Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Education Should Be Fair

Hello. Sorry I missed yesterday, but I was not in school yesterday. I had a day that I am only willing to 'replay' on my Out of Control Life blog!!! Yes, it was that bad. Maybe by tonight I will be far enough from the trauma that I will be able to document it. :)

Back to education.

One thing that I truly believe and always will is that education needs to be 'fair.' I know that there have been times in my own career when a lesson that I have created has been unfair to one student or another.

Sometimes I am too focused on lecturing, at the expense of my creative types.
Sometimes I am too focused on creative writing, at the expense of my technical learners.
Sometimes I am too focused on my special education students, at the expense of my high achievers.

I could continue this list, but that is not the point.

What is most important about my growth as an educator is that I recognize these 'truths' and work constantly and consistently to change my preparation and teach in a way that is fair to all.

Fair is when everyone gets the instruction they need to succeed - not when everyone gets the same instruction.

My critics will inevitably be thinking or saying that it is impossible to individualize instruction for each and every student who comes through the classroom door. I agree. It is easier for me than it is for many of my colleagues across the state and nation because my largest class is twenty-one, and my smallest is twelve. I also have the advantage of teaching the same students from the time they are in junior high until graduation.

I am only at a disadvantage in the number of levels I must prepare for each day. During a normal school year, I prepare for grades 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 daily. That is a lot of preparation, especially when small schools are notoriously understaffed in special education areas.

None of this matters. O.K., I will clarify. It does, and it does not. These factors matter in the day to day challenges each and every teacher faces. The factors do not matter when the education of students is concerned. Each of them deserves what they need to be successful. Period.

Do I have all the answers? No way. Do I have some suggestions? Yes. I cannot pretend to know what will make each and every individual teacher a success. I do know what has worked to help me improve, and I want to share.

1. Know the standards and benchmarks. Having a healthy working knowledge of the standards and benchmarks of the curriculum you teach, along with the ones above and below your grade level/levels allows for a consistent scope and sequence of curriculum. I am not saying 'memorize' them word for word. Just be able to attach one or more standards to each lesson you teach. It will keep you grounded.

2. Be open minded to new brain research and actively seek out the new discoveries. Try not to get stuck in the belief that, "If it was good 20 years ago, it is still good now." This may be true, but think of it this way. Would you want the doctor operating on your two year old child who has tragically been diagnosed with a brain tumor to use the technology and resources that were available 20 years ago, or those on the cutting edge today?

3. Try to make a connection that establishes trust and respect with each student that you teach. This is not always easy, believe me! I have learned that common kindness and courtesy go a long way. Students notice when you take the time to say "hello" every time you see them, or reexplain an assignment without any condescension or sarcasm. Study their faces. A face can show understanding, confusion, sickness, worry, fear, or satisfaction. Taking the time to understand how they are feeling on a particular day may make or break the quality and quantity of the work they will do for you. (I do know they should be doing the work for personal benefit, not 'for me,' but many of them do not see it that way.)

4. Take classes whether you need the credit or not. I began writing lesson plans that focus on different kinds of learning and personality styles only after I took 4MAT training. I love 4MAT and recommend it, but there are many different, wonderful planning strategies that can clarify and improve your teaching. Find a class that peeks your interest and take what works for you from it.

5. Work closely with the special education specialists in your school. They know where to find the information you need about your special education students. They can give you strategies to help them that are easy to implement into your daily routine. Many of the accommodations for students with special needs are useful to regular education students.

6. Use authentic assessments.

7. Find assignments that are valid for assessing students of differing levels.

I feel like I am getting long-winded. No, I KNOW I am being long-winded. It is one of my weaknesses. I have other suggestions; I have been trying to improve my teaching for at least 13 years. I have been teaching 14, but I am pretty sure the first year I just tried to survive! :) I will continue and elaborate later. For now, I am off to enjoy my family for the evening.


  1. Great post! I agree with everything up there. Teachers have to find ways to connect with students and keep up with the advances in education: learning styles, technology, assessments...
    I've quoted him before, but a recently retired colleague of mine said, "We have to teach the students we have, not the ones we wish we had."
    Thanks for stopping by my blog, by the way. I'll be back!

  2. Great Post. Please visit our website for college consulting , Freshman and Transfer College Admissions Consulting | San Francisco Bay Area