Treating Students “Fairly” is UnFair

Student:  I have a B in your class, I just need a little more time to get it up to an A
Teacher:  If I gave you more time it wouldn’t be fair to the other students in the class.  Rules are rules and I can’t change the due date for you because its not fair to everyone else.

I have been wrestling, rustling, brewing, and stewing over this conversation since yesterday morning.  We hear things like this a lot at our online high school and it’s time for that to change.  Students shouldn’t be treated “fairly” because that is inherently unfair.  They are not all the same.  We need to replace the mindset of ‘fairly’ with the mindset of ‘individually’.  

Every student comes to us with different background experiences, a different skill set, different goals for the course, different life circumstances that are dictating their actions at this moment, different futures, and different needs.  To bunch them all together under one realm is unfair. To say “rules” apply equally even though you are different is unfair.  Students need to be dealt with on an individualized basis, this goes for instruction, assessment, and course platitudes.

Schools are no longer about creating workers to run our industries.  They are about creating learners and thinkers.  They are about relevance, and what is relevant to one student is not relevant to all students. They should be exploiting creativity, not demanding cookie-cutter-one-size-fits-all products. 

Every road block we put in their way limits this ability.  Everytime we fail to look at the student as a whole, complex being, rather than as another name on the roll count is a disservice to education and humanity. 


2 thoughts on “Treating Students “Fairly” is UnFair

  1. Cory-
    I read this entry nearly two months ago when you posted it, but apparently I never commented on it! This was the post that caught my attention and was the catalyst that sparked my paradigm shift.

    During my first year of teaching I thought I had to treat all students the same no matter what. When I started teaching at an alternative high school 3 years ago I found myself in an environment where it was the rule to not treat all students the same. The principal stressed the need to take each students’ circumstances into consideration. Each year since then I have moved further and further away from my original “treat ’em all the same” philosophy.

    I still have due dates because the majority of the assignments for my classes are interdependent. Discussion forums and collaborative projects require that all students keep approximately the same pace. However, for the first time ever, I will allow students to redo assignments if they want to earn a better grade. They will even be allowed to make changes to their assessment projects if they wish.

    I am trying to create a fair, student-centered classroom that encourages interaction, collaboration, and creativity. It is not perfect, but it does allow for flexibility and individualized learning. It allows me to hold my students to a very high standard and it forces them to take responsibility for their grades.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. The due dates thing really is debatable, I see more positives of having due dates if could just figure out a way to get students to turn in their assignments on time. And, when they cant, not to penalize them for turning in late.
    At-risk kids who cant get on track dont need anymore roadblocks, however, having no due dates really has not helped our failure rates go down.

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