“What ‘little’ things do [we] do or say that become big factors in continuing to marginalize students in poverty?”
In the article, eighth grade teacher Ann Van Etten challenges teachers and schools about how we may perpetuate classist assumptions. and judgments by asking us, “What ‘little’ things do [we] do or say that become big factors in continuing to marginalize students in poverty?”
Van Etten pushes on our traditional notions of “harmless small talk” that we often use in the months of November – January, reminding us how critical it is to “thoughtfully engage students on an individual basis and take time to understand their worlds, no matter how different than [our] own they may be.” For me as an educator (whose personal school experiences included sharing what my family ate on Thanksigiving in November and what Santa brought me for Christmas in January), I engage in ongoing “self-work” to continually examine my own biases and language habits during this time of year so as not to marginalize friends, colleagues, and community members.
Van Atten also cites an older article written by George Mason University associate professor Paul Gorski titled, The Question of Class. Gorski reminds us that there is no such thing as a “culture of poverty,” warning us about the importance of examining our own language, actions, lessons, and more for our own unintentional and/or implicit bias around poverty. As we consider the fact that 11.1% of our students qualify for free/reduced lunch (see table below), this kind of self-reflection is critical for each of us.
Students Receiving Free/Reduced Lunch (10/1/19)
|School||# FRL||% FRL|
While we still have much work to do, it is important to acknowledge the ways in which we have recognized that poverty is a reality for many of our students and their families. Last year, the District began allocating additional funds at each building to offset the cost of field trips for students eligible for free and reduced lunch. Elementary buildings now all pay for school supplies, eliminating an age-old tradition of asking families to provide them each September. A few of our elementaries offer inconspicuous weekend backpacks of non-perishable food for a handful of students facing food insecurity. Also, there are many ways families can request financial assistance for fees (e.g. SAT, Seal of Biliteracy assessment, band, athletics, extended day, etc.) and tuition for all-day kindergarten. While these are just a few examples, they represent ways we have responded to a growing need in our community.
I particularly appreciate this Teaching Tolerance resource called “Addressing the December Dilemma in Schools.” It kicks off with this webinar. The December Dilemma Teacher Assessment and Holiday Inclusion Planning Template look like great tools to examine our instructional practices related to inclusivity and cultural responsiveness around holidays and religion. These tools, along with a few other resources listed below, push us to think about whether our lessons extend beyond the “Five F’s” (Food, Festivals, Facts, Famous People, Fashion), how we normalize differences so that all students feel like their holiday/custom/tradition is “regular,” and the ways we remain aware of “spokesperson syndrome” by not asking a student or a family to represent all people of a particular group.
I want to express my ongoing gratitude to our educators who work daily to honor the various identities our students bring to our classrooms with them in a way that makes them feel included. Thank you!
DEI Resources for the Holidays
Thanksgiving Mourning (for middle and high school)