Every year the Annie E. Casey Foundation publishes it's Kids Count data book, showing the trends in child-well being across the US. If you work with children in poverty, or make decisions that will effect children who live in poverty, it's worth looking at the data to get a sense of where we are as a nation.
This year the data compares 2010 to 2005, and it's not pretty. Not surprisingly it shows that more children live in poverty in the US than in 2005 (22%), more children live in households where parents do not have secure employment, and more children live in households with a high housing cost burden.
What does that mean for us as teachers? Although we wish we could, we can't give every parent a job, we can't single handedly pull our children out of poverty, and we can't guarantee that their families won't worry about their housing situations.
What we can do is be aware of what our families are going through. When a family is worried about losing their house, providing food for their children, or just getting by on a day to day basis their concerns are not going to meet up with our concerns. When we wonder why they won't come in for a conference, we wonder why homework doesn't get completed, papers aren't returned, or and phone calls aren't answered it's easy to let our frustration get the best of us.
Don't they know how hard we're working to teach their children? Don't they know everything else we could be doing with our lives that doesn't exist making no money in a job where nobody appreciates us, our friends tell us our job is cute, and the national media portrays us as lazy, incompetent, and only in it for the summer vacations? Why won't anyone just call us back? We're concerned about your child!
With that 100th unanswered phone call or conference where we've been stood up we've all thought that. It's frustrating. We've got to remember that our parents are embarrassed and scared. Embarrassed to tell their employers that they need to take off work yet again for a conference. Scared they will be fired and everything that will mean. Embarrassed to tell us that they can't take off work to meet with us. Embarrassed because of all the other things they have going on in their lives hearing that their child is having a rough time reading or behaving isn't a huge priority right now. They want their child to succeed and they want their child to behave, but when you're worried about feeding and clothing your children, keeping them safe, keeping a roof over their heads, keeping your job, making sure everyone is healthy and clean, some things start to lose their significance in the long line of other truly important priorities. How does coming in for a conference about Johnny calling out all the time stack up to getting food for dinner?
We can look at ways we can meet our families' needs, we can phrase questions so that we are respectful of their situations while still getting our message across, we can find creative ways to meet with busy, stressed parents.