2 National Education Association Education Policy and

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2 National Education Association Education Policy and

Transcript Of 2 National Education Association Education Policy and

2 • National Education Association | Education Policy and Practice

Contents
Introduction....................................................... 5 Section 1. Symptoms........................................ 9 Section 2. Risk Factors/Impact..................... 11 Section 3. Research........................................ 17 Section 4. Educator Roles..............................19 Section 5. Long-Term Learnings...................23 Section 6. Actionable Strategies..................25 Conclusion.......................................................34 Resources.........................................................36

Poverty is a chronic and debilitating condition that results from multiple adverse
synergistic risk factors and affects the mind, body, and soul.”
(Jensen, Teaching, 6)

Introduction
This handbook was created to provide NEA member educators with a research-based description of the impact of poverty on teaching and learning. It is important to understand poverty’s impact on children’s educational success, along with strategies for overcoming the impact of poverty on the brain and learning.
In 2015, according to government standards describing poverty, 51 percent of students in public schools lived in a poverty household. (Jensen, Poor Students, Rich Teaching, 7) Poverty impacts the lives of students by creating emotional and social challenges, acute and chronic stressors, cognitive lags, and health and safety issues. These issues include more hazardous places to live, less green space, and contaminated water and air. What does the poverty that our students come from look like? Poverty is crowded, noisy, physically deteriorating households. There are fewer support networks on which students can rely. Students often rely on peers for social and emotional support. The stressors experienced from poverty traumatize their victims. (Jensen, Teaching, 7-10)
In addition, many students from poverty have been traumatized in ways not directly related to their socioeconomic status. The number of students living in poverty who have been traumatized has been estimated between 50-80 percent. Trauma is the unimaginable experience of what happens to a person who has experienced or witnessed a threat to themselves or another person. That event or series of events changes the person’s physiology in such a way that the sensations from the traumatic event become the current sensations of the body and mind until healing takes place. This handbook will equip educators to address both sources of stress—from poverty and from trauma—that show up in classrooms and interfere with a child’s ability to learn.
Teaching Children from Poverty and Trauma • 5

METHODOLOGY
The methodology used to develop this handbook is to review NEA research on the challenges of teaching students from poverty, along with Eric Jensen’s two books related to teaching students from poverty (Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do about It and Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind: Practical Strategies for Raising Achievement). In addition, this handbook also references the author’s own research into teaching students from poverty, especially as it relates to the trauma many students from poverty carry with them into the classroom.
Why focus on poverty?
Educators often protest that their responsibilities go far beyond the classroom. They argue that they did not sign up to be—nor are they trained to be—social workers or therapists.
Nevertheless, it is important for educators to understand poverty and its impact on learning. The number of students from poverty is increasing in our public schools. Over 51 percent of students in public schools today are from low socioeconomic backgrounds. (Jensen, Poor Students, Rich Teaching, 7) At the same time, many students from poverty fail to graduate, do not contribute economically to society, and often continue to cost society through government assistance, healthcare, and the justice system.
The effects of poverty can have an economic impact on educators both directly and indirectly. More and more local educational agencies (LEAs) are considering or implementing pay for performance in the compensation plans for educators. As a result, students failing to pass high-stakes achievement tests can directly affect an educator’s pay. Students who fail to graduate can have an indirect economic impact on educators, as well. When students drop out, their limited contribution to the economy can have an impact on educators’ pensions, which are funded by taxpayers. Fewer taxpayers from the pool of students from poverty could jeopardize educators’ future retirement benefits.
Trauma stemming from the effects of poverty place an additional burden on the economy and health care systems, as the stressors of both poverty and trauma increase the likelihood of chronic illness and socioeconomic issues among these students as they become adults. According to the definitive Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, (Felitti and Anda, ACE Study) children from poverty have a higher risk of chronic diseases and mental health issues from having experienced just one adverse childhood experience. The risk factors
6 • National Education Association | Education Policy and Practice

rise, especially for children from poverty, when the children have multiple risk factors as discovered by the ACE Study.
Finally, educators should care about their role in teaching children from poverty because of the potential loss of contributions to society when the gifts of a disadvantaged, traumatized child are not developed and passed on to the next generation. Students from poverty and those who have experienced trauma want to learn. They want to remove the barriers to their natural abilities to learn so they can better receive instruction.
This handbook addresses the barrier to learning and provides strategies to remove or significantly minimize it. The handbook is divided into six sections. The first section will identify the symptoms of poverty manifested on school campuses and in the classroom. The second section will address the risk factors and impact of poverty to the student, the family, the school, and the community. The third section will identify the science behind what we know about the impact of poverty and trauma on learning through researched-based studies. The fourth section will address the role of educators in minimizing the effects of poverty and trauma on learning in their classrooms. The fifth section will itemize the long-term learnings that educators realize when teaching students from poverty. The sixth section will provide actionable strategies that a school and educators can implement to make a difference in teaching students from poverty. Finally, the handbook will provide a list of resources for educators to use in expanding their capacity to teach students from poverty.
The essence of trauma is that it is overwhelming, unbelievable,
and unbearable.”
The Body Keeps the Score, 195
Teaching Children from Poverty and Trauma • 7

…traumatic experiences do leave their traces, whether on a large scale or close to home, on our families, with dark secrets being imperceptibly passed down through generations. They also leave traces on our minds and emotions, on our capacity for joy and intimacy, and even on our biology
and immune systems.”
The Body Keeps the Score, 1.

Section 1. Symptoms
What are the symptoms of poverty that show up in the classroom?
Students from poverty exhibit a variety of symptoms that are cries for help from the stressors of their low SES background. On the one extreme, students from poverty may act out with various behaviors not conducive to learning. They can be loud and boisterous. What educators often first perceive as misbehaviors initially started out as ways of dealing with the overwhelming emotions and need to escape from the brutality that comes from trauma. These moments of acting out are attempts at dealing with the ravages of poverty. This behavior often results in punishments that include suspensions and expulsions, which cause the student to fall behind in classwork.
On the other hand, students from poverty, and those who have been traumatized, may withdraw and attempt to disappear in the classroom. The behavior of wearing a hoodie pulled tight over their heads, curled up, head down on a desk or sitting quietly in the corner of the classroom, is similar to what they may have had to do at home. They try to become invisible so that they are not seen by a drunken caregiver or abuser who comes home looking for a punching bag or worse. The smaller their footprint, they reason, the less likely they are of being seen and hurt again.
Teaching Children from Poverty and Trauma • 9

Educators should also be aware that chronic absenteeism is another symptom of stressors from poverty and trauma. Sometimes students cannot hide their injuries with long-sleeve shirts, hoodies, makeup, hats, or long pants. This is especially true during warmer months when the covering clothing seems so out of season. Staying at home, waiting for the bruising to subside may help prevent discovery; it does not help when the student is falling further and further behind in classwork.
Chronic health issues, even at an early age, can be a sign of stressors from poverty and trauma. Attention deficit disorder, attunement disorders, depression, sleep disorders, eating disorders, hypervigilance, among other symptoms, are clues for educators to use in evaluating whether a student is experiencing the stress of life from poverty or if that student might be a victim of trauma.
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Section 2. Risk Factors/Impact

What difference does poverty make? What is the risk to the student?
Students from poverty often have emotional dysregulation, which means that they may give up more easily on challenges presented in the classroom, often find it difficult to work in groups, and may
have difficulties with manners.
(Jensen, Teaching, 19)

Students from poverty have come from and often continue to live in an environment where the rate of discouraging words is higher than the rate of encouraging words. (Jensen, Engaging, 47) Parents, guardians, or caregivers may be stressed from their own experiences from poverty or abuse. Once wounded themselves, they often respond to the normal questions from a child with an angry, short temper filled with words, tones, and gestures that beat down and bruise the soul of

the child. In some circles, that is called “sinning out of your own wounds.” These words cause children to blame themselves for the problems faced by their caregivers. As their self-esteem is attacked, these children try to either hide or over function to fix the problem by attempting to please caregivers who can never be pleased enough.
These same caregivers may be short with their children because of their own mental health issues, work-

Teaching Children from Poverty and Trauma • 11

ing multiple jobs, and having too little time for their own stress relief, let alone quality time with their children. Educators sometimes see this when they have students who are in need of attention or those who resist attempts at building relationships to avoid getting hurt by getting close to another person who, they think, will more than likely disappoint them.
Poverty influences the emotions, shapes behaviors, changes the structure and processing of the brain, affects cognitive capacity, and influences attitudes.Poverty’s impact on the brain is especially seen in the student’s executive function skills: attentional skills, working memory, ability to prioritize, and ability to self-regulate.
As noted, students from poverty often have both physical and mental health issues. Studies show that students from poverty often have more asthma, more respiratory infections, tuberculosis, ear infections and hearing loss, obesity, and poor nutrition. These conditions are all exacerbated

by the lack of appropriate health care. These early health issues have longterm impacts that are often not reversed, even with improved access to health care resources later. (ACE Study)
Poverty can also increase the likelihood that a student will be depressed. This poverty-related depression perpetuates a lack of hope that the student cannot break out of the cycle of poverty. (Seligman, Learned Helplessness, and Learned Optimism)
The effects of these stressors from poverty and trauma are cumulative and work to impact brain structure and neuronal processes. (Jensen, Teaching, 25)
WHAT IS THE RISK TO THE FAMILY?
Low SES families, and those individuals who have experienced trauma, are at risk of perpetuating the poverty and participating in passing trauma on to the next generation. This is readily known from bullied students becoming bullies and victims of sexual abuse becoming perpetrators. Without interventions, the inertia of poverty, especially if it has been generational, will continue. Without interventions to heal the effects of trauma, the stressors do not dissipate easily. These problems cannot be ignored.
The good news is that schools are in a central position in the life of a community to be that place of safety,

12 • National Education Association | Education Policy and Practice

hope, and healing to families and their children. Teen pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, mental illnesses, and continuing economic suffering will continue to be the result of a lack of intervention into the impact of stressors from poverty and trauma upon families. The fabric of the family will continue to be broken by addictions, abuse, single parent-led households, absentee caregivers, and neglect.
WHAT IS THE RISK TO THE SCHOOL?
The greatest hope for traumatized, abused, and
neglected children is to receive a good education
in schools where they are seen and known, where they learn to regulate themselves,
where they can develop a sense of agency.”
The Body Keeps the Score, 351-52
Often the schools located in povertystricken areas are substandard physically and academically and may be understaffed. These schools are populated by children who have experienced the pain of poverty and trauma in their lives. They come to school each day trying to pretend they are fine. They come to school yearning to be heard and known.
If a school in a low SES neighborhood has unresolved issues from the

Sadly, our educational system, as well as many of the methods that profess
to treat trauma, tend to bypass this emotional – engagement system and focus instead on recruiting the cognitive capacities of the mind. Despite the well-documented effects of anger, fear, and anxiety on the ability to reason many programs continue
to ignore the need to engage the safety system of the brain before trying
to promote new ways of thinking. The last things that should be cut from
school schedules are chorus, physical education,
recess, and anything else involving movement, play,
and joyful engagement. When children are
oppositional, defensive, it’s also important to recognize
that such “bad behavior” may repeat action patterns
that were established to survive serious threats,
even if they are intensely upsetting are off-putting.”
The Body Keeps the Score, 86

Teaching Children from Poverty and Trauma • 13

past, also known as corporate pain, and functions on the margins of its own resources of money, supplies, and human capital, the school will not have the emotional presence to hear and respond to these students’ cries for help. In such schools, students are often three years behind in what should be their current level of academic achievement. They will continue to lag behind and be held back.
In such an academic atmosphere, many students are almost destined to drop out around ninth grade or shortly after. High schools will continue to record lower performance, lower graduation rates, turnover in leadership staff and educators, and a loss of its role of leadership and transformation in the community.
Turnover among educators and staff are high at schools in low SES neighborhoods because of the burnout that results from working with students carrying the pain of poverty and trauma in their lives. This turnover perpetuates the cycle of poverty.
Schools that do not retain the same quality principals and assistant principals for at least five–eight years in a row do not realize the full gifts of those administrators. Leadership circles have known for years that it takes five–eight years for a leader to hit a stride with their gifts, talents, and understanding of the culture and needs of their organization. Schools and their princi-

pals are not immune from this pattern when principals are shuffled around like cards on a gaming table.
Schools are also at risk when they focus on less than a comprehensive approach to education, focusing solely on a curriculum and assessments that measure the attempts to teach to it.
WHAT IS THE RISK TO THE COMMUNITY?
There are multiple risks to the low SES community that comes from not addressing the stressors from poverty and trauma. Economically, the community will not build a stronger future when students do not graduate or graduate with less than adequate academic, life, and working skills. Without an intentional, informed intervention plan—especially from the educational institutions of the community—perpetuation of stress filled lives, the disintegration or deterioration of families, and a lack of a skilled labor force able to change the status quo will continue. The intellectual capital loss when students wounded by poverty and trauma do not fulfill the potential of their gifts and talents is tragic. Instead of experiencing a transformation from a vibrant education, the community continues a downward spiral.

14 • National Education Association | Education Policy and Practice

WHAT IS THE RISK TO THE EDUCATOR?
Teaching is indeed daring greatly! Educators who continue to teach in low SES schools and teach students who have experienced trauma without understanding the impact of poverty and trauma on learning will continue to work in less than optimal situations with less than adequate skills to address and remove the barriers that these stressors create in the lives of their students. Because the educators are in the presence of students who carry within them the physical and emotional pain and scars of poverty

weariness that educators experience is not just from the amount of work and hours they perform, it comes from the atmosphere and situation in which they teach, especially in low SES schools.
Without high-quality educators, students from poverty have a lower chance of excelling in their education. A high-quality educator can make a significant difference in a student’s life. That will be less likely to happen in a low SES school until districts equip educators with the skills to protect themselves from the “radioactivity” of stress by strengthening their own

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, aware of the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly;…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” Theodore Roosevelt 1910 As found in Rising Strong, xx-xxi

and trauma, these educators are at risk of burnout.
This burnout comes from the mirror neurons of the students passing on their pain to the mirror neurons of the teachers, administrators, and staff. (Born for Love, 21-22) Without knowledge, skills, and strategies to minimize this impact, educators’ physical and mental health will be affected, increasing absenteeism, and contributing to their leaving the profession. The

resilience, and incorporating proven strategies for lessons that play important roles in healing the stress from their students’ childhood.
The stress from poverty and trauma can interfere with the best of educators’ performances in the classroom. Removing those barriers with research-proven skills, strategies, and understanding will go a long way to improve student performance, as well as educator performance in the classroom.

Teaching Children from Poverty and Trauma • 15

“Research on the effects of early
maltreatment tells a different story: that early maltreatment has enduring negative effects on brain development.
Our brains are sculpted by our early experiences. Maltreatment is a chisel that shapes the brain to contend with strife, but at the cost of deep, enduring wounds. Childhood abuse isn’t something you get over. It is an evil that we must acknowledge and confront if we aim to do anything about the unchecked cycle of
violence in this country.”
Martin Teicher, MD, PhD, Scientific American In The Body Keeps the Score, 149.
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Section 3. Research
The science behind a brain-based learning approach to teaching children from poverty

Simply put, stress, whether from poverty, trauma, or any other source can and does change the structure and processes of the brain. Chronic stress from repeated contact with living in poverty, the witnessing or experiencing firsthand of trauma, and the constant experience of the sensations from past trauma creates what has been called allostatic load. Constant stress without relief increases the baseline resting stress level of a person, changes the brain, lowers the immune system, and in turn, increases health and emotional issues. (ACE Study)
The good news is that the brain can and does change, even after the devastating effects of poverty and trauma have been experienced by a student in childhood. (Jensen, Teaching, 47-48) The neuroplasticity of the brain allows it to heal from these stressors because the brain is changing all the time. The risk, at the same time, is that if the

stress is experienced severe enough and long enough, certain structures of the brain can be irreparably harmed. The hippocampus, which is involved in memory formation, is especially sensitive to allostatic load from longterm stress.
The first three years of life are critical. A child in its first three years needs to be attuned. (Born for Love, 1-6) That means they need to be talked to, played with, appropriately touched, and held. They need to be responded to when they have a biological need of hunger, thirst, elimination, or comfort. They also need to experience a gradual, safe separation from caregivers so that they do not experience an attachment disorder later. The children who are played with, read to, and experience quality music have brains that develop exponentially in their capacity for future learning. Nothing can substitute for face-to-face, eye-to-eye,

Teaching Children from Poverty and Trauma • 17
PovertyStudentsTraumaEducatorsSchools