Classroom Communities: You Belong Here

One important misconception that teachers must address is the notion that children in poverty do not come from loving homes. It is easy, sometimes, to fall into a savior-complex where we believe it is our responsibility to save children from the horrors of their homelife. However, this way of thinking can be dangerous because it assumes that our students’ families “don’t care” about the life they provide for their children, that they don’t value education, and that they aren’t willing to make sacrifices for their child’s wellbeing.

Although there are certainly exceptions to every circumstance, one of our primary roles as educators is to trust in society’s capacity for goodness and always assume positive intent. We are always more inclined to do this for children, but what about the adults in their life? Are we as quick to assume they are doing the best they can? Our job is NOT to replace the care and love of students’ family, nor is it to make them–although unintentionally–feel ashamed or embarrassed by their home. A classroom can be an extension of love they already feel, AS WELL AS a refuge or escape. 

As we know, the difficult work comes with the latter, when home is not a source of security. So, how can teachers provide an environment where students can “fill their cup” before returning to an often, uncomfortable reality? And how do we use the brief moments of classroom time to scoop them up, hold them tight (sometimes literally and metaphorically), and replenish their heart, mind, and body? It’s a heavy burden to bear. 

Whoever they are, wherever they come from, it is absolutely paramount that our students feel a warmth wash over them at our door. When they enter the room, they should know:

THIS ROOM IS SAFE AND I BELONG HERE. 

If the walls could talk, they should sing many powerful and meaningful things… 

  • You matter.
  • You can do amazing things.
  • You are brave.
  • You will find joy here.
  • You are irrevocably, unequivocally part of this family, too. 

When working with economically disadvantaged kids, we can’t change the bank account, but we can certainly make a deposit in their emotional account. 

So, what does this look like? What can you do? How can you use your classroom to change perceptions of poverty? How do you even begin to invest in this kind of philosophy? The truth of the matter is that by simply pondering these questions, we are already building a community where all students belong. The more we challenge misconceptions and question current practices, the closer we are to finding that sweet spot where we don’t have to make their home, because they have a classroom. 

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