Students, poverty, and stress: Teacherpreneurs can help

One in ten U.S. children live in deep poverty. Teacherpreneurs can bridge the spaces between classrooms and communities to enact the policies students need.

This weekend I couldn’t help but think deeply about our work and many others who also seek to improve our nation’s public schools. In Sunday’s New York Times (July 28), Moises Velasquez-Manoff penned a poignant essay on “Status and Stress” and how the circumstances of social class and poverty—and the sense of helplessness they can engender—have “grave consequences” for life chances for children and adults alike. He writes:

The more helpless one feels when facing a given stressor…the more toxic that stressor’s effects. That sense of control tends to decline as one descends the socioeconomic ladder, with potentially grave consequences. Those on the bottom are more than three times as likely to die prematurely as those at the top. They’re also more likely to suffer from depression, heart disease and diabetes. Perhaps most devastating, the stress of poverty early in life can have consequences that last into adulthood.

He reminds us that more than 20 percent of American children now live below the poverty line, a dramatic 35 percent increase over the last 10 years. Velasquez-Manoff points out that the United States is 26th in childhood well being, out of 29 developed countries. And “when considering just childhood poverty, only Romania fares worse,” he says.

One in ten of our nation’s children live in what sociologists call deep poverty. And it is deep poverty that creates early life stresses in children—a fact corroborated by neuroscientists who have shown how anxiety and tensions can “disrupt the healthy growth of the prefrontal cortex,” inhibiting the cognitive development that is critical to academic learning. Velasquez-Manoff, citing Bruce McEwen, a neuroscientist at Rockefeller University, alerts us to the fact that “poverty gets under the skin” and that as a child, your “parents’ social standing and your stress level during early life change how your brain and body work.”

Today’s education policy in the U.S. still centers on “fixing” teachers more so than addressing the system under which educators (teachers and principals) work and students learn. Even the best individual school administrators do not have the know-how and/or bandwidth to address the needs of growing numbers of students living in poverty—who face serious stressors—as well as highly mobile families and second-language learners.

Enter the teacherpreneur

Teacherpreneurs are classroom experts who have the time, space, and reward to know students and their families (and their life circumstances) to incubate and execute ideas that can best serve them. We know from both research and experience that so many career teachers, who do not want to leave teaching, have solutions in mind to address the real problems facing their students. But outdated school organizations, administrators who don’t want to teachers to lead, and reformers with narrow policy agendas can get in their way.

Do we need to find ways to make teacher evaluation results-oriented? Yes. Do we need to close down poor higher-education schools of education? Of course. But most important, we must, as a nation, look hard at the facts and the life chances of the children whose lives we seek to improve. And we need to get over our fixation with just fixing teachers.

A recent MetLife survey, which I now often reference, suggested that almost three quarters of a million teachers very much want to remain in teaching and serve in a hybrid role to address the complex problems their students and families are facing. What if our performance pay plans focused less on individual teachers’ value-added ratings on a 20th-century test (based on 19th-century principles of teaching and learning), and more on cultivating and rewarding teacherpreneurism for schools to morph into 24/7 community hubs for integrated academic, social, and health services? What if more administrators in our public school system taught some students, so more teachers can lead from the classroom?  What if teachers had more time during the day to learn with colleagues and share their knowledge of and experiences with students, families, and the community?

  • joycedensmorethomas

    Community Hubs

    You put forth an interesting concept of measuring school success in a very different way by looking at students from a more holistic vantage point.  A teacher’s role in the 21st Century is much more than the “sage on the stage” and measuring his or her performance based on a 19th Century testing model (or even 20th/21st Century models) misses an opportunity to educate and prepare students for their future in a world that we literally cannot fathom today.  If the school is viewed as a source of support to the “whole” student, including his or her family, and is measured by the success it fosters in individuals through the “community hub” system, then we have hit on a method to create systemic change.

  • BarnettBerry

    more leadership from teachers

    And more leadership from the classroom means more administrations must teach something to some students so more teachers can lead something else, don’t you think? In top performing nations, 60-80 percent of all educators teach at least part of the day/week. In the US it is about 45-50%. 

  • ArielSacks

    Yes, yes, yes!

    You wrote: “We know from both research and experience that so many career teachers, who do not want to leave teaching, have solutions in mind to address the real problems facing their students. But outdated school organizations, administrators who don’t want to teachers to lead, and reformers with narrow policy agendas can get in their way.”

    Thank you for sharing this point! I think the teacherpreneur concept sometimes conjures up an image of a teacher who moves a lot, chasing ideas and policies “far away.”  But the purpose of the teacherpreneur role is to allow teachers who have the will to chase ideas to actually stay in the classroom and pursue initiatives that will immediately impact their students and serve their school’s community.  There is a lot of power in this.

  • CherylSuliteanu

    blending roles

    Ariel, you and I reacted to the same point of the challenges presented by antiquated organizational approaches.

    The challenges our neediest children face on a daily basis are obstacles to their future success as individuals, but on the larger scale, these challenges are obstacles to the future of our nation. Teachers, who know their students’ needs better than anyone, often have ideas for supporting students and families but are restricted by the number of hours in a day.  

    If schools and districts could open the door for blended roles so that principals could be creative with teachers’ schedules, opportunities for community outreach, higher family engagement, and early intervention programs would flourish. 

    How can teachers in schools and districts with top-down administrative design begin to nurture the concept of blended roles for teachers and administrators? Challenging the status-quo is not an easy task… what can we do to encourage teachers to ask challenging questions, to take risks with what we can do, rather than what we are expected to do?

  • Eddie09

    He has discovered that there

    He has discovered that there’s significantly all the more behind the unresponsive or forceful practices, normally credited to an absence of pleasantness or released as “lower-class” issues, than he had accepted.online University Essays What he’s researched his understudies has discouraged and demoralized him.

  • AmeliaJones

    This writer put hard work in

    This writer put hard work in making this wonderful stuff for us keep posting the amaizing work in future.
     Best essay writing service

  • eamonn77

    Appreciated concept

    This concept is much appreciated. The teachers may be committed to providing quality based essay and paper writing and best academic support services to international students. Successful Essay!

  • CurtisAlb

    great infor

    It is sad that even the best individual school administrators do not have the know-how and/or bandwidth to address the needs of growing numbers of students living in poverty. Us English writing service. Thanks a lot for sharing with us this information.