On the first day of class, I ask my students what are the most important qualities they like in teachers. Most of my student mentioned fairness. And as the school year comes to an end, I would hear from them “It is so unfair! Why did my teacher allow her to submit her project even though it is late” or “Juan is so lucky that even if he is late in coming to school, the teacher does not get mad at him.”
As teachers, we strive to be fair and build programs and policies based on the value “Fairness”. But what is fair? Are we consistently fair in dealing with the everyday classroom management issues? Some of us teachers would define it as treating every student the same. I would ask again, are students the same?
I would disagree with that definition of fair as “treating every student equal or the same.” why? It is simply because if you do that, it would be the most unfair way of treating students. Students are not the same. Every student in the classroom is unique. They have different motivations for their choices, different needs, different causes for misbehavior and different goals. I think this is just right because wouldn’t the school, the community, the country or even the world be very boring if we were all the same?
Is being fair and equal the same? There is actually a misunderstanding between fair and equal. An example of these would be, no one would go to a doctor who gives the same medicine to patients with headache since the cause for one may be allergies and the other migraine in the other. Giving identical treatment for two students who do not do homework for different reasons — one has to help the family business after school, the other plays computer games — is no different than that doctor with the single cure for all headaches.
In classroom management, does treating students fairly take more time? Not closely as much as unsuccessful solutions to behavior problems that continue to eat classroom time in ten-to-twenty minute chunks over the course of a year. As secondary teachers, can we say that we are being fair and equal with our student every time we allow them not to follow our instructions? Say for instance, the submission of a school project that was supposedly submitted on that day and yet we still allow them to submit anytime they want? How then can we implement fairness in classroom management?
Here is how to put the concept “fairness” into practice.
Have the same rules for everyone. Exceptions may be made for uncommon situations, but positive social relations is pretty much the same for everyone.
There should be flexible penalties or consequences. When a rule is violated, the teacher can choose from a large set of possible consequences. These consequences work best when it was discussed with the students, parents, and administrators during the first day of class. Choose the one you think that will work best or the one you think will be effective based on how you know your student. Usually, it is very effective if we will allow our student to choose from the list of consequences along with a promise to improve.
Teaching the concept of fair vs. equal to before its enactment. Integrate the concept of fair vs. equal in our lessons through homework, class discussion or in-class activity. Let the students give their own examples from the home, school or society where it is very fair and good to treat people differently. In return, you, as a teacher, would also give an example of how you can be fair but not equal.
Following the basic doctrines of great discipline. Whenever you speak with the student who violated the rule, do it privately unless it is impossible to do so.
Be willing to discuss your strategy with students. When a student whines that “it’s not fair” if their consequence is different from another student, remind them that fair is not equal. Talking about others’ life is gossip and you won’t do it. Ask them what would be fair, when they answer follow with words like, “If your idea works, that will be great, but if it doesn’t, then we’ll do it my way.” This will give students the responsibility to change as they try to understand what is at stake.
Be willing to discuss your strategy with parents. There are parents who always complain about unfairness, discrimination or that you dislike their child. Try a conversation that includes the following arguments: “I’m really glad you are here. It’s great to work with caring parents who have the same goal as mine, and that is your child’s improvement;” “I’d like to hear your ideas about this situation. You know your child better than I do, so tell me what works at home” (this is a great equalizer question); “I can see why you might be concerned, but together we can make things better for your child;” “I’m willing to change my decision to one you think will work better, but if it fails, then let’s give my original idea a try.” And the best way to conclude the discussion: “I really care about Juan, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help him improve his behavior. But there is one thing I will never do, no matter what. I will never treat him like everyone else. Your child deserves a lot better than that.”
Fairness would mean being fair to all as “yes is yes” and “no is no”. Teachers, being the driving force in the classroom, at first experience difficulty in being fair since it requires more hard work in the beginning but in the long run, it saves time and is more effective. As for treating everyone the same or equal, everyone deserves a lot better than that.
BY VIVIAN E. EDDIO-BUTZ