Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall!

Who’s the fairest of them all?

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In the famous Brothers Grimm tale, the queen uses a magic mirror to affirm her as the most beautiful (“fairest”) in the land.   Ask students in our classes today who is the “fairest” of their teachers, and they are not considering outward appearance.  Students today see fairness in light of its modern definition:  “free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice.”

No, life’s not always fair.  But teachers should be.   No, students don’t always understand what fairness looks like (or doesn’t look like).  But, nothing builds walls between teachers and students like resentment, especially resentment fostered out of a sense of injustice.

We teachers don’t have a magic mirror, but we can see our reflections in the faces of our students.  Are we willing to step up to the proverbial mirror and ask, “Am I the fairest of them all?”  If so, here are some questions we can ask ourselves:

1.  Am I the problem?  
Before we’re too quick to fault the student for a missed assignment, poor behavior, or lack-luster performance, we need to ask ourselves if we’ve done everything we can to position our students for success.  Consider thinking about these things:
*Have I given clear written/oral instructions?
*Have I explained my expectations clearly?
*Have I given students all the materials and information they need?
*Am I allowing students to talk when am I talking (so they miss instructions)?
*Have I created a seating arrangement that minimizes interpersonal distractions?
*Do I move toward my students or expect them to move toward me?
*Am I projecting my emotional state onto my students?
*Am I working as hard as I expect my students to work?

2.  Am I consistent?
Nothing undermines fairness more than inconsistency – in mood, expectations, responses.   Are my actions dictated by my mood?  Do I enforce dress code some days but not others?  Do I give the students the benefit of the doubt or always expect the worst?  Do I treat children of co-workers the same as I treat everyone else?   Do the rules apply to everyone all the time?  Do the rules apply to me?
3.  Do I grade justly?
Do I assess the material and skills being taught or do I enjoy trying to “trick” students on tests?  Do I grade with an understanding of the age and executive functioning capabilities of the students?  Am I willing to admit mistakes?  Do I use a rubric so students know how to improve?  Do I use a variety of assessment types or expect everyone to demonstrate mastery the way it’s easiest for me to grade?
4.  Do I respect my students?
Perhaps the biggest injustice students can face is to be expected to respect a teacher who does not respect them.  Do I recognize my students as being made in the image of God and, as such, deserving of my utmost respect.  Do I approach my students with as much respect for them as I expect them to have for me?  Does my tone of voice and demeanor convey dignity or does it belittle?

How else can we, as Christian educators, be the fairest of them all?  

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Marty Reed teaches at Veritas School, a classical Christian school in Richmond, Virginia. Her twenty years of teaching, coupled with her duties as pastor's wife and mother of two, provide her with excellent insights to share with FOCUS readers.