Jensen, E. (2009). Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids' Brains and What Schools Can Do About It. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Review by Margaret Mbindyo, Ph.D.  Millersville University, [email protected]

Students from Poverty and Research

I grew up in a country where half of the population earns less than $1 US each day and where poverty was the order of the day. As such, I could relate with much of what Eric Jensen writes in his book. Students from poverty have special needs based on the lack of resources at home and exposure to hardship. The author identifies those needs, explains the causes and effects behind them, and offers practical strategies for addressing them. Many times, some educators may think of students from poverty as being unable to complete certain tasks, when, in reality, such students need additional support and nurturing to get it in class. The book is thorough when it comes to describing the neurophysiology of students who grow up in generational poverty. The author states because of neuroplasticity, students from poverty can overcome institutional, social, and systemic barriers if there is understanding, supports are implemented, and positive values are reinforced within the academic setting. In addition, the author acknowledges the individuality and strengths of students, the difficulties they face, and the ways in which institutions of higher learning, faculty and academic advisors can build on those strengths to support student success (NACADA, 2017b).

The book exposes how poor students’ brains are literally rewired by poverty, and it explains much about how difficult it is to encourage resilience and set high standards of achievement. No Child Left Behind Act (2005) tells us all students need to reach high standards, but this book shows why it is it is not easy for children from poverty to get there if there is no understanding from those who teach them.

Good for All Educators

 Even though this book was written for American educational systems, it directly applies to educators and stakeholders from all over the world. College faculty, academic advisors, and other educators serving students from poverty backgrounds can benefit by reading this book. The book provides advice and strategies to those in administration, student affairs, teaching, coaching, counseling, and advising positions. The author provides interesting and practical information on developing institutional cultures, which engage students from poverty.

According to Communities in Schools (2015), 88% of U.S. teachers believe poverty is a barrier to effective learning in public schools. This fact translates to college as well. The research Eric Jensen cites in Teaching with Poverty in Mind supports this. He has researched the poverty topic thoroughly and provided a broad-based foundation for his assertions about the nature of learning and the need for a new paradigm for teaching and advising. A wide variety of research-based strategies are suggested to encourage the development of a changed mindset among educators, including academic advisors.

The book explains brain research in an understandable way, especially to those who may not have the level of scholarly training necessary to understand such a deep topic. It makes it understandable and interesting even for people who may not have an interest in understanding how the brain works. In addition, this book may prove to be very valuable for people who manage or serve people from poverty backgrounds, and for non-governmental organizations and churches. It has very effective strategies that will work for anyone in poverty! The key is helping people coming from poverty circles to succeed in life.

College Transition

Many college educators have no idea what to do with college students from poverty and tend to marginalize them. Faculty and academic advisors need to reform themselves, their departments, and their classrooms to address the needs of students in poverty. After reading this book, educators will be better equipped to work with students from poverty. They will be able to see how these students’ brains work and the long-term effects that are linked to poverty. By understanding students from poverty better, they should be able to create appropriate support programs to help the students succeed (NACADA, 2017). The book provides advice and strategies to those dealing with students from poverty irrespective of where they live. It creates compassion and patience towards these students and provides opportunities for educators to improve while creating stronger bonds with students. Each chapter of the book outlines research supporting an overarching concept and provides examples of schools that have succeeded and action steps that can be emulated and implemented within any institution. 

Observations and Conclusion

My observation about the contents of the book is the lack of an in-depth discussion relating to inequality within the schooling systems in the USA. In addition, the author fails to highlight structural and systemic economic and social factors that alienate students from poverty. He seems to place blame on the parents, families, and communities by using such terms as “negative parent attitudes towards school.” (Jensen, P.11) Despite that, this book is a great resource for many educators who interact with students from poverty in any capacity and who may have no idea about how poverty can shape students.

In conclusion, the book gives the faculty, academic advisors, and students from poverty new hope for a more meaningful, engaging, and rigorous educational experience. Understanding why college transition is tough for certain populations of students and the impact of poverty on the developing brain opens the door to important discussions. I recommend this book to be used in professional development programs and other educational training because it calls for educators to be empathetic and compassionate to better serve students (NACADA, 2017).


  1. Communities in schools (2015). America’s Teachers Cite Poverty as Major Education Barrier Retrieved from https://www.communitiesinschools.org/press-room/resource/americas-teachers-cite-poverty-major-education-barrier/
  2. Jensen, E. (2009). Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids' Brains and What Schools Can Do About It. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  3. NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017a). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. Retrieved from https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCompetencies.aspx
  4. NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017b). NACADA core values of academic advising. Retrieved from https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreValues.aspx
  5. U.S. Department of Education, Office of the Secretary, No Child Left Behind: Expanding the Promise, Guide to President Bush’s FY 2006 Education Agenda, Washington, D.C., 2005.
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