I care deeply for each of my students and am privy to many details about most of them. I work within a high poverty demographic area. However I had never systematically analyzed all of what I knew about them. Test scores yes, heartache no. It was time to look beyond poverty alone.
Chronic stress is prevalent and synonymous with poverty. However, we need to consider all children regardless of their SES (socioeconomic status). I believe that some children who deal with chronic stress sometimes fall through the cracks. The ones who fall are children who might not appear on the surface to meet certain criteria that will red flag them for more support. How do we ensure that these students get identified?
I believe it is our responsibility as educators to always consider the unseen elements in a student's life. Chronic stress crosses all demographics and can be identified in our students with careful attention. When teachers understand how chronic stress impacts learning then targeted conscious choices can be made to help each student excel both academically and emotionally.
Educators strive every year to build positive classroom cultures, meet and greet their students, care for emotional needs and hold high academic standards. Knowing student stories and shaking their hand every day is only the beginning. It is extremely important to meet the needs of the whole child. “Maslow before Blooms”. Only then will a child be receptive to learning. Ray Wilson - Site
I was able to hear Eric Jensen speak recently on the topic of How Poverty Affects Classroom Engagement As I nodded my head yes to every sentence he uttered I had a light bulb moment. Since chronic stress is not always obvious, understanding and identifying students levels of chronic stress should be of the highest priority for all educators. This type of stress can literally creates holes in the brain! Educators need to understand how a child might act due to stress since these behaviors frequently mimic attention deficit or the manifestation of attention seeking behavior. Taking the focus off poverty and shifting it to stress was important to me in that moment.
Teachers spend close to 800 hours per year working on the front lines with students. Educators have the opportunity to know their students well. How chronic stress impacts learning must be shared and considered by the school team with the expectation that teachers can and will make significant positive impacts on the lives of their students. It is our responsibility as educators to understand the whole child. 10 Things You Should Know About Stress
The hard ask for us is, “How much do we care...really care?”. In your world of human connections be cognizant of chronic stress indicators in children. Please take some time to read the current information on this important topic. Pass it on and use it! The children will thank you.
Resources on Learning and the Brain - Edutopia
Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind - Eric Jensen
Inclusion/General Ed Teacher
Karen currently is a fourth grade teacher at Mountain View Elementary in the KKP Complex Area on the Big Island-Hawai`i. All of her teaching experience has been within high-poverty-low SES demographics. She is a Hawaii Hope Street Fellow and also one of Hawaii’s 2016/2017 PBS Digital Innovators. She is a Teach Strong Advocate. Karen runs a CS/Minecraft EDU Club. She has presented at the 2015 & 2016 HITechEd Conferences and ECET2HI 2017. She also created and moderates her school’s twitter account and is GLC heading her grade level. She has 5 children and enjoys 6 grandchildren with her husband of 26 years. She received her BA in Elementary Education from the University of Alaska.