Lets change pity to empathy. Pity allows teachers to not hold high expectations and make excuses instead of changing our tactics towards how to assist the students to be all they can be.
First, lets recognize that bad things happen to everyone. We can choose to sit and stew in it or pick ourselves up and do something to change it. The difference is that students in poverty may not have the skills needed to cope or change it on their own. Chapter 6 of Poor Students, Rich Teachers by Eric Jensen discusses this. Students living in poverty have less gray matter, smaller white matter, and a hippocampus with reduced volume. That all equals...the brain needs help to overcome the effects of poverty. Teachers who show empathy demonstrate support. Supportive relationships actually heal the hippocampus.
How do we show empathy or develop supportive relationships?
1. Make caring explicit. Some students can not read body language.
*Seek understanding by listening and talking less
Try: Two 4 Ten - choose two students who need that relationship building. Give them each two minutes for ten days. Repeat...make it a daily habit. If you work in a team where several teachers see the same students, talk about who is going to be the "Two 4 Ten" teacher for those who need it.
Try: Three 4 Thirty - Find out 3 things about each student beyond their name within the first 30 days of school.
2. Connect outside of school.
Try: Show up to ball games, skate park, concert...
3. Connect at the end.
Try: Connect at the end. Watch how students leave your room. Do they need a quick chat time? Do you have a period near the end of the day that is set up for quiet or homework time? Could you use that time to quietly take 5 minutes to talk to a student. Acknowledge what their body language is saying and ask them if they are okay?
Moments matter...let's make most of them.