Realizing the Reality of Poverty

Today I learned about something I’ve been surrounded by my whole life: poverty. I grew up in a middle class family and had an incorrect understanding of poverty. I thought poverty to be something that only existed in third world countries where running water is a treat and internet is the highest of luxuries. Call me ignorant, call me naïve, I just never learned what the word really meant. I understand now poverty equals under-resourced and that resources are more than just money.



“learning is coated with emotion”


When I was growing up my family had enough of everything to be comfortable; enough food, enough space, enough books, enough money for summer camps and more than love to grow up on. I did not realize these were resources not all of my classmates had access to.

The first thing we did in the presentation I attended was fill out a checklist of things we knew how to do. I checked things like “I know how to use a credit card, checking account, and savings account”; “I know which stores are most likely to carry the clothing brands my family wears” and “I know how to set a table properly.” I never thought these skills were class-defining, until I continued reading.

The rest of the list mentioned things like domestic staff, getting people out of jail, food stamps and reading menus in foreign languages. When I got to these, I could tell which class I belonged in the way I know navy clashes black; subtly, yet it’s the only thing I can focus once I realize it. “Domestic staff’ made me laugh – my mom took our dishwasher out to have room for an extra sink. And getting people out of jail? That means I would have to know people who go to jail.

The information came from Ruby K. Payne, Ph. D.’s book, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty”. I have attached the goodreads link for anyone interested in learning more. Eric Jensen’s “Students with Poverty in Mind” was also cited. Included is a blog post reviewing the book.

What I learned today is important. Social classes and their definers are common sense when you consider the situations. I must admit some of what I learned today should not have been new information. The world I was exposed to didn’t shelter me from real life, but I never had any real-life encounters with poverty. Even the public schools I went through with hundreds of over kids obey the “hidden cues” of the middle class. I was clueless to how a fair amount of the population lives.

This happy-go-lucky, house-with-a-brick-chimney and basketball-hoop-in-the-driveway life I lived the past 22 years is not the life all my students will know. Some students will be victims of their social class. Whereas good grades and taking pride in your work were always emphasized in my home, not all will receive the same support. Today I learned people in poverty rely heavily on fate and live through their relationships. As a teacher, I will understand the importance of building a rapport with ALL my students and why each mindset works a little different.



The Good, the Bad & the Stressed

Anyone who has read my blog the past couple months or spent time with me knows I am preparing to become a teacher and completing my last year of college. I’ve bounced around with the Freshman 15, stayed up too late laughing through thin dorm walls, and learned what to avoid in the caf. I am ready to see my name in fancy font on a diploma, maybe.

I still have quite a few steps to take before I walk up the steps to that black stage, some fun, and some not so fun. This past week, I have vividly experienced the ups and downs of preparing for teaching; foreshadowing to the job.


Last week was busy. Then again, so is every other week. My classmates and I had three presentations meant to prepare us for our future, which were super helpful, but also got me thinking…. or overthinking, to be more precise. In just a few short months I will be interviewing for a real, big girl job which means I will need a resume which means I will need a cover letter which means I will need a new, crisp folder to keep them in which means I need to go shopping.

My realization for this blog came while I was swatching lipsticks in Ulta this weekend. Even while I am surrounded by hair and face products I don’t even know how to use, I am thinking about teaching. I was actually calculating how much money I could spend after all the books I had just bought (whoops) when I realized my future doesn’t have to be all stress all the time. When I walk into my classroom I will be there to inspire children and face their unimaginable realities with them, but I will do so with glossy paperbacks, ‘Rosette’ lips and a cute dress I got on clearance.

Now don’t go thinking I am expecting teaching to be all rainbows and cotton candy, I know better than that. While in the shoe store (I have a problem, I know) the smiley lady helping me inquired what sort of shoes I was looking for. I explained to her I need dressy, comfy shoes to wear while student teaching. Like any good salesperson, she took this as a chance to build a relationship with her customer, a trick I use often in the summer. “what grade do you want to teach?”, she asked with false curiosity. Her attitude visibly changed when I replied with “middle school or high school English!”. Then she proceeded to tell me how her daughter’s class plotted and completed a mission to get a teacher fired. Planting a new fear in an already- stressed college student is an effective way to lose a sale.


There are some things, unfortunately, shopping can’t fix. One of the presentations I attended last week was about the potential drug and alcohol abuse and situations I may encounter as a teacher. There are more ways to consume these substances than I understand but it is the side effects that scare me most. Right now, I can learn how to handle tough situations and understand the reasons students start substance abuse to make myself a better teacher in the future.

That is pretty much all I need to focus on right now: how to make myself a better teacher in the future. Sometimes I will choose to do so in a retail sense, and always choose to literately. I will immerse myself in YA novels, others’ stories of teaching experiences and work with passion, not with stress.

Photos courtesy of Creative Commons.

Literature in the Media

We keep talking about all these ways to get our kids reading and how to entice them into story after story. Back in the day, reading was one of the few ways to escape normal, everyday life and go somewhere new without going anywhere at all. Today, I can turn on the TV, pop in a DVD, listen to the music on demand or scroll through my phone where no text I read is longer than a paragraph. Many of these distractions have a common origin; literature.


How many times have you put off seeing a movie till you finished the book? Or not watched it at all because you loved the book and there is no way the movie will do it justice? My particular favorite is to watch the movie and let everyone know exactly how and why it is inaccurate in comparison with the book.

My question is, is the media popularizing or degrading literature? How can I embrace all these forms while still making sure reading the main form my students digest? What does this mean for my future classroom? Okay, so maybe I have more than just one question over the subject.

I have learned different ways of “hooking” students onto books; audio books, graphic novels and read alouds are all fantastic gateways. But how do second-hand paperbacks compete with box office hits? I have heard “I haven’t read the book but I saw the movie so what’s the difference?” more times than I can bear.

To quote Dr. Cox, “Nothing is original!” I will help my students uncover the origins to all their favorites. Together we can learn which stories stemmed from where and which ones are beloved enough to be replicated multiple times over. We can also talk about how authors recycle plots and characters. Maybe my fears are turning into future lessons.


I have seen teachers use films to supplement the texts their classes are reading and I’ve seen it done very well. However, I also saw how many of my former classmates took this opportunity to use the text to supplement the film. Some will say it is the quality of the movie or the amount of time a class spends on each medium that makes or breaks this experience. I say it’s neither.

Passion. To answer my own questions and solve almost every problem in my future classroom I will reply with passion. I will not be able to top the latest TV parody of a horror story, but I can recommend and rave on about Stephen King. My passion is reading and learning and I am real life, not an image on a screen or an audio recording. With my humanness I can show the value interpreting a story for yourself and not the way a director wants to. There is something beautiful about unraveling a text for yourself.

Books Upon Books

So I do this thing where I read no less than four books at a time. I don’t know if this is a good thing for my reading life or a bad one, but nonetheless, it’s how I operate. At this moment (a thrilling Saturday night btw) I am pages deep into two graphic novels, three young adult novels, a historical fiction novel, two professional development books and a book aof fairy tales. I don’t know if it’s my attention span or that I just cannot wait to start another book. Either way, I always have a book with me.

I enjoy being entertained by the variety of plots, characters and settings. Inevitably, I run into common themes and steady plot devices. A couple weeks ago I finished “Holding up the Universe” by Jennifer Niven which was fabulous. The characters are vivid and of course there is a teenage love story, a YA novel staple. Every other chapter is told from Libby and Jack’s point of view, the love interests of the story. There’s a school fight, a world record, family problems, an unknown learning disability and high school bullies; everything you need for a good high school romance, right?

Right now I am struggling to finish “Crazy Messy Beautiful”, by Carrie Acros. There is nothing wrong with this novel… it has the love story, the learning disability, the high school bullies, family problems… all the same things “Universe” had. The authors have reviews on each other’s covers, and I can easily see how. I am having a difficult time with the second one because it is so similar to the first.

This insistence paired with the workshopping we’ve been doing in class has got me thinking; how individual is my writing? I understand no one has lived the life I have lived. Our unique humanness allows people to experience the same incident and walk away with different interpretations. Does that humanness transfer onto paper?

In our class workshops I listen and read my friends’ pieces with awe. They all have a spunk different from anything else. Do I? Our education professor chuckles every time any of us utter “voice” but it is the most important writing trait we know.

Voice is embedded in the graphic novels we inhale, the children’s books we read out loud and the YA novels we leave tear-stained. I think I would enjoy “Crazy Messy Beautiful” more if I had read it independently and not so close to “Holding up the Universe”. The voices in my head need different echos to make a complete choir.

Workshop Woes

In fourth grade, there was a writing process poster stapled to blue tablecloth-sized paper in the back of my classroom. I remember sitting on the carpet with my classmates as my teacher described each step and kept using the word “workshop”. My nine-year-old brain only correlated “workshops” with Santa’s elves and a place where cabinets and chairs were made. These were not appealing ideas to me. This is the where my negative connotations with “workshop” began.


I don’t think I had ever written more than a paragraph or so. Writing was an advanced thing only grownups did and now there was a complicated process set before me to perform. I wasn’t confident and one of the steps involved my classmates reading what I wrote. This made me even more uncomfortable.

**Fourth grade Mary Anne was quiet and kept to herself. Her shell was a solid wall of books only few passed and other kids just kind of existed. She was a foil of present-day Mary Anne.**


Writing workshops were a constant from this point on. My peer-reviewed papers came back to me with little to no comments and sometimes an added comma where it was definitely not needed. We were never taught to evaluate each other’s ideas, only grammar and conventions, but for a book nerd like me, elementary conventions were a snap. Sometimes we were graded by the number of marks we made on each other’s papers so I knew my classmates were only marking mine for the grade. What I learned from writer’s workshop was I had “good word choice”, excellent punctuation skills and poor spelling (I didn’t really learn this, it was duly noted). In a nutshell, I hated writer’s workshops.


Now in my senior year of college I am still workshopping, but things are different now. Like a lot of things, college changed my perspective on workshops. I liked the way they were done in my creative writing classes and now we are doing them in my special methods class. There are a few different ways to do them I’ve learned, and all of them are far more beneficial than the method I was trained to use in school. I still get nervous my paper is going to come back to me with added adjectives and no useful ideas but that has yet to happen.


As a teacher, I need to conduct writer’s workshop in an encouraging, constructive way. I understand some students will always be scared to let others read their thoughts and I will be sensitive to this situation. I will also encourage them to be honest and help each other. My students will work to give positive, useful feedback – no simple underlining Miss Johnson’s class!


This is another way I will take my learning experiences and implement them in my classroom to benefit my students.


Images courtesy of Creative Commons