It's a reality that teachers are seeing all over the United States: When a child calls a pop-up camper or station wagon home, academic goals end up taking the backseat.

The number of students whose families are in economic crisis is growing, according to a recent survey released by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. According to Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession, veteran teachers report that they have more students who are homeless than they did five years ago.

Over a third of teachers in low-income communities—those with a median household income of less than $40,000 per year— report seeing an increase in the number of homeless students in their schools. In communities with a median household income of $40,000 to $69,000, 40 percent of teachers reported the same. Even high-income areas are not immune, with more than a quarter of teachers surveyed reporting higher numbers of homeless students.

The pressure is on for schools and teachers to serve this population. And that requires phenomenal effort from the entire school community. One national board-certified teacher in Oklahoma explained, “Our school has a huge closet with clothes, coats, socks, and shoes, and a washer and dryer. School supplies are available. Our principal, PTO, and staff are very aware of the needs of our families and we all work together to support the kids.”

The 10,000 teachers surveyed by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also reported a 56 percent increase in the number of children coming to school hungry. This was true for both lower- and middle-income communities. “In my school we are feeding the children, clothing the children, and keeping many of them from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” said one elementary teacher.

A child who is hungry or doesn’t know where he will sleep each night is unlikely to be prepared to learn each morning. Homework routines are difficult to keep. Behavior is affected. “The factors that most influence student achievement are outside the classroom: hunger, poverty, homelessness,” one elementary school teacher said. 

Teachers feel stretched to the limit; 61 percent of teachers who are educating students living in poverty reported that they need more tangible resources in order to address their needs. And almost half say they need more training to be able to help these children learn to the best of their abilities.

Now in its fourth year, Primary Sources surveyed 10,000 educators from all 50 states to learn first-hand how teachers perceive their classrooms, their profession, and the future of education.

To download the full Primary Sources report, or take the survey, visit the Primary Sources website.

Teachers: What tips do you have for teaching children in crisis in the classroom?  Join the discussion at at Scholastic Teachers on Facebook!