Is It Fair, And Does It Need To Be?

I remember many years ago when I taught at Ancaster Meadow School. It was there when I first started to really focus on my winter parking woes. Being the first one at school in the morning, I set the tone for the parking lot. Due to a limited number of spaces in the lot, we all had assigned spaces. For the life of me, I could not make it into parking space #4 (yes, I still remember my number 🙂 ) no matter how hard I tried. I would use visual cues on the fence to help, but apparently I was always off on my cues, and I still ended up outside of the lines. There was often either an announcement asking me to move my car, or a personal visit from the secretary asking for re-parking.

I tried to fix the problem … I really did! My time at Ancaster Meadow started when we had a Memos To All Staff email option, and I decided to start a conversation around a winter parking system. If I parked right next to the cement structure (in my principal’s spot), I would have the perfect visual required to make it into a spot. I might be too far up or too far back, but I would be in. As much as I wanted this change, many people did not. Nobody could quite start an email debate like me. 🙂 People are really devoted to their parking spots, and suggesting a change was not easy.

One year, I managed to convince people to try a winter parking system — if you can’t see the lines, then park in the first spot of your assigned row, and fill in the spaces accordingly. This worked until someone decided that they NEEDED to park in their usual spot, and then the spaces were somehow still off. Maybe as much as I required a change in parking location others required the consistency/routine that comes from having the same spot. Now what?

This is when my principal at the time, Paul Clemens, offered up some support. He said, “If everyone else doesn’t want to change, why don’t you and I just switch spots?” It was like my own personal Parking IEP. It also got me to look more closely at the idea that for things to be fair, they don’t always need to be equal. Others could find their parking spots with the help of a visual cue — be it another car or a marking on the wall — but I couldn’t. My principal understood this, so he gave me what I needed with a winter parking routine that reduced my stress and led to a successful start to the day. 

I thought about this again on Thursday during my prep time. When I left the classroom for my prep, both my teaching partner, Paula, and I knew that a couple of things in our space needed to change. Things weren’t working as we wanted them to work. But how could we change them? I was having problems seeing the space differently, and I needed to do some thinking. Usually during this Period 4 prep, I go to the staffroom. I can have my lunch, upload documentation, and reflect on the morning, but there are always other people in the staffroom at the same time. I like my conversations with all of them, but on Thursday, I needed quiet to reflect. I knew that I couldn’t find this quiet in my usual space. Now what?

In the past, I’ve found a hallway space for some quiet contemplation. I considered the kindergarten hallways, but with the gym right across the hall from us, there’s usually noise.

I decided to go on a walk in search of quiet. That’s when I found the stairs out in the front foyer. It was between periods, so the stairs weren’t being used. The hallway was also silent. I decided to sit on the stairs, search online for some sensory spaces as inspiration, and do some thinking. Wouldn’t you know that my principal found me there on his way back into the office?! He chuckled quietly to himself, wondered what I was doing, but also let me be.

He could have questioned my safety of sitting on the stairs, but he also trusted me, and seemed to know that this is what I needed. Now if everyone started piling on the stairs, this could be problematic, but again, sometimes “fair” is not always the same. 

I share these stories because my teaching partner, Paula, and I discuss fairness a lot. Over our four years teaching together, we’ve learned the students don’t always need the same things and that’s okay. 

We’ve had kids with desk spaces …

Students with shelves …

Those that get ready in the classroom, and others that get ready in the hallway …

to name just a few.

Recently, somebody asked us how students respond to these differences, and we realized that not once this year has a child said that it’s “not fair.”

  • Is this because all children feel as though they have what they need, so they’re not concerned?
  • Is this because they recognize — even if they don’t articulate it — that different children need different things?
  • Is this because we’re comfortable with these differences, and somehow, even unknowingly, project this comfort onto kids?

Maybe it’s something else entirely, but these conversations around “fairness” sometimes make me wonder if our concerns around how kids might react, start with our own adult concerns around if these differences are okay. It’s as I think more about my own adult accommodations that I become even more comfortable with those for kids. What are your thoughts and experiences around “fairness?” I wonder if it could be fine for kids to not always learn “how to deal” in the same way as others, knowing that as they grow up, they might also need something a little bit different to work for them. I appreciate those people that have supported my differences, and I think that these experiences will always make me speak up a little louder for children. What about you?


4 thoughts on “Is It Fair, And Does It Need To Be?

  1. I find the same thing- we consistently tweek routines/ materials to suit specific kids, and our class never questions whether something is fair. During play, the kids are quick to change things to accomodate a struggling peer. It’s lovely to watch!

    • Thanks for sharing, Jennifer! I love hearing this. I wonder if kids seeing this tweaking in action also helps them come to understand that we’re doing what we’re doing to help support all of them. Maybe this makes small differences for each child easier to accept.


  2. I work in the hall outside my classroom a lot! It isn’t necessarily quiet, but I am all alone which matters more to me. Every single time an adult will come to me and ask if I’ve been kicked out of class. I know they are trying to be silly, but the truth is we see the hall as punishment and maybe we shouldn’t. Like you, I have students who get dressed in the coat room and some who get dressed in the classroom and some who carry their coats to the daycare after school. The last one is especially annoying to many adults, who want the kids in all their clothes before they leave. But why when they’re just going to get to daycare and take it all off anyway? I am interested in your parking lot issue. Why are spots assigned? Why isn’t it just every person for themselves in the morning? In our school people park in order of arrival. That makes more sense to me. Especially since someone outside the loop may end up in the wrong assigned spot and then chaos will reign!

    I feel like teachers in general are becoming more flexible about things like where people will say, and where people will work, and what tools they may use for their work. I hope that continues. It’s a lot easier way to live your life!

    • Thanks for your comment, Lisa! When I used to work out in our classroom hallway, I often heard similar comments. I like your reframing of this hallway space. Maybe this “alone space” is what some kids, like some adults, need. I remember when I taught Grade 5 and had easy access to a pod right outside of the classroom. Often the same kids would work in the pod each day. Someone once asked me if this was fair, but just like you or me that might need this hallway space, these kids needed the smaller numbers and additional room that was granted by the pod.

      As for the parking lot, at that school spots were assigned as there were barely enough spots for each staff member. The idea was that we would have tags with numbers, and those tags gave us guaranteed access to the parking lot and a spot. It was to help reduce the problem of staff members arriving at the school and not having a place to park. When I could see the lines, I was more than happy with my space. In fact, for years when I taught kindergarten, my space was just outside of our classroom, so I could see my car each day. But when I couldn’t see the lines, the stress of trying to get into a spot felt overwhelming. Even just switching spaces with my principal reduced so much of my stress. Teacher accommodations for the win, I guess.

      I wonder if the popular hashtag of #flexibleseating and the conversations around this has led to more teacher flexibility in these other areas. I remember one time when I was far less flexible than I am now, and someone asked me, “Why does this matter so much?” Being forced to slow down and think about the why had me seeing things differently. Now when I’m not sure what to do, I ask myself this same question. Sometimes Paula asks me it as well. Often this question is all it takes to see things differently.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *