The process of becoming a teacher can be challenging, but it is well worth the effort. Teaching is an extremely rewarding profession that allows educators to help the next generation of students get the education and learning they need to be successful. It takes dedication and passion to pursue a teaching degree, and teachers need to take that same amount of passion and dedication to create a positive environment and empowering academic experience for their students. Equity in education is a key part of every good teacher’s approach to helping students find success, but what exactly is equity in education and how can teachers work to have it in their classrooms?
The term “equity in education” is deeply complex and can take on many forms, making it challenging to establish a succinct definition. But the basic meaning behind the term is the pursuit of creating an educational system that caters to students of all kinds and develops their educational experience accordingly. This means that no matter what a student’s background, language, race, economic profile, gender, learning capability, disability or family history, each student has the opportunity to get the support and resources they need to achieve their educational goals.
An example of equity in education can be found in teachers who are able to adapt their teaching style to match a student’s learning capabilities. Some students thrive as auditory learners, who process information out loud and ask questions as needed. Others are visual learners who absorb information through pictures, illustrations, and color that’s associated with the text they may be reading. Then there are tactile learners who take breaks during lessons, act things out to make sense of what’s being taught, and employ the use of models, charts, or diagrams to get the most out of their learning. When teachers are able to adapt their teaching style to meet students at their level and give them the support they need to learn, that contributes to equity in education.
Similarly, equity in education is seen when students of different races and ethnic groups are able to see examples of people of their race and community around them in the classroom. History lessons, story problems, and books that are inclusive and show all different types of people are key to helping students of different races feel that equity in the classroom.
Equity in education aims to provide equal opportunity to all students to develop valuable skills and knowledge that help them live a full life and contribute to society. To achieve this goal, educators are tasked with reworking systems of learning that exist on both the school and district levels to ensure this new approach is adopted from the top down. The new system is then built on fairness and inclusion, with safeguards such as interventions and resources built in to make sure every student has every opportunity to achieve their academic goals.
Equity vs. Equality in Education
While the terms “equity” and “equality” are often used interchangeably, there are notable differences between the two. “Equality” focuses on ensuring students are presented with the same educational opportunities throughout their scholastic career; however, this approach doesn’t take into consideration that even with those opportunities, different students will have different needs in order to succeed. This is where equity comes in. “Equity” focuses on taking those opportunities presented to students and infusing them with support and resources to turn the education system into a level playing field. This means that disadvantaged students will get the support they need to become equal to students who are not disadvantaged. It takes equality a step further by lifting students who may not have the same opportunities and ensuring they not only are presented with the same options, but that the differences are made up for these students.
There are numerous reasons why equity in education is important, including:
- Creating opportunity for underprivileged and underserved students so they are able to overcome disadvantages and find success
- Giving everyone the chance to learn in the way that best supports their learning style
- Helping students become more engaged in what they’re learning by ensuring they see people who are their same race, gender, ethnicity, etc. in their learning
- Granting students more access to the resources that can bolster their education
- Strengthening the connection between a student’s family and their teacher, fostering a more enriching educational environment at home
- Guiding students to success in their educational career, and beyond
- Closing the opportunity and achievement gap by making students equal
- Improving a school district’s performance in metrics such as standardized testing
- Impacting the community in positive ways, such as reducing crime rates and increasing property value
- Creating an overall economic benefit by preparing students to become contributors to society, and saving money on public assistance
There are several ways that teachers can work to identify underserved students in their classroom. There are a few groups that typically qualify as underserved populations for students, and teachers need to understand what these groups are so they are able to help students in these populations be successful.
Groups that typically qualify as underserved include:
- Racial/ethnic minorities. This typically includes all students who are not Caucasian. Teachers need to understand that racial and ethnic minority students typically are considered underserved and can benefit from equity in the classroom. Helping racial and ethnic minority students make connections to their own race, ethnicity, and community can help empower them as they learn.
- Low income. Schools that are from lower-income areas or specific students that come from lower-income families need teachers who understand equity in education. Lower income students may have less access to resources and opportunities, and equity in education can help make up for those deficiencies.
- First-generation students. Students who have parents who have lower education levels or no education are often considered an underserved population. These students can greatly benefit from teachers who are able to help them overcome the barriers of having family who haven't been through the same school system they are trying to navigate.
- Students with learning disabilities. Students who struggle with learning disabilities require teachers who are able to use equity in education to help them close the gap. Teachers who are able to give specialized attention, cater lesson plans, and work to meet goals are key for students who struggle to learn.
While it’s true that change doesn’t happen overnight, it all starts with one step—and there are lots of things that teachers can do to promote equity in education. For example:
- Addressing systemic issues: By becoming more aware of issues that affect categories such as poverty, ethnicity, gender, and more, teachers can create actionable plans that can circumvent the affects these situations can have on a student’s education. They may not be able to single-handedly solve these issues, but by understanding more about them they discover how they affect a student’s learning capabilities, and correct them effectively. Teachers who understand how systems operate and impact their students are able to create better opportunities for their students inside the classroom.
- Addressing the role of leadership and administration: Similarly, school leadership and administration could also be a part of the systemic issues or be unaware of how those issues can affect students. Teachers can be helpful in alerting leadership to these complications and help get everyone on the same page about how to address them. Teachers who know when and how to work with administrators are key in helping increase equity in their classrooms, schools, and communities.
- Removing barriers in the school environment: Learning and development gaps often present themselves early in a student’s education, so the more adept teachers are at identifying those blockages early, the more opportunity a student has to excel. This can include educating parents on the support systems that their student can take advantage of or helping them to navigate ways of finding and accessing those resources. Additionally, teachers can provide inexpensive learning resources, tutors, after-school programs, and many other opportunities that help lower barriers in the classroom setting. In instances where finances may be a challenge, teachers can also help parents find ways to afford the resources that can benefit their child.
- Addressing the role of technology: Technology is a crucial aspect of a student’s educational program, but many don’t have access to reliable internet or a computer that can support their studies at home. By providing access to reliable technology through the school, teachers can create an avenue of support for their students. Teachers can help create equity around technology by ensuring students have the ability to access technology, utilizing it in classroom settings where all students can benefit, teaching parents how to work with technology at home, and more.
- Regular reassessment of student performance: Monitoring student performance is an important part of the process, as it shows where a teacher’s equitable approach is effective and where there’s room for improvement. Teachers who are focused on equity work to regularly see how their students are performing, and can address what they can do to help increase the equity so their students can all thrive.
Equity in education is a complex and critical issue to help all students thrive in a classroom setting. While there isn’t a simple solution or easy answer, every teacher can work to identify underserved students and increase equity each day in their classroom. Teachers who are focused on promoting equity are critical to the success of each and every student. As an educator, understanding and focusing on equity in schools is a critical way to make the lives of each student better.