Category Archives: 1.1 Social Justice

Why we shouldn’t treat our students equally.

Although we tend to use the words interchangeably, fair and equal are not the same.

Image result for fair vs equal

Take this as an example: Three children of varying heights are trying to reach for the sweets that are on the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard. Treating them equally would mean giving all three children a box to stand on; but the smallest child still can’t reach, whilst the tallest child may be able to reach the shelf without the need for a box. Treating them fairly, then, would mean giving two boxes to the shortest, one to the middle and none to the tallest.

How does this relate to teaching? Well, let’s take a look at a more classroom-like scenario…

You have a classroom of twenty pupils, three of whom have misbehaved enormously over the course of the week and consequently have been told they are getting 10 minutes less ‘Golden Time’ on Friday afternoon. The remaining seventeen, will get the full amount.  Although the kids who have been punished may claim this is ‘unfair’ or ‘unjust’, it is the complete antipodal.

If we were to tackle this situation with an ‘equal’ approach, all children would get the same amount of Golden Time, regardless of their behavior OR all children would lose 10 minutes of their Golden Time due to the actions of the minority. You and I both know that neither of the above options are fair.

It’s important to remember that fair doesn’t mean giving everyone the same, fair means giving students what they need in order to succeed; this could be time, resources or words of encouragement. If you go to a doctor and the patient before you had a cough, and then you went in with a sore head; he wouldn’t provide you both with cough medicine? So why as a teacher would you provide copious amounts of resources for all of your pupils but spend little or no time explaining it? Whilst some children would be happy to sit and independently work through worksheet after worksheet, this just isn’t possible, and simply would not work for every student, just like cough medicine wouldn’t work for every patient.

As teachers, it can often be easy to think you’re doing good by treating your classroom of young people equally; giving each pupil exactly the same work, providing them with exactly the same resources and explaining things in exactly the same way to everyone. Many may believe that by doing this you are treating your class fairly, which isn’t the case, and whilst equality promotes fairness and justice by giving everyone the same thing, it only works if everyone starts off from the same place; which definitely won’t be the case in your classroom.

Treating the young people in your class fairly requires you to look at each and every one of them as an individual with unique needs and circumstances which are personal to them. This will aid you in determining how much time and help they each need in order to flourish, and help you set specific rules to suit them.  It’s important to let everyone in your class know that what works for a classmate, may not work for them.

It may seem time consuming and challenging to treat every pupil fairly. And truthfully, in the short run, it is. Be that as it may, in the long run it is much, much more effective and surprisingly easier.

Structural Inequalities : A Reflection

Last week, I took part my first Values seminar which was extremely eye opening. The seminar was based on Structural Inequalities, and the problems that come with and surround this issue.

The task we were given was to design and later make a product which could be used by a first year student in order to help them settle into University. To do this, we were split into four groups of equal size and were given an envelope of resources to use. There were five of us in the group and we had numerous resources to choose from therefore it was easy for us to get straight to work. Lots ideas were passed back and forward, using a variety of resources which were made available to us. Meanwhile, a few of the other groups, unbeknownst to us, were really struggling with the two pieces of paper, a paperclip and pencil that they were given. Throughout the creation of our product, we were constantly given positive feedback about our product and so when it came to presenting the product to the other three groups, we felt very confident and were pleased with our creation. During our presentation, Paul engaged with us; asking questions, smiling and nodding.  After giving our presentation, Paul gave us even more positive feedback. As the rest of the groups presented their ideas, the feedback got increasingly more negative. It was then brought to our attention that the other groups didn’t have nearly as many resources as we did. Not only did they have much less to work with, but the feedback they were getting was far from positive- this gave them a negative mindset and most likely caused a product of lesser quality to be produced.  It was at this point that we began to realise that Paul was acting, and we started to understand what this seminar was all about.

Due to the fact our group had all the resources we needed (and more!) we were extremely engaged with the task and we failed to notice that the other groups were struggling with the task. The groups that had this disadvantage had to work much harder to try to produce a quality product. This made me think about things from a teachers perspective. It made me think about the correlation between young people who are at a disadvantage for whatever reason, whether it be lack of support at home, insufficient funds to purchase essential resources e.g. pencils, pens, rulers, or not being fed proper meals at home which can lead to loss of concentration in class, and the quality of work produced. Sadly, the things I have just mentioned above are factors which will affect the pupils’ learning. Completing this task really put things into perspective and allowed me to have a better understanding of how quality of life correlates to quality of learning. I also realised that it is important to treat every young person in a way which best suits their needs; some children may need lots of support, others may work better more independently.

The most important things I took from this seminar were to always present a positive image towards your class. This can have such an impact on the learning of young people. A shown in this task, if your teacher is constantly giving negative feedback or no feedback at all, it is likely the children will lose motivation and stop engaging with the task. And that not everyone will have the same opportunities in life; some families have next to nothing to live off of, others have too much.  It is important that within our profession we treat everyone equally despite their circumstances. The way we treat them will make or break their school days.