Friday, January 21, 2011

Fair Isn't Always Equal

That's one of my core teaching philosophies. (I bet you are all super stoked about this post right now, hey? What an exciting title and introduction!)

As a little girl, of course, I thought much differently. And sometimes in regular life I forget that that's what I believe. Like when I think I should get exactly what everyone else around me gets, and I should only have to work as hard as everyone around me is working, and... You get the picture.

In school, when you're the gal in charge of a group of kids, it becomes clear very quickly that you can't treat all the children in your class equally. It wouldn't be fair. Because the fact is kids aren't the same. Oh, we like to tell them they are. We like to say things like "You can be whatever you want," and "We're all the same inside," but we're can't, and we're not.

It's a sad but true fact of life that some kids are smarter. Some are more talented, charming, popular, and hard working. Some are just more suited to the traditional classroom that most of us grew up in. Some have better attention spans. Some have no disabilities to slow them down. Some don't seem to have to even try to succeed, they just do somehow. And some have better home lives. (That's a big one.)

So some kids need more time. They need more attention. Sometimes they need a teacher to be creative and teach them and evaluate them in entirely different ways. Sometimes they need their teacher to be more strict, and sometimes they need a teacher to just cut them some slack.

It's the only way to be fair.

Which sounds good. Doesn't it? That we can give all children a fair chance by treating them not equally, but fairly? Yes, that's what I believe. Most of the time. Most of the time I really believe that the right teacher really can make a difference one child at at time.

My very first time out student teaching I discovered the one thing that can screw up my nicely worked out teaching philosophy. Here's what happened... (Story time! Everyone find a seat, criss cross apple sauce, and hands in your bucket.)

I was working three afternoons a week at one of the inner city schools in Saskatoon, and for some reason I needed to speak with the principal. When I went to his office I found him working behind his desk, and off to the side, tucked under a blanket on a couch was a little grade three student. Sleeping. We stepped outside to talk about whatever I needed to talk to him about, and he explained why she was napping in his office.

Apparently, whenever she was having a rough day at school, that's where she would be found. And she had a lot of rough days. Which made sense when he explained that her parents often didn't bother sending her to bed till well after midnight. And when she got to bed she was sleeping in a room with a broken out window. In a basement suite apartment. In inner-city Saskatoon. In the winter. In January. In Saskatchewan. They had put plastic or cardboard over the window, but she often came to school exhausted after spending the night freezing cold and fully dressed, shivering in her bed, and scared that someone would come in the window.

And that's when it hit me. The one thing that could mess up my nicely worked out philosophy: Life isn't fair. Sometimes it's just not. In fact, more often than not... It's not. Because no matter what the school did, that little girl was not going to get an equal or fair shot at an education. They were doing the best they could, they'd called in the social workers, they were trying to work with the family, and I'm sure that the window situation would have been remedied by someone ASAP... But even then... She was on a hard road, much harder than a lot of her classmates, and it likely wasn't leading anyplace good.

And there are lots of stories like hers, and worse.
Some of them much worse.

I was very blessed to grow up thinking differently, but the older I get the more I see that this world is not always a happy place. It's not even a fair place. No matter how badly we'd like to see everyone get an equal chance, or at least fair treatment, sometimes all we can do is damage control. Sometimes life sucks, and it's not fair, and no one can fix it, and no matter what we do or say we can't make it right, or even just fair and equal.

(That's my first point. I'll get to the second one tomorrow. :)


  1. This was a really good post, Becky. Thank you for writing it.