The Issue of Being Fair

As I go along in my happy little world of teaching, the same issue comes up day after day, year after year. How do I treat all my students fairly? Like most teachers, I have a very diverse class. Also, like most teachers, I feel that it is my job and my duty to see that each student is valued and successful while they are in my room. Sometimes I feel like I do a good job with this. Other times I lie awake at night because I fear that I have been "unfair" to a particular student or group of students.

Growing up we are taught that fairness means treating everyone the same way and giving everyone the same thing. I have vivid memories of friends coming over to spend the night and literally counting out pieces of popcorn with them to make sure that we both received the same amount in the name of being "fair". As a teenager I remember getting into heated arguments with my parents about how "unfair" it was that all my friends could stay out until after midnight while I had to be home by 11:30. Were my parents being horribly unfair? At the time I thought so. Do I still think so? Of course not. I realize they had my best interests in mind and that they realized I was not ready for such responsibility. This brings me to what I consider to be a better definition for fairness.

Rick Lavoie says that fairness means giving each person what he/she needs. If you have never heard Rick Lavoie or read any of his articles or books, I highly encourage you to. I remember sitting in a special education class in grad school where we watched a video of his. He claims that students will understand this definition of fairness as long as it is explained well in terms that they can grasp. Once you read his ideas, and you think about this new definition of fairness, it sounds easy. Just give everyone what they need, right?

In the classroom, I frequently struggle with how to make accommodations for both my struggling students and my gifted students. By "teaching to the middle" I am leaving out both groups. This is not to say that I don't make modifications to assignments for those that need it. I'm saying that I'm constantly worrying that I'm not making enough accommodations, while also worrying that the "middle of the road" students will see these accommodations as unfair.

I have tried to bring all of my students together this year through the use of technology. I think if used strategically, technology can help bring students together on different tasks and activities. However, when making all these grand plans this summer, I did not take into account that certain families would not want their children involved in these activities. I have tried to push along with student blogging and posting student pictures to our website, but I am deeply worried that I am being unfair to those students who can't participate.

Is anyone else struggling with being fair in the classroom?


  1. Linda, I just found this blog site. You are a very talented writer. And I certainly empathize with your struggles of being "fair" and meeting the wide range of needs of my students. I feel like I spend so much time accommodating for my struggling students that I really do a disservice to my higher-achieving students. Is being told that we are responsible for meeting the needs of 19 individual students "fair" to us teachers??? I'm not sure that we knew the extent of that responsibility when we pursued this career...

  2. DeeDee,

    I am glad someone else feels my pain! I started this blog to give a sort of "insider's view" of how hard it is trying to be a good teacher. I totally agree that it is nearly impossible to give the high-achieving students the same amount of attention as the struggling students. They often get stuck doing "enrichment activities" which equals independent time on the computer or extra assignments. I have had a student intern from UAB observing in my classroom the past few weeks, and I have to say that it would be awesome to have an extra set of hands all the time! I don't think one person can do all that we're asked to do.

    Thanks for leaving a comment. I'm looking forward to seeing you guys in a few weeks!