Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It by Eric Jensen

Poverty and Stress

  • Stress in poor environments is usually significant and chronic. Eric sites research that shows these effects on behavior and performance of chronic stress:
    Half of all absences
    Attention and concentration impairment
    Reduction of cognition, creativity, and memory
    Diminishment of social skills and judgement
    Reduction of motivation, determination, and effort
    Increased likelihood of depression
    Reduction in the growth of new brain cells.
  • Poor people usually move more often and the moves are typically not voluntary. This compounds other sources of stress by disrupting social interactions in the neighborhood and in school. In addition to stresses, poor children are half as likely to be taken to places like museums, theaters, or libraries, and they less likely to go on vacations or other enriching outings.
  • Action Steps: A key action for teachers is to assess students so they can make a plan that is appropriate for each. The areas that Eric suggests for assessment are: attention and focus skills, short and long-term memory, sequencing and processing skills, problem-solving skills, perseverance, social skills, and hopefulness and self-esteem. (Doug: Assessment tools used by special education teachers should be considered for students who exhibit behaviors that imply they are subject to a stressful environment at home.)
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