Here's how to make sure all kids feel valued and
"Teacher's Pet" is a painful reality in most classrooms because
not all kids get the same attention in public schools, according to
a recent report by American University education professors Myra
and David Sadker.
In their book Failing at Fairness, the Sadkers report that 10
percent of students in a classroom are the "star students" and get
25 percent of the teacher's attention. About 20 percent say nothing
at all. The remaining 70 percent of children get "nominal"
attention. The teacher asks them one or two questions each class
period. The top attention-getters? White boys, followed by minority
boys, white girls, and minority girls -- in that order.
Is the same true in Sunday school classrooms? Are there star
students who teachers teach to-excluding other children?
Sadly, the answer is yes-in some churches.
First Thessalonians 5: 11 admonishes us to
"encourage and build each other up" -- to create a safe zone for
each other. In a safe environment, children feel valued. They're
enjoyed for their individualism and encouraged to pursue their
thoughts and dreams. But in a classroom where bias exists, children
are insecure and fearful. They compete to gain attention and
Matthew came into our classroom with Down's syndrome. He
couldn't communicate with us and his frustration was apparent.
Matthew yelled and hit others when he felt uncomfortable or
Our class treated Matthew like everyone else. He was included in
discussions and invited to join in prayer. Although the children
couldn't understand him, they'd smile and nod when Matthew spoke.
Matthew learned to respond in turn. He'd found a place where he
If children who feel loved, affirmed, and valued isn't reason
enough to create a bias-free classroom, consider this: Attendance
remains steady in a bias-free classroom because children feel
Here's how you can create a bias-free environment for kids:
- Be positive about kids. "If you want your students to feel
positive about themselves, you must feel positive about your
students," says child development expert Karen Owens.
- Spotlight kids' strengths. If Robert is a good reader, have him
read Scripture passages. Allow sports-minded Jamie to organize a
group game. Let kids shine at what they're best at.
- Celebrate individuality. Every child is special. Rather than
treat differences as annoyances, look for the special qualities of
each unique child. I had a kindergartner in children's choir who
insisted on yelling out the words. She just had to shout about
God's greatness. Rather than squelch her exuberance, I gave her a
speaking solo. Her enthusiasm delighted the congregation and
greatly raised her self-esteem. We need to give children the right
to their identity and encourage them to express themselves
- Monitor your interactions. Are you drawn to certain children at
the exclusion of others? Think about your background. Are you more
comfortable with underprivileged children but actually a little
prejudiced toward kids from wealthy families? Or vice versa? Bring
in an assistant who'll complement you and reach out to those
children that may not get equal time in your classroom.
Once you treat children equally, classroom management will
improve. Children will realize they don't need to assert themselves
to be important in the group. Removing bias in your classroom
diminishes harmful competition.
Shower kids with love, laugh together, and encourage each child
to participate. Children will grow because of the love and respect
you give them.
Kandi Elliott is a Christian education chairman in Illinois.
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