How Do Teachers Talk About Economic Inequality? The Complexity of Teaching at a Socioeconomically Integrated Elementary School



This study examined elementary school teachers’ experiences at a socioeconomically integrated school. Specifically we focused on the ways that teachers address privilege and promote friendships among economically diverse students and the challenges they face in doing so. Open-ended interviews were conducted with teachers (N = 25) in prekindergarten through sixth grades. Results indicated that while socioeconomic status (SES) was the most frequently mentioned domain of student difference, teachers were unsure about how to effectively address SES in the classroom. Some teachers reported working (unsuccessfully) to mask SES differences among students, though this became increasingly difficult in the upper elementary grades. Additionally, teachers described challenges associated with having an economically heterogeneous student body including parents’ differential power and involvement at the school and the lack of geographic proximity among students. Findings highlight the need for clear and specific classroom- and school-based strategies to better address SES differences among students in socioeconomically integrated school settings. Implications for teacher practice are discussed.