Toolkit for 'Struggling in Suburbia'

As this Teaching Tolerance story points out, the poor represent the fastest-growing segment in our nation’s suburbs. They are immigrants who choose to locate there and formerly middle-class families who have been hit by job losses and home foreclosures. School teachers and administrators need to be on the look out for changes in the financial security  of their charges.   

Below are checklists for teachers who might be new to suburban schools or for those who have always taught in affluent communities. While these suggestions are separated into “Do” and “Do Not” lists, both are intended to guide your planning and check your own assumptions about students in today’s economic environment.



  • Get to know your students on a personal level, without violating boundaries.
  • Note any changes in them, such as increased absences, sleepiness or changes in performance, mood or appearance.
  • Make yourself accessible to students and their families; they will be more likely to confide any personal challenges.
  • Challenge students’ stereotypes and labels about poverty and homelessness, and raise their awareness.
  • Offer students a variety of ways to assess learning (i.e., oral or art projects in addition to those that require computer access).
  • Lead efforts to hold fundraisers, fund scholarships and offer sliding-scale payments for school-related expenses.
  • Provide wrap-around services such as before-school nutrition programs, after-school tutoring and extended library hours.
  • Work together as a school community to budget or retain resources such as school nurses, social workers or community resource liaisons.
  • Take advantage of your school as a place where all family members can learn, build skills and network. 



  • Tolerate jokes or insensitive comments—among students or faculty members—about the poor.
  • Close down real discussion among students about the issues and challenges of poverty. Take advantage of those discussions to raise awareness.
  • Make assumptions about your students’ economic status based on their educational success.
  • Assume that students have access to “ordinary” resources such as regular transportation.
  • Attach fees to learning opportunities or school events, such as field trips or school field days.
  • Assume that one or both parents will be available for daytime and/or evening events; many may work when hours are available. Instead, offer flexible times to meet.
  • Invite parents to “career days” based on what you think you know about their current work. Invite all parents to share their skills with students, rather than their professions.
  • Forget that mentors and volunteers can help provide extra services such as tutoring or computer access for students.
  • Stop working to make sure your school provides services and opportunities for all students, regardless of economic need.
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