A Fair Deal
It is hard to determine whether consistency or fairness is the more important skill for a teacher. Students do not respect inconsistent teachers. However, they have a real problem with teachers they perceive as unfair.
If you think back to your time as a student, you can probably remember at least one teacher you or your fellow students thought was unfair. This might have been someone who favored a certain group of students or someone whose rules seemed almost arbitrary. In the end, though, this teacher probably lost the respect of most students.
What Fairness Means in Practice
Fairness pervades your classroom environment. Students are very perceptive and will judge how fair you are as a teacher based on your daily actions. If you consistently enforce rules in the same manner for all students, then you will be perceived as fair. However, if you allow one student but not others to make up late work, this will be seen as unfair by your class.
Are there situations in which you want to act in a manner that might be seen as unfair? Sure there are. It can be very tough, for example, to enforce a rule broken by a normally excellent student. So, you need a hierarchy of response built into your system of positive and negative reinforcements.
In other words, as a student breaks more rules, the punishment should change. This will help you in your effort to be fair. The student who makes one mistake will not be punished the same as one who makes many.
Whether accurate or not, students have their own sense of what is fair. Realize that your goals are not necessarily the same, but remember that a perception of fairness is very important. Therefore, take some time to observe and talk to your students to determine their attitudes about fairness.
It can also be very difficult to act fairly to a student who is normally disruptive. However, experience proves that if you treat each day as a clean slate in terms of your reactions to the students, you will find that their behavior will not be quite as extreme. If there are students who are perpetually in trouble, they will expect you to treat them more harshly, thus giving them no incentive to try to act better.
However, if you surprise them by not holding grudges, you in turn may be pleasantly surprised by the results. This does not mean that students should go unpunished for their offenses. It just means that you need to watch your actions and attitude when approaching these students each day.
Fairness Is a Learned Behavior
It is possible to train yourself to be fairer as a teacher. Take stock of your actions at the end of each day to see where you might not have acted fairly. Give yourself time before making decisions concerning discipline in your classroom. Sometimes giving the disruptive student and yourself a cooling-off period will allow you to approach the situation more rationally. Everyone makes mistakes, and no one is fair all the time. However, students will notice and appreciate your attempts to treat all students equally and with an equal measure of respect every day.