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Fair not Equal

Since it is the beginning of the school year time, I thought I’d post about a topic I discuss at the beginning of the year with my students and their parents.

So often you hear people say it’s not fair. And when they say that they are expecting people to be treated equally. But, is that what we really need in life?  Here is how I explain it to the parents and students each year.

When I explain it to the parents I begin by talking about the fact that we do not expect every child to begin crawling when they are six months 1 day or walk at the age of 1 year 2 weeks. Children hit their mile stones at different times. If your child entered my kindergarten class and can read already, I’m going to focus on teaching that child their ABC’s. We are going to work on mastering writing and reading sight words and more complex sound combinations. We are going to work on reading to comprehend not just read to read. On the flip side if your child enters and hasn’t mastered their letters and sounds I’m not going to expect them to read me a book.

The same is said for behavior. I have a set of rules that every child must adhere to, the children actually write the rules and sign it as a contract. But, are there some kids who need different levels of reminders? Are there some children who I just have to give “the look” and they stop and others who need to have verbal reminders. Just because I deal with each child as an individual doesn’t mean that Johnny gets away with things that Bobby gets in trouble for, it may look like that, but trust me it’s not.

When I talk about this with children I typically start by having each child point to one part of their body where they have/have had a cut. I then go and put a small band aid on the back of every child’s hand and told them I fixed everyone cuts. Someone without fail will tell you that you put it in the wrong spot. Nope, I was “fair” I treated you all the same. You said you wanted to be treated equally… I did.  But, as you can see in this case equal wasn’t fair. You didn’t each get what you needed.

This is the way we work with our sons too. They are not the same child. They do not have the same needs. They do not deal with the same type of discipline. They understand that they have the same rules, but how we deal with consequences are different. Blake is very black and white. He does not see gray. When I deal with Blake I have to deal with him in these terms. Yes is yes and no is no. There is no fuzzy in Blake’s mind. On the flip side, Colby only sees gray. He doesn’t deal well with extremes. Colby is my outside the box thinker, he is also emotional. You can get him with a look. He is the one to try it one more time, but it will look just different enough to not be the same action.

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So what does fair mean? Fair means each person gets what they need to be successful. Sometimes kids need a bit more structure, a bit more explanation, a bit more understanding, a harder lesson, different resources… as a teacher it’s my job to figure out what each child needs. The goal of school is for the children to learn… how we get there should not be exactly the same for each child, or some will never go anywhere!

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