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.



3 thoughts on “Realizing the Reality of Poverty

  1. Ali Meyer says:

    I totally agree with you. Most of the times that we think of poverty, it is in third-world countries. We live in the US, we’re the home of the free – no one is impoverished here. When I was young, my mom got into a project called The Christmas Project in Ogallala. The premise of this project was to collect donations, toys, clothes, toiletries, etc. for children in poverty throughout town. I was so shocked to see how many presents went out that year – there were hundreds. Ogallala isn’t necessarily a small town, but it shocked me to see that there were impoverished people in my town (even people that were in my class.) As Mrs. Brierly said, sometimes you don’t even know if a student is in poverty. They might be wearing nice clothes, have brand new backpacks and shoes, and they might have lunch every single day. But it’s real and it happens everywhere. My father is a Crime Scene Investigator here in Lincoln County, he saw it all as a deputy. My sister is a case worker at Region V in Lincoln. She’s seen it all – especially the horrific stuff. She’s had to take children away from their parents. As teachers, we have to be aware of these things and the presentation did a really good job of showing us how to address it. Overall, it just comes down to the relationships that we have with our students. They’re human beings too. They deserve to eat, to sleep, and to have a healthy and happy childhood. While it’s not necessarily in our job description, it should be within our hearts to help them out in any way that we can.


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