided. In high school, I saw three of my cohort go to jail for different murders. I was myself physically attacked several times. I never felt safe.

    Though the full effects of my childhood were not realized until I became and adult and moved away, I felt the sting of otherness when my parents had me bused into the “city” school where everyone was soundly middle-class, and *seemingly* free of social ills. My dad, who was usually unemployed, would be the only father on field trips. Kids would laugh when he drove up in his 20-year old rusted out truck. In high school, the discrepancy was greater, as the social contract seemed to be about where you bought your clothes, and hanging out at the ski hill. I had a job from the time I was 13, and was primarily responsible for my siblings after school, and so could not socialize.

    As a parent and teacher, I am acutely aware of the children who are poorer than the norm – especially in Silicon Valley. I work a little harder to ensure that they don’t feel excluded because of lack of “things”. I keep the conversation away from subjects like, “what fabulous vacation did you take over the spring break?”, and instead I ask “name one thing you saw or learned over the break.” I also try to orchestrate friendships, as I notice that poorer kids, even as young as 1st grade know that they are different than the other kids and tend to keep to the fringes. Lastly, if I can, I make sure that the parents of these children feel just as welcome and understood as anyone else.

    In my son’s 3rd grade class, there is one family that is currently homeless. They were evicted in August. The girl and her sister are left to play after school until their mother can drive from the other side of the bay, where they are staying with friends or in a shelter – sometimes until 5pm. The girl told me last week that she has been in 6 schools since kindergarten. For these girls, the hope that I have is to be a caring adult, as I remember many of these from my own childhood. I am not sure that I can have any other significant effect, but I am doing what I can.


    Posted by Karey Stoltz | October 7, 2015, 2:50 am
  10. Dr. Dickenson,
    Thank you for sharing this post. Seeing you now as a well educated, successful woman is such a testament to your hard work and how other children can aspire to be successful themselves. In my primary school years, I lived in Fremont and in high school my family moved to Hayward. Though only a few miles apart, the two cities could not be more opposite. It was through graduating from high school and going on to college that I came to understand the “poor kids of silicon valley.”
    Because of my experiences and things you’ve shared, I hope to one day be able to provide my kids with small comforts in the classroom. I know that there are a lot of new policies and red tape about many things now (some schools don’t allow food for birthday celebrations, food allergies, etc.), but I would like to keep food in my classroom, celebrate their birthdays, and give them a place where they can come, rest, and speak with me freely. Through the case studies I’ve learned that students may behave differently because of their experiences at home. It’s important for us to take the time to understand our students so that we know the best ways to handle interruptions and bad behavior. As a teacher, I hope to be sensitive to my students’ needs. That, of course, does not mean that I will be at their every beck and call, rather I must be firm and consistent in my interactions and how I handle the classroom. Instead, it means that students know I care for them and am there for them, but still be a firm, consistent model of authority for them.
    Thank you again for sharing this part of your story.
    Toni Reyes


    Posted by Toni Reyes | October 7, 2015, 4:23 am
  11. Having attended public schools all of my life, my friends ran the socioeconomic gamut. I had friends who ate school provided lunches and friends who “summered” at their beach houses. Perhaps it was naive of me at the time, but I honestly can’t recall it ever mattering. It was only a part of what made up who they were, one that was easily overridden by other personality traits. Personally, that is the attitude that I would like to foster in my classes as well. While I understand that the needs of my students will certainly be varied, whether due to socioeconomic reasons or otherwise, once their essential needs are met, I would strive to treat all of my students equally. All these years later, maybe I’m still naive, but this is my mindset.


    Posted by Greg Kirtley | October 7, 2015, 4:38 am
    • Greg,
      I agree. For me, I want to treat all my students the same and when one is not ‘up-to-snuff’, they need to be pushed harder or given more work. Kids come to us to learn, that is what school is. If they show up expecting pity or something that has nothing to do with school, then maybe they need to rethink why they come to school to begin with.


      Posted by Paige McComas | October 11, 2015, 5:50 pm
  12. When it comes to my own experiences as a student, I can definitely say mine was an interesting one. Although I spent my formative years (k-8) at a private catholic school, my family struggled to pay the bills, and lived on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis. In fact the only reason I was able to go to such a school was due to my grandmother and the fact that it was important to her that all of her grandchildren received a religious background. Although it was not a complete negative experience, being in a private school meant being around people with a lot of money, something my family did not have. I’ll never forget being dropped off at school each day in my mother’s green 1971 Volkswagen bug. (Which she still has to this day) I have embraced it as a classic now, however at the time it was a talking point of all the kids who would pull up in their mom or dad’s Mercedes each day. I remember on numerous occasions begging my mom for the newest Nike basketball shoes or other name brand items just because all the other kids had them. “No” was the answer I became accustomed to. In fact while growing up, most of the things I owned were off brand. Although I had friends at school, I really related to the kids who lived on my street and those who played on many of the sports teams I played on. This was a much more diverse crowd, and most of these kids lived in similar situations such as my own, I felt more comfortable and could relate to these individuals more easily. The day I started High school at a public school was the first time I truly felt like I belonged at a school. Although I would not change anything, these experiences formed me into who I am, and I appreciate the things I have now much more because of it.

    I think as a teacher and a human in general it is important to treat each student with the same respect. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s so important and something I did not always experience. Living in the bay area brings us in contact with people of all walks of life and different socio economic classes. This can make the job difficult in certain aspects, but also gives teachers a chance to learn so much more about different individual backgrounds, and how to connect with them. It is very important to provide an environment where each student feels comfortable being themselves in class. Because of this diversity, I must also remember the importance of listening to students, and knowing that each has a different story.

    I believe what drives me to be a P.E. teacher is the fact that I want to share with others what I learned while being on different teams. Growing up playing many organized sports, the type of shoes you were wearing and how you arrived to practice did not matter. You rooted for your teammates regardless. Although I am eager to share these experiences with students, I also am eager to learn about them and about what they can teach me.


    Posted by Brett Frazier | October 7, 2015, 5:54 am
  13. Dr. Dickenson,

    Thank you for sharing your life experiences. I want to also say that I think what you offered your students in the South Los Angeles story was inspiring. I often overlook the significance of a smile or even a high five. After re-watching the video last week on Curwin and Mendler, I was reminded of the importance of showing warmth to your students.

    As for my own personal experience as a student, throughout K-12 I did not have difficulty with school. My parents were very strict at home and I was scared of the negative consequences that would face me if I did poorly. I was considered gifted by the district, and in most cases I found school to be boring or too easy because I lacked a significant challenge in most of my classes. Paired with this lack of challenge was a set of terrible study habits and work ethics. I never did homework, but relied heavily on test scores and the occasional participation points to carry me through junior high and high school. This resulted in decent grades, but it also created habits that would hinder my ability to flourish after high school. My terrible study habits created problems for me when I was faced with the challenges and freedom of college. I did terribly my first year, and had to learn to be a self-regulated learner.

    These experiences are going to affect my classroom significantly. They have taught me the importance of the self-regulated learner. Teaching students study habits and work ethics that will follow them throughout their academic life and work life is critical. I want to be an educator who motivates my students to better themselves for themselves, and who stresses the importance of routine, rules, and procedures for success. Having a classroom that runs effectively and efficiently through the use of routine, rules, and procedures will model the ideas I want to present to my students. These habits will benefit all students in the classroom despite their background.

    It is important also, as an effective classroom manager to create a classroom environment that embraces and supports all students. As mentioned in Dr. Dickenson’s story, it is important to have a place for students to go and receive the support they need whether it be nourishment, safety, or guidance. Having an open door to those who need support is critical, and encouraging kids to embrace and ask for support is just as important.


    Posted by Graeme Jones | October 7, 2015, 3:47 pm
  14. I was very blessed to be raised in a middle class family in Silicon Valley. I went between my parents’ house, as an only child, from Los Altos to San Jose during the week and attending a nice public school for elementary school and a very small college prep private school for middle and high school. My mother and father both worked at high tech companies and generally expected the best of me. I was always a much better athlete than I was a student, and that showed heavily through sophomore year of high school. When that year hit I was able to much better balance my athletics and schooling and get into a college that I wanted to.

    I have worked at many different elementary schools around the area from Mountain View to Los Gatos to San Jose. I have experienced many different levels of socio economic status that is even apparent just driving into the school’s neighborhood. I will admit it is tougher for me as a temporary PE coach to gain respect of children who I may not understand the background of. I believe that as a teacher I am obligated to maintain my beliefs and teaching style and learn how different students react, then base my management and interactions on those responses.


    Posted by Nicholas Field | October 7, 2015, 6:29 pm
  15. Dr. Dickenson,

    I reminisce and reflect upon my time as a student often—heck, it’s only been six years, seems like yesterday. My memories and time spent as a student are still very fresh in my mind, and those experiences without a doubt have a huge influence on the decisions that I make in my own classroom. I earned relatively good grades, was respectable to my teachers and peers, and had a relatively positive attitude about attending class. One thing that sticks about my experience as a student is the varying levels of comfortability I had with my teachers—I was really comfortable with some teachers and not very comfortable with others. . In the classes that I was not comfortable in, I simply did not look forward to attending—each day was dreaded. In the classes that I was comfortable in, I enjoyed participating and felt comfortable communicating with my teacher. My eighth grade history teacher—who inspired me to become a teacher—was the most approachable and compassionate teacher I ever had. As a student, walking into the classroom and feeling comfortable talking and communicating with the teacher is a feeling that I still remember—and that’s what I want for my students as well. I want my students to feel comfortable communicating with me because I think it can make all the difference in the world.

    Matt Silvernale


    Posted by Matt Silvernale | October 7, 2015, 8:44 pm
  16. I am very fortunate to come from a family that has been able to provide all the necessities and more for me to live and provide me opportunities. I come from a middle class family but my parents have worked hard to be able to live comfortably. I was the first to go college in my family and that is something that I am proud of. My two older brothers never really cared for school but I always loved it. It was my friends and older cousin that really inspired me to go to college. My parents were always supportive but did not know what it entailed to actually be able to apply and get into college. I did that on my own and am now helping students with the college application process.

    I work with students who come from primarily low-income families and many of them are English Learners or come from Spanish speaking families. This will impact the way I run my classroom because I need to understand that they will not have resources such as computers or even basic school supplies. When planning assignments and lessons I can’t make it a requirement that they do research on the computer or type up a lesson. Even more importantly I need to realize that these students can have many more stressing issues at home than doing their homework. Some of students basic needs like being fed and having clothes to wear are being met. It is vital that I remember to always try and get to know my students and understand where they come form.


    Posted by mekalasheedy | October 9, 2015, 4:41 am
  17. I was fortunate growing up. I came from an upper middle class family, and really was never at a want for anything. I went to the local public school, along with children who were also from middle class families. My parents did value education, and got angry with me at any grade that wasn’t perfect. I remember my first B+ on a report card in Math, and having to sit with my dad at night for two weeks after to make sure I understood the new material. It was brutal!
    They continued to be strict in middle and high school, which I guess benefitted me in the end, as I ended up going to a great university.
    I do remember always enjoying going to school each day, and still remember each of my elementary teachers vividly. I think the ones that I remember most were the ones that made learning fun. Sitting and reading from a textbook every day is boring. I remember a sixth grade teacher who, while reading to us about Greek Mythology, had us color a picture of the god or character she was reading about. As a sixth grader! I don’t know too many sixth graders still coloring today, but it made it fun. I think connecting with the children is so important. Doing something outside the box keeps students on their toes.
    When I become a teacher, I would love to be one of those teachers that children remember. I want children to enjoy being in my class, and respect my rules. I think when there is great classroom management, a teacher can enjoy the class, and the students can enjoy learning. Pleasanton, where I’d like to teach, is generally an upper middle class town, but there are students in the school from all different cultures and backgrounds. I hope to make everyone feel special and loved, so they enjoy coming to school. I hope to integrate “outside the box” learning games and strategies, as well.


    Posted by Kristine Clevenger | October 9, 2015, 11:06 pm
  18. Dr. Dickenson,
    Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. While reading your post, it immediately reminded me that while circumstances directly affect the person you become in life, it doesn’t have to limit who you can be. As a teacher we have the opportunity to directly and positively impact our students. We can help instill the belief that they are important and valued no matter what their background or limitations might be. If we are able to help even one student believe in themselves enough to know they can overcome their circumstances or environment, we have made a difference.
    I was brought up in a middle class family and attended a rural school where most people “seemed” to be just like myself. Looking back from a teacher perspective I now understand that was not necessarily the case and that some students were better at covering their circumstances than others. Ones awareness of others is also often affected by each student’s individual needs. I realize I didn’t notice others that may be struggling because at that age I thought of myself first. Not having significant personal struggles, I was not aware that others were struggling and needed support.
    As a teacher we need to be aware of our students, for our students. There are many ways we can positively impact the students that need our support. Simple gestures helping fulfill the basic needs such as providing a snack to a student that may be hungry, providing a place that they can come and feel valued and safe, and engaging them individually, letting them know they matter directly impacts who they become.


    Posted by Tamie Riley | October 10, 2015, 3:15 pm
    • Growing up I had the best of both worlds. Most of my family on my Mother’s side received an education beyond high school. However, my Father’s side has been struggling since they immigrated here roughly 30 years ago and is not so well off. Many of my family members on my father’s side live in poverty. Growing up I could not tell the difference. I adored both sides of my family. However, as I started growing up I realized something was wrong when my cousins began taking alternative paths. My family on my Mother’s side received a better education than my fathers and now that we are adults it is easy to point out which family members went to public schools in poor neighborhoods and which family members went to private school. Because many of my students remind me of myself and my family I am able to motivate them and show them how to obtain paths other than those pre-decided for them based on their zip code. When I see some of my students needing extra love and motivation I pull them aside and talk to them one-on-one and tell them stories about myself, my friends, and/or my family, so that they are aware of their choices. Many of my students just want to be acknowledged. For the majority of my students, their parents are working hard and rarely have the time and energy to show them affection. I recognize this and give them the affection they need before it turns into a distraction that has a negative impact on our learning environment.


      Posted by Lauren Brown | October 11, 2015, 4:35 am
  19. Dr. D,

    Why am I having images of “how to you like them apples”? Boston is my adopted home away from home. I traveled extensively the Boston area on business and the Red Sox are now my American League team. Nothing beats Fenway, a win by the beloved Sox and “Sweet Caroline” at the beginning of the 8th inning. Of course my view of luxury in the Backbay is probably a far cry different than your version of Boston growing up.

    My own childhood was more of the “Leave it to Beaver” variety. I grew up in a standard middle class family in Fremont and while we were never poor we did not have a lot of excess. My parents did a good job taking care of us, but did not allow us to be spoiled. In terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs…let’s just say they were not a concern for me. My parents both graduated from college and my three older siblings went to college. Academically, I didn’t even thing about it. It was just assumed and my environment made it an easy process.

    In spite of my comfortable upbringing I was generally aware of the disparity in some of the communities in my world of the East Bay. Even today a drive along E. 14th street will open your eyes. I can only imagine the pressures on the families living below the $60K/year gross income level in Silicon Valley. Even at $60K/year I cannot see how families make it work. Now I am serving such students.

    Your experience of teaching in South LA gives you street cred. The warmth and respect you provided your students is a model we should all emulate. I hope to be worthy. And to learn some of the strategies that were successful in your classrooms.



    Posted by Rich Read | October 11, 2015, 6:48 am
  20. Dr. Dickenson,

    Thank you for sharing your great story with us. I grew up in Fremont, CA and attended public school from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Growing up in the Mission San Jose district of Fremont was a great experience for me as a child. I had a loving family, a nice home, food to eat every night, and a room that I could call my own. My mother worked in education for thirty eight years as a physical education teacher and my father has worked in business sales for most of his life. I never believed that my family was extremely wealthy, however I understood that we lived in an area where it was very expensive to live. I always appreciated everything that I had and was never a child that would complain or whine about not receiving something. I understood that my parents worked hard to provide for our family and that meant everything to me. Many of my friends that I grew up with came from very wealthy families. However, the amount of money our parents made was never an issue between my friends and I because we respected each other and understood we came from different backgrounds. When I was a sophomore in high school I decided to transfer to a school located in North Fremont. This area is much different than Mission San Jose. North Fremont experiences more crime and gang related activity than Mission San Jose. Attending my new school was quite an eye-opening experience. The student population was more diverse than my previous school. Students that knew I lived in Mission would say to me, “Hey rich boy!” It was obvious that the students had already judged me because of where I lived. Finally, after making new friends, I was given a new viewpoint of how different family situations can be. My parents have been married for 28 years and have never been separated. Many of my friends at school had parents that were divorced, a single parent, or even parents that just weren’t around. This was very new to me and I could not relate to my friend’s situations. Looking back on my experiences, I am thankful that I was able to gain the appreciation and respect that I carry with me today regarding cultural and family backgrounds.

    Currently, I work in an area that is comparable to that of North Fremont. The students come from low-income families and do not have adequate shoes and clothes to wear to school at times. In order to support the students, I could host a fund raiser at school to raise money for tennis shoes for the students. I believe this would also be a great community building activity. I also believe that students need someone to talk to at times. I believe that by letting them know that you are there for them goes a lot farther than teachers think. This is one aspect that really resonates with me because of the interactions that I experienced during my high school years. Ultimately, I want to make a difference in my student’s lives and understanding who they are is the first step in doing that.

    – Cole Campana


    Posted by Cole Campana | October 11, 2015, 11:42 pm
  21. I grew up in a rural community; my town had an “urban” section and then many houses up in the hills and mountains and surrounding valleys. I lived in a house in one of these valleys. My father worked very hard to afford our house in this area because he wanted us to live in a safe place. Even though we lived in the “rich” part of town we did not live like it, our couch was from the local trash dump and our beds where from the thrift store. I wore close from K mart while my peers wore ROXY and other expensive popular clothing brands. I remember in jr kids teasing me because I was from the rich part of town while I tried to explain that I only owned 2 pairs of pants. In high school I remember I finally got a brand name sweater.

    The other day a boy in my class was talking to the girl next to him and said “you wear the same sweater every day”. As she explained that she changes her shirt but wears the same sweater I jumped in and said “Hey, have you guys noticed I wear the same pair of jeans every single day?” I went on to talk about how one does not need lots of different jackets because then your closet just gets filled up with jackets! I tired to make the situation funny and I think this made the girl feel better because she smiled and I sensed that she was relived because she didn’t have to sit there and try to justify why she wears the same sweater everyday.

    I think ti is very important to be sensitive to the backgrounds of students. For example, I do not assign online homework using the chromebooks my students have because many of my students do no have internet at home. The area I live in is a very stratified place, with families whose moms and dads work in silicon valley and then families who parents work in the agricultural fields which surround the city. A girl told me she was being made fun of because she rides the bus, at my school the bus is apparently regarded by the rich kids as something only the poor Hispanic kids use. I also require my students have a binder for the class, but knowing that many students might not have parents who are available to even take them to target to get a binder, I preemptively bought a pile of binders to give to students who were unable to go buy a binder.

    Lastly, I am learning to adjust my expectations for my classes. I am realizing that not all my students come from homes where education is valued. I have many students whose parents are obviously pushing them in the area of academics but I also have many students who are probably raising themselves and their siblings and do not have the same type of parental presence in their lives. Understanding that many students may not be motivated in the ways I wish they were helps me to interact with them; my goal is to gently help them gain a value of academics.


    Posted by Chelsea Geber | October 12, 2015, 3:18 am
  22. Growing up my father worked tirelessly to gain the middle-class status for our family. He now often mentions how he missed out on much of our childhood, but he certainly has and continues to build my mother and his status. In school, I never began to see class separation until high school. Looking back now, I had friends that were all over the board. Once I began to notice which friends cringed at my mention of shopping at GoodWill and Walmart I started to become very closed off about where I bought my clothes. My mother was always on the lookout for a good deal which has now been passed onto me. I began working at 13 years old the the hockey rink, score keeping games whenever an employee did not show and it is still difficult for me to go to my parents to ask for money because of begin used to funding the desires of my life. However, I am grateful to be able to do so.
    I believe in society today it is difficult for kids not to notice when someone does not have a cell phone or tablet; often being a sign to a status difference. However, those items are not a necessity and I hope to portray that to my students. Like many of my classmates said already, I intend on have snacks that will help students who need them get through the day, or for students who need them everyday. I also intend to have my classroom open before school, during lunch, and after school. My leadership teacher, in high school, had a refrigerator and microwave for her students to use and always kept her door open. This gave me and my friends a place to sit, talk about our issues not just with each other, but with her as well. Being able to have time with students in a casual environment (like lunch time) can be relationship altering. I like to think I have the ability to ‘read’ people well, my husband may say I’m a little nosey :), but I hope to use this skill in my classroom. I hope to open the door of difficult conversations, but also be sounding board for many teenagers that do not have someone to simply talk to. Every time I hear the word ‘teacher’ so many other words flash in my mind. I intend to be a teacher and much more.


    Posted by Alynn Peckham | October 12, 2015, 6:57 am
  23. My parents moved to San Francisco in the 1970s, and bought a house in what was then a middle class neighborhood, but now only venture capitalists can afford. I went to a small alternative K-8 public school on the outskirts of the city in a working class hispanic neighborhood. Although the largest ethnic group was hispanic, the school had a very diverse population, with a significant amount of white, black, and asian students as well. It was different from traditional elementary and middle schools in several ways. Half of each semester was devoted to in-depth project based learning. There was no principal. Teachers would assume the role of head-teacher for a three-year term before rotating back into the classroom. It was also a small school, with approximately 30 students per grade. It was a great school and I loved it.

    Like Dr. Dickenson, I also went to the Boys & Girls club growing up, and now work for the organization as a clubhouse art director. It was at the Boys & Girls club that I developed my passion for art. My first art teacher is now my colleague, and it amazes me that he continues inspiring young people to become artists everyday.

    I went to San Francisco’s magnet visual and performing arts high school, which was also a public alternative school. I loved going to that school even more than my K-8 experience. I got to draw, paint, and sculpt for two hours every afternoon, while getting high level academics in the morning. Being in a large city, the school had a very diverse population, with students from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. My friends were black, hispanic, asian, and white. Some lived in public housing, others lived in mansions. When they were first introduced in the 1970s, the goal of magnet schools was to attract a diverse population into urban areas through high level specialized programs, and it truly worked at my high school. There were no gangs or cliques, very little violence, and tolerance for LGBT students. I have always been very proud of getting such a great education from public schools.

    But my experience working in public education leaves me terrified and cynical. I now feel like I got extremely lucky, and that public education is in terrible jeopardy. It is up to us, the next generation of teachers, to be champions of this great resource.


    Posted by Jeff Castleman | October 17, 2015, 6:33 am
    • I believe the best way to support students from diverse backgrounds is to set high expectations, and provide enough scaffolding for students to reach them. I work at a school in Hunters Point, one of San Francisco’s lowest income neighborhoods, where the school motto is “no excuses.” The Boys & Girls club I work at is in the same neighborhood, surrounded by public housing. Many of the students’ parents did not finish high school, and cannot help with homework beyond a second or third grade level, so it is up to teachers and after school staff to have high expectations and hold students accountable, while also providing the additional support students need to reach those expectations.


      Posted by Jeff Castleman | October 17, 2015, 6:52 am
  24. Thank you for sharing your background Dr. Dickenson. I was lucky to have a very “Middle Class Upbringing”. I have 3 older brothers and both of my parents were teachers. We were not rich, but we always had food around to eat, books to read, and a yard to play in. We shared bedrooms and were a very happy family for the most part. Education was important in my house and even though not all of my siblings went to college, our parents did tell us it was important to at least consider the benefits that college has to offer.
    One of the best things my parents did was teach us the value of money at a young age. They did not pay for our college. We took out loans and worked our way through school. This created a hard-work ethic in me that will never go away.
    In the classroom, there are many choices I can make to support students in my class. My mom taught at a school where many children did not always have coats in the winter or breakfast at home. She would bring snacks (when she could afford them) and loan out some of my brothers’ and my old coats for the students to wear during the day. This is something I will definitely consider doing when I have my own classroom.
    Also, just getting to know each child and their background can make a world of difference. For example, if I were to find out that a child with behavior problems has parents who are in jail, I might go the extra mile to see they are getting attention from me at school. By attention, I mean positive attention and care. I might ask him/her how their day is, if they ate, what’s wrong, and try to cheer them up. I might also make a “bet” with them that if they can behave well for a day that I will give them a sticker/ candy/ etc…
    As we have discussed in class and as we have read in our Classroom Management That Works book, personal connections can create more stable learning environments. One way to do this is to let my students know my background story and instill upon them the benefits of hard work and where it can get you.


    Posted by ame1717 | October 20, 2015, 6:41 pm

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