16 November 2011

Article: NEA on Being Fair

Today, I read what I thought was a pretty good article from the National Education Association (NEA) called, "Are You Being Fair?" I work with kids every day and at the end of each day (usually on the way home from work), I run through my day mentally, going over my interactions with the students and trying to figure out how I can do things better and more effectively. The question, "Was I being fair?" runs through my mind a lot. I do think that being "fair" is an ideal that's basically unachievable but I still try my best to be impartial.

"Life's not fair," is a phrase that I heard time and again growing up and it's a phrase I often repeat to myself as a reminder to not get stuck in self-pity and etc. Believe me, I get it, but then, why do I still strive to be fair to my kids? No matter what age group I taught, I'd still try for impartiality, but as it is, I mentor elementary school children (K-5). I think it's really important to treat elementary school kids as fairly as you possibly can. I work with a group of about 35 kids. I see them every school day for four hours. Once a week I spend five hours with them. You can look at this situation and think, "That's not that much time," but the time adds up and it has a huge impact on the kids. I'm all about creating a safe environment for them so that they feel free to achieve academically, to make positive, personal growth, and to simply be kids.

The NEA article mostly addresses the dangers of favoritism but I think there are dangers in going too far one way or the other. I'm sure the NEA gets that as well, but this time around, they focused on high achievers getting too much attention. On a personal level, I'm not really concerned about whether or not I'm favoring one student over another. When I was in school, it would have been really easy for me to be the "Teacher's Pet," but I was fortunate enough to have teachers who also strove to be fair. I was definitely seen as a nerd and as being too serious in nature but having the additional label of "Teacher's Pet" would have unquestionably left me socially outcast; I'm glad I didn't have to deal with that in elementary school. My personal experience makes me very wary of having "favorites." During my self reflection, I usually wonder if I'm being impartial to the point that I'm just no "fun."

Am I losing the positive attitude I try to bring to the program every day? Am I smiling enough? Do the kids think that I'm "too serious?" That last question is a real kicker for me since I've been plagued with the comment, "You're too serious," for most of my life...

Overall though, I have to say that I think I'm doing pretty well. Of course, I firmly believe there's room for improvement but I actually do believe that I treat my kids pretty fairly. What am I using as my measuring stick? My kids. Let me give you some examples:

1. Regardless of whether they're high achievers or low achievers, when my kids have problems that need to be resolved with an adult's help (e.g. "I'm going to tell on you!" or "You started it!"), do you know who they more often than not run to? Me. Yep. Their determination in seeking me out as their arbitrator often means that they zigzag through toys, backpacks, furniture, other children, and sometimes three or four other adults just to get to me. It's exasperating at times but it's also flattering. Why the heck are the kids running to me? I listen. I know, I know, listening--actually listening--is a skill that most people need to work on anyway, but kids, man, kids know when you're not attentively listening to them. So I listen to what my kids are telling me and I make sure that all parties (that is, students) involved get a chance to tell their side of the story (completely interrupted).

2. In my program, we all go by our first name. The kids understand that the people running the program are adults but allowing them to call us by our first name creates a more casual atmosphere where we can be mentors instead of being their teachers or their parents. I seriously never asked my kids to (and they certainly don't do it all the time) but I have kids who pretty consistently call me, "Ms. Angela," instead of just, "Angela." Again, this is not something they do with any of the other adults in the program. In fact, there are some adult volunteers who insist that the students attach "Ms." when addressing them but the kids aren't having any of it. So at the end of the day, I've apparently done something to merit the title, "Ms."

3. Although I think I still need to do some work in this department (with making sure the kids truly understand what I'm saying), whenever I praise or scold a child, I make sure to explain my reasoning. I strive not to simply say, "Good job!" or "Don't do that!" Instead, I'll say things like, "Good job on finishing that worksheet. I knew you could do it!" or "Please don't run in the classroom. Remember last week when you were running, tripped on the chair, hit your head, and ended up crying for ten minutes straight?" (Okay, so I'm exaggerating a bit...but I think you get the point.)

But enough about me, I've veered offtrack somewhat. My main point is that the NEA's article (in case you don't feel like scrolling back up) is quite good. It can provide some food for thought, some good review, or some new resources for those individuals seeking to improve upon their impartiality.

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