You Don’t Understand Poverty…

Mother Theresa once said, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless.  The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.  We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”

Poverty is everywhere, and yet we are often blind to it.  It’s in my community, my church, and most prominently, in my school.

I was recently told that I don’t understand poverty or where my students come from.  This was said because the person telling me saw me for who I am today.  They have not seen the life I’ve lived or the struggles that have come along the way.  They made an assumption.  It was not fair.  Nor did I even have the chance to say that I’ve been there.  I’ve lived out of a food pantry.  I wore the same clothes multiple times because that’s what I had.  I’ve witnessed stressed parents who constantly worried how we would keep our house or make payments on the increasing credit card balance.  Instead, I was told that I need to go through training, read Ruby Payne’s book, and then work on caring for my students because of where they truly come from.

I’ve though a lot about that day for six months.  I thought, “maybe I don’t get it”.

This week I attended the Iowa Culture and Language Conference and was compelled to attend the session entitled Poverty: Responding to the Needs of our Students by Jessie Myles.  I entered that room thinking that maybe I didn’t understand.  Over the course of two hours, Mr. Myles discussed poverty statistics from the US, stereotypes of poverty, ways to help students who come from poverty, and resources to help.  The numbers, even from 2008 data, were alarming.  I’m sure they’ve only risen since.  I’ve heard the stereotypes and find the same ones being used with my ELL parents.  I know the signs of poverty and can now look for ways to help.  Mr. Myles covered many aspects that educators need to know, especially if they work with kids from poverty.

That statement came rushing back to me all over again and I got very emotional.  No, I don’t understand what it’s like to have a language barrier or be from a different culture.  No, I don’t have to think about how I’ll survive without food in my house or what outfit I’ll wear because of my limited options.  I may have had a brief glimpse of poverty compared to the millions that live in it day after day, year after year.  But I GET IT!

Mother Theresa said that being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty and I have the chance to change that every day with my students.  I understand what it means to show love and care.  I understand that a child needs to know they are wanted.

I wish I could tell that person I get it.  It doesn’t matter though.  What matters is that I understand and I start in my own home, or school, to remedy this kind of poverty.

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2 thoughts on “You Don’t Understand Poverty…

  1. Being told you don’t get something because you haven’t experienced it can create a sense of futility, guilt and insecurity. The important thing is that as a teacher you are there, making an effort to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with poverty. We can be aware and empathetic and should not let “not getting poverty” get in the way of doing something about it.

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