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?