Equal Learning for All….or not.

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I had an interesting conversation with a friend a few days ago. She is a teacher,as well, but at a different school. We were talking about our workloads, and I was saying that there never seems to be a break. I mark for hours upon hours at home, and my prep time is always filled at school. I marvel at those who blog and tweet so often, and I wonder where they find the time.

She said it seems that when teachers prove themselves worthy, they seem to get more work put upon them, simply because it is known that they are capable. When administrators need something done or taken care of, they are more likely to head to the stronger teachers, as they are trusted to complete the task well. Yet isn’t it those same teachers who are already working beyond the limits, striving to create the best possible learning environment each and every day? Isn’t it those teachers who need a break?

I began thinking about this, and wondering if we do that to our students, as well. I teach to a high level. I feel that all students are capable, and that they should all be encouraged to reach their maximum potential. Some students may not end up with the same level of absorption as others, but they are all able to enter the process and take out what works for them. I expect all of my students to challenge themselves in some way, but that way does not need to be the same for all students. I do not think that I give extra tasks to particular students, or that I demand less from others. As I write this, though, I can’t help but wonder if my students would feel the same.

Do all students need to be treated equally? No, not in my opinion. But all students need to be treated fairly, and in a way that best supports their individual learning (differentiated instruction, at its best). Equal cannot exist in a world where some can learn math content in 10 minutes and others are still working it through a week later. Equal cannot exist when some can express their thoughts clearly and coherently in written form, while others best share their learning through conversation.  And equal cannot exist when the subject some students excel in is different from that which I teach them.   

Equal does not exist in the classroom, but fairness does. And I tell them that fairness is not necessarily what they think. It is not that each person gets and does the exact same thing as the other. Fairness is about giving each student exactly what they need in order to learn and thrive– no more and no less. And fairness also means that students give back exactly what they are capable of – no more and certainly no less.

Have a wonderful week.

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