Holiday Break Assumptions

December is stressful for so many reasons.  Seasonal concerts and plays, crafts and the general hustle and bustle around this time of year.  While teachers attempt to make things fun and engaging for the last few weeks before the holiday, there are a few things to consider about assumptions that as educators we might make about our students.

Not every child is looking forward to the holidays.

As working adults we look forward to the break from our daily occupations at this time of year.  For us it means a chance to regroup and reconnect.  However, for some students it may mean a lack of routine and structure which can provoke anxiety.  The reality is that some students may find school the safest place in their lives.  The two weeks off of school at the end of the December will inevitably happen for everyone however, not every kid is looking forward to it.  So it may be best not to focus on the “Countdown to Break.”

Children living in poverty.

For those children living in families who celebrate the season with any kind of gift giving, this can be a time of stress and anxiety for parents and invariably children.  According to parenting expert Alyson Schafer, “Parents of low-income families will often put themselves last in order to shield their kids from poverty and the parents’ health and well-being suffers for it.”  Some parents may even skip meals or prescription medication in order to have enough money to buy gifts.  Whether the children are aware of their family’s financial situation or not, they will witness wealthier classmates getting more at this time of year and it can be difficult for those children.   While this is the time of year that many schools engage in a food drive, teachers need to remember that some students may not be able to donate and in fact, there may be students in your class or school whose family accesses the food bank.  It doesn’t mean that would need to stop these charitable acts.  As educators we just need to be aware of the assumptions that we make about our students when we engage in the activities.

Those “fun” activities aren’t always “fun” for everyone.

This time of year gets busy in a school.  There are often more announcements, events and things for sale or collection.  Students who already struggle in school find this time of year difficult because of the multitude of interruptions to regular routines.  When possible, keep things as simple as possible for your students.  I have always found that keeping as much routine as possible in my classroom at this time of year provided much needed comfort and predictability.




Addressing Equity

The elementary school that I teach at is a K-8 school with approximately 540 students. It has grown over the century with new additions, since its original build in 1923. I have only known the school for the past three years that I have been teaching there. So I consider the school to be diverse with many new Canadians, mostly from Bangladesh. It is also higher needs in terms of the challenges students face for success, according to the Learning Opportunity Index. The family income has declined for families attending the school, as demonstrated by the data. Many of the parents work part-time, multiple jobs, and through the evenings, nights, or on weekends.

What I found interesting to note, is that teachers who have taught at the school for more than ten years, many for more than 15 years, have difficulty seeing the demographics of the school as they are. They continue with the same fund raising projects as they always have, yet lament that there is less participation or interest from the students. They continue to book trips that cost more that an hourly wage that most families would make, then are disappointed in the attendance. It is only in the past year that they have been questioned about the cost required for students to attend their own graduation celebration. The teacher response in regards to how they are accommodating a student population with a decrease in family income, is to encourage students to come forth if they don’t have the funds and the staff will address it or provide the funds, based on the individual situation.

Recently I was talking to a teacher from another school board about equity and teacher bias. She recommended the ETFO publication, Possibilities: Addressing Poverty in Elementary Schools to read.  It is an excellent resource. It not only encourages a change in mindset by educators about assumptions and biases in regards to poverty, but it provides strategies and literature connections to address the real needs of students for academic success and well-being. It also provided information on how to engage parents and the community of a lower income status.

According to TDSB, “Educational research has demonstrated that children from lower income families face more significant barriers in achieving high educational outcomes.” It is essential that we as educators are aware of these facts and barriers, as well as the strategies and supports necessary for the students that are in our schools right now.

Link to ETFO publication:

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