New York Times map of income levels: published in June, 2014

dark turquoise = highest income
dark orange = lowest income   

Despite what people might think, art teachers are not always employed in affluent schools. For example, in my central Alabama school district, 75% of art teachers serve student populations that are between 50 - 95% poverty levels. My own professional experience is as a teacher in a blue-collar area, where upwards of 60% of my students qualify for free/reduced lunch. (Scroll down to see maps illustrating  numbers of art teachers as well as population income levels in Alabama.)

A lot of leaders in art education write about "what works" in the area of classroom management and they repeat the same rhetoric I heard in college: "as long as you have engaging lessons, keep the kids busy, and have great rapport, then you won't have any discipline problems." 

This may very well be true if your student culture consists of kids from educated families, kids who have plenty to eat, kids whose parents have taught them the value of education. However, if the students you serve are suffering from generational poverty it is a different story altogether; you simply need more support structures to handle at-risk students. My own experience attending a public middle school in a lower income area as well as my experience as a teacher attests to this. I did a little bit of research into the subject to be sure that I am not basing my assumptions on experience alone:

  •  "In one study of 81,000 students across the United States, the students not in Title I programs consistently reported higher levels of engagement than students who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (Yazzie-Mintz, 2007).... Are children from poverty more likely to struggle with engagement in school? The answer is yes." 
"Seven differences between middle-class and low-income students show up at school:" physical health, vocabulary skills, effort/work ethic, ability to pay attention, ability to have strong relationships, belief in one's own ability to learn and grow (growth mind-set and hope for the future), and level of distress.  HOW Poverty Affects Classroom Engagement, by Eric Jensen, Educational Leadership 70.8 (2013): 24-30. Academic Search Premier.
  • "(At high poverty schools)...classroom behavior frustrates teachers, especially in high schools, and teacher turnover is strongly predicted by students’ perceptions of their peers’ behavior (Allensworth et al., 2009). ...Teachers also may leave in response to apathy or disengagement that undermines their teaching and leaves them feeling unsuccessful (Metz, 1993; Public Agenda, 2004; Steinberg, 1996). 
"At high-poverty schools—especially those serving large portions of minority students, reports of student disciplinary infractions are far more common than at wealthier schools (Gregory, Skiba, & Noguera, 2010), which may result from both in-school and out-of-school factors, including lack of strong school leadership or poverty among students (Anyon, 1995; Bowen & Bowen, 1999; Kraft et al., 2013)." Teacher Turnover in High-Poverty Schools: What We Know and Can Do, Harvard Graduate School of Education, August 2013

It concerns me that a lot of leaders in education teach us that, "all you need to do is have great lessons and strong rapport in order for your discipline problems to disappear." 

In my opinion, this is a myth that merely serves to discourage teachers, especially those of us who have higher proportions of at-risk students. 

I am in the process of researching how poverty can effect student behavior in the classroom - does it make classroom management more difficult? If so, what strategies could a teacher in these higher poverty schools employ?

In planning a series of articles related to this theme; my purpose in writing is to:

#1: dispel some common classroom management myths:
  • All the teacher needs to do is have great lessons and be a high energy, charismatic teacher for discipline problems to disappear.
  • Having positive relationships with students will take care of discipline problems.
  • The responsibility for student achievement belongs to the teacher.
  • If students/classes are out of control it is entirely the teacher's fault - none of the responsibility belongs to the students, their parents, the administration, or the school/community itself.
#2: illustrate how destructive it is for a teacher to lose his/her cool in the classroom.

#3: provide resources and outline specific, effective ways a teacher can manage high-poverty cultures. 

Below are two maps of Alabama. 

The map on the right shows how many public school art teachers we found last year (2013-2014) per county/school district. Gray counties had no art teachers listed on any of their school websites. Tan counties had between 1 - 5 art teachers, yellow between 6 - 14, dark yellow between 15 - 30, orange between 30 - 50, pink 50 - 100, red + 100.
The highest numbers of art teachers were found in Madison County (69) and Jefferson County (135).

The blue map from Alabama Possible on the left shows poverty levels in the general population in 2014. (Darker turquoise = highest poverty levels)

Image from Education Week

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols


Angie said...

Interesting article. I have taught in several schools, with varying degrees of poverty. Classroom management has made a HUGE difference at different income levels. Yes, it will be even worse if you don't have engaging lessons, but it is hard to even get to the lesson sometimes, depending on the school. At some level, an overall school climate matters as well, independent of income level. I've taught in lower income schools that had better climate, because the expectations were different. Also, the way that misbehavior was dealt with SCHOOL WIDE was different as well.


Hi, Angie!
You are right - school culture definitely has an effect on student behavior. I will be talking about this as well as other variables in the next articles. Stay tuned!

Wendy Gilbert said...

I think that school culture has such a big impact on the classroom that I make it a point to be involved at the campus level. As an arts person, I think it's important to be a presence that reminds the administration that we are working with kids and they are people. My administration has been very supportive when I come up with a school wide initiative and am willing to help get it going. At least one of my ideas is now going district wide.

The benefit, besides happier kids, is when I need something for my program, my administration does what they can to support me.


What was your idea that caught on?