The Classroom Teacher, spring 2014

TCTA member Corina Flores knows firsthand the challenges of coming from a home of poverty. The Midland ISD teacher who holds a master’s degree in bilingual education and who won TCTA’s 2012-13 Innovator of the Year Award for outstanding teaching says she owes her success to her mother — who instilled in her the importance of education — and her “amazing teachers.”

Flores, who presented a continuing education session called “Reach (So You Can Teach) Students in Poverty” at TCTA’s 2014 Convention, offers the following advice to her fellow Texas teachers:

Reach out to the family. “I find a way to communicate with the parents and let them know I understand their situation, but I also explain how important it is that we help their child. Sometimes I talk to older siblings and ask them for help, and in the classroom I find someone to work with them as well.”

Treat all students with respect. “Whether one comes from a middle class or upper class or poverty level, we are all the same in God’s eyes. Students also feel proud to be respected regardless of where they come from.”

Be careful what you say — even to other teachers. “About 10 years ago a teacher came into my second-grade class and said out loud to me, ‘What are you doing wearing those shoes? That is not what is in season right now!’ A student, a sweet little girl, came up to me afterward and said, ‘Mrs. Flores, what do I do?’ All I have are these shoes. My mom doesn’t have any money to buy me any more right now.’ I told her, ‘Sweetie, don’t worry, your shoes are just fine. You are very smart and a pair of shoes isn’t going to change that.’ Then I had a talk with the teacher. I told her, ‘I grew up with hand-me-downs, and some of our kids do too. I couldn’t say, hey, could you please make sure the color and material fits in with the season? Plus, a brand name, a style, or a pair of pants or shoes will not determine what I am going to do in life.’ … We must be very careful with what we say out loud around students. You may be surprised how much they are truly listening.”

Expect students to achieve. “Every morning, everyone on our campus says the South Eagle Pledge. It encourages students to respect each other, treat each other fairly, go to college one day and soar like eagles. I think it’s important to instill these thoughts in students’ minds.”

Help them celebrate. “I never had a birthday party as a child, so when my students have a birthday, I make sure to make that day special for them. My son’s teacher, Mrs. Paz, is amazing! She has her students all sign a special birthday card to give to the birthday person. Another teacher made a birthday party for a special little girl at the local skating rink. She bought the cake and everything for that child. I know we can’t afford to do that for everyone in our class, but this is why it is so important to truly get to know our students so we can know who needs extra empathy and love.”

Take them places, even if it’s just virtually. “I use the Internet and we travel to other countries, to beaches, oceans, and we see whales and dolphins. I try to bring the world to them if they can’t travel around the world. In town, I try to get students involved in activities that are free. I pass the information on to the parents.”

Don’t underestimate your influence. “I had all the odds against me. I came from a dysfunctional family, ADD, poverty, minority, LEP, ESL, you name it, I had it. But all it took was a few amazing teachers who encouraged me and told me I could be just like the wealthier kids who were going to go to college. One teacher encouraged me by helping me fill out the forms for college. We have to help kids believe it is possible for them to go on to higher education and show them the way.”

See also:

Teachers deal with the prevalence of poverty

TCTA member helps end students' weekend hunger