“The Myth of Treating All Students Equally”


Most of us love the concept of equality.

But I'll come right out and say it: treating all your students equally can be a big mistake.  It creates unnecessary problems.  It undercuts your authority.  And it sells short your ability to act with wisdom and nuance in the best interest of your students.

There, I've said it.  Now let me explain what I mean  . . .

Of course you want to treat your students fairly.  But not always equally.

This has nothing to do with playing favorites, letting kids slide, or an Orwellian notion that "some students are more equal than others."

It has to do with the hard reality that our classrooms are filled with kids of wildly various abilities, desires and motivation.

Let me give you an example to bring this home for you . . .

In my book, I write about a time when I turned around one of my problematic students by letting him take home a classic car magazine so that he could use it to complete a writing assignment.  All the other students were assigned a standard writing assignment (one that was much less interesting and flexible).

Of course you might ask: "Hey, isn't that unfair to the rest of the students?"

Good question.  Here is my response:

If you have a kid in your class who is on the verge of failing and doing everything in his power to disrupt your classroom, you can't get around the fact that you need to do things a bit differently.  That's just the way it is.  You can't treat everyone exactly the same.  You must be creative if you want each of your students to succeed.

And that also means being firm about what you have to do.  Your other students will respect that. 

It's all how you handle it.  If I had tried to explain it away to other students with a half-hearted or apologetic tone, then I would have opened the door to more problems.  But when you're confident and firm, you immediately gain respect.

When I tried this strategy with the car magazine, no one in the class said anything about this plan except one eighth-grader named Jeffrey.  "That's not fair," he grumbled to me.  And I told him, "Jeffrey, I'll tell you what — when you get your teaching credential, we'll discuss doing it your way.  For now, you need to focus on your job and let me take care of Michael.  That's the deal."

Here's something else I could have told Jeffrey (or a parent, my principal or anyone else):

"Yes, Michael was allowed to do the assignment a bit differently.  But guess what?  It worked."

Here's what happened in this particular case: The first day I handed Michael the magazine to read and the rest of my kids did the regular assignment.  But the second day, when I gave my kids a worksheet based on the Battle of Gettysburg, I handed Michael the top half of the Gettysburg worksheet.  I told him that if he finished the top half of the worksheet without rushing through it, that he could take home the classic car magazine again.

On Day 3, he finished the entire regular class assignment for the reward of taking home the car magazine.  So within three days I had him completely on-task, doing all the class work and he continued to improve and stay on-task throughout the year.

Unfair?  Not to Michael and his future it wasn't.  And isn't that what matters most?

Let me tell you, when you get creative and make adjustments so that your students "on the edge" can meet requirements, the payoff can be huge.

I've seen this time and again, even from the "toughest of the toughest" kids. You know, the ones with the "I don't care" attitude, the police blotter at age 15, and the invisible parents.

And guess what?  I have seen dozens of those kids, my kids, cross that graduation stage for a diploma when they were headed for jail or worse. And what do you know, on graduation day, here come the invisible parents, too, with 15 other relatives.  The tough kid is smiling from ear to ear, the school staff is high-fiving each other like crazy, and photos are snapped from every angle.
 
Everyone is smiling, laughing and crying. I never forget those days, and that is why I do what I do.

 


 

  For a whole host of "outside-the-box" ideas on how to get that one struggling student up to speed, take a look at my special training package for teachers.  It gives you a complete toolkit of strategies that eliminate disruptions, boost motivation and reduce your stress so that you go home each day feeling refreshed and energized instead of exhausted and defeated.

Click here to see this resource right now