Working with Children from High-Poverty Backgrounds

November 17, 2015, The IRIS Center

Richard Milner offers insight about why teachers might think that some parents do not seem to provide a significant amount of educational support. He also discusses why it is especially important for high-poverty schools to have effective teachers (time: 5:43).

Questions asked of Richard Milner in this audio:

  1. Some educators believe that their students’ parents do not provide enough educational support. Would you address this concern?
  2. Many experts say that it is especially important for high-poverty schools to have good teachers, but isn’t this true for all schools?

Richard Milner
H. Richard Milner IV, PhD
Associate Professor,
Department of Teaching and Learning
Vanderbilt University

Transcript: H. Richard Milner IV, PhD

Narrator: This podcast is brought to you by the IRIS Center, a national center funded by the Office of Special Education Programs.

Richard Milner offers insight about why some parents do not appear to provide a significant amount of educational support. He also discusses why it is especially important for high-poverty schools to have effective teachers (time: 5:43)

Narrator: Some educators believe that their students’ parents do not provide enough educational support. Would you address this concern?

Richard Milner: I have never met a parent who does not care about his or her child. Now, we may not agree with how they respond to or support their children, but parents care about their children. I find in my work with African-American parents that they sometimes see their role as a more economic resource than an educational resource. I’m not suggesting that African-American parents don’t care about their children educationally. What I’m saying is that some parents who live in poverty, or who are working multiple jobs to make ends meet, sometimes are not privy to educational content so that they are able to support their children on, let’s say, homework tasks or to help them get through what’s necessary for them to be successful academically. So parents will say my role is to put food on the table, put clothes on your back, put shoes on your feet, and they see the school’s responsibility as pivotal to making sure their children do what’s necessary for them to be successful academically.

Narrator: Many experts say that it is especially important for high-poverty schools to have good teachers, but isn’t this true for all schools?

Richard Milner: There are excellent teachers in all schools. I’ve come to understand that there’s probably some good teaching going on in most schools. I’ve rarely seen excellent teaching going on in an entire school. When you’re working in populations where students are not school-dependent, when you are working in environments where parents are more educated, where they have more resources…and let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. Each of us brings a level of privilege to what we do, and as I think about my own children, the fact that I might be able to afford a nanny or to afford a tutor to help my children in their academic development, that sets them aside from students who don’t have that type of resource. So we are not playing from the same playing field. And so what happens in schools is when you have teachers who are not solid teachers, who are not responsive, who don’t understand when instruction may need to be direct or when it needs to be more responsive, what you find is you have a situation where the students are less likely to perform or to achieve at levels we’d like. So if my child has a year or two of teaching that is less-than-ideal then at home we can supplement those areas where the teacher or the teaching might be substandard. And populations of students where students are more school-dependent, those students may not get the supplemental kinds of opportunities to move them forward. And so that’s why it’s so important for us to really rethink who teaches in these schools where students are more school-dependent because what you find is that the better teachers are not in high-poverty schools and that’s problematic. Until we fix some of what we’re talking about here, it’s structural, it’s systemic, and it is so deeply rooted and ingrained in the educational system. I do believe teachers matter, I do. I know that a teacher can be the difference-maker and all the evidence points to that; however, the teacher can’t do it all by himself or herself. One of the things I think that’s happening now is teachers get so frustrated and so discouraged by all the pressures that they sometimes will just not do what’s necessary for students to be successful because they say, “Oh, it’s out of my hands.” You know, poverty is so pervasive, or this child experienced lead paint, or whatever it happens to be that’s outside of their control, and then they lose hope, optimism, and are not as responsive. But it is the teacher’s roles and responsibility to do the best he or she can in every situation, and I think we have to do a better job of supporting teachers in terms of doing that, but we also have to look beyond a teacher’s classroom in order to repair broken systems of education. As teachers are working to examine what’s going on with students, I think it’s equally as important that they are examining themselves, their own belief systems, their own world view. You know each of us believes that we have the answer to how life should be. And I think what really matters here is that we are disrupting some of our own belief systems as we work to be responsive to our students.

Narrator: Thank you for listening to this episode of the IRIS Center podcast. For more information about the IRIS Center and its resources, visit us at www.iriscenter.com [https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/].

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