I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Contrary to popular opinion, the straight-A students are not necessarily our favorites. In fact, the number in the grade book usually has very little impact on how much we like certain kids. So how do we pick our favorites, then? Is it perfect behavior? Whether or not the student likes the subject we teach? Whether or not the student likes us?
No, no, and no. Because we don’t pick. We don’t sit down with a spreadsheet comparing the class roster with the grade book and the number of behavior referrals and circle the names of students that will then become our favorite pets for the rest of the year. It doesn’t work that way.
When I decided to write this post, I took an informal survey on Facebook, asking my teacher-friends to tell me about their favorite students. No one responded by saying, “What?! How dare you insinuate that I prefer one student over another! I like all my students exactly the same amount!” Because honestly, we all have favorites. If we do our job well, favoritism won’t impact our teaching style, but we are still human beings with opinions, feelings, likes, and dislikes. We will be drawn to some students more than others. It’s only natural.
Also, no one in my informal survey answered, “I just like the smart kids.” Don’t assume our opinion is based solely on intelligence. Give us more credit than that.
I love how my teacher friends responded. Initially, I had some idea that I was going to summarize/paraphrase the unifying themes in the answers I received, but my friends are smart and chose their words well. I don’t want to change them. So here they are – real middle school and high school teachers answering the question “Who are your favorite students, and why?”
“The ones that act out…usually a really sweet and awesome kid behind all the antics. They just need to know that someone trusts them to be that kid.”
“Honestly, I don’t know if I have a type. I’ve had favorites who are really witty, outgoing, and/or funny, but I’ve also had favorites who really struggle with school or have a sweet, quieter demeanor. It depends on the year, and on the class. Similar to [the comment above] though- it has to do with trust and mutual respect.”
“My favorite are the ones who are not afraid to be themselves. Sometimes they are the outgoing ones, sometimes they are more shy, often they are a little bit quirky, but they are never fake!”
“For me, it really doesn’t matter what “group” a student might come from, I usually just favorite the ones that are always participating, asking questions, and have a genuine interest in what is going on in the classroom. This can range from actual class material to whatever is going on in the world at the time, I just love the constant active participants. From cute little nerds to big goofy jocks, if they want to participate, interact, and challenge each other and me, I’ll always oblige.”
And what about me? How would I answer the question? Like they said, it varies from year to year and mostly has to do with trust and respect, but there are particular things I do really like in students, so I will share them now. Teen readers, if you’ve ever wanted to become a teacher’s favorite, take note.
I love students that respect my knowledge and authority, but also know how to engage me as a normal human being that likes to laugh and gave a good time. I love the commiserating glance I get from some students when I have to deal with ridiculous situations, the glance that says they’re looking at the class from my perspective, and holy cow, my job is crazy. I love the students that can joke with me, but then respect my requests to focus in class, as well.
I also like the students with genuine personality – whether loud or quiet, outgoing or reserved, be real and don’t try to be someone else. I like it when you can look me in the eye and hold a conversation with me. Yes, I know you might just be stalling so I won’t start class right away, but you know what? Sometimes I enjoy that, too, and I’ll always bring it back in time to make sure we cover all our content today.
I love being able to trust a student. I want to know that when I give a task to a student, it will be completed without constant adult supervision. Actually, that usually has less to do with homework than other tasks around the school. If I ask you to help move tables, supervise a younger grade, or inventory books, you’ll shoot to the top of my favorites list pretty quickly if you help out without complaint or laziness, because I can trust you.
I appreciate a dedicated work ethic. You don’t have to be a straight-A student, but I like to know that you care about your grade and that you’re trying. Even if you are a solid C student – if I can tell you’re working for that C, turning in your work consistently, and not slacking off, I will appreciate you as a student. If you seek me out for extra help, I will do anything in my power to help you and have more grace when you mess up. I have a teacher friend named Mrs. Pringle (which is an awesome teacher name, by the way). One day she had to be absent, and the sub didn’t show for one class period. Instead of devolving into chaos, one young lady in the class took the initiative to find the sub plan sitting on teacher’s desk and led the lesson. Just as impressively, the rest of the class went along with it and did the work without the supervision of a teacher. Can you guess which class was Mrs. Pringle’s favorite that year? (Or probably ever?) She was so happy with them I’m pretty sure she baked them cookies later. Truthfully, the class should have found an adult to watch them for liability and safety reasons, but still, their work ethic and respect for Mrs. Pringle even in her absence was incredible. I’m jealous. I want a class like that.
I’ve also noticed that I tend to be drawn to students who know what it means to struggle. I’m sure this trait is unique to me and not necessarily something other teachers do, but it is true for me. I have such a heart for the kids hiding emotional strain, that aren’t begging for sympathy or demanding special treatment, but silently carry a weight heavier than any young person should have to carry. I don’t intentionally seek them out, but when I think about the students I’ve connected with the most over the years, they all have some struggle that others don’t understand. We might talk about what happened, or we might never discuss it, but I know to leave them alone when they’re moody instead of insisting that they cheer up. I know that when they stare out the window they’re not just being lazy. I know how to let them know I care without calling attention to the problems. And they find little, subtle ways to let me know they appreciate it. I have such deep respect for them and what they’ve been through, and they reciprocate by behaving well and working hard for me, even when they act out in other teachers’ classes.
I have had favorites that failed my class, too. Ian (name changed) was in my first-ever class of high school seniors. He taught me that as much as we may want to, we can’t save them all. Ian made me laugh. Too many times the funny things he did and said were inappropriate enough that I had to send him to the office, but man, that boy was clever. He was my hardest student to place in the seating chart because he would always disrupt class by talking to whomever was near him, but he politely looked me in the eye when he spoke to me, and he was usually smiling. He was an amazing writer, but he never did his work. He broke my heart the day he said, with a twinkle in his eye, “Yeah, I know! When I do my homework, I’m really good! I just never do it.” He had depth and insight born from family tragedy, a firm grasp on grammar and sentence structure, and a natural talent for stringing words together in powerful ways. The few papers he did turn in took my breath away. But he still failed, not just my class, but 5 classes his senior year. That same family tragedy had left Ian completely apathetic about academics. He just did not care about school, and no matter how much I liked him, I couldn’t and wouldn’t give him credit for work he didn’t do. Even when it might break our hearts, favoritism can’t play a hand in grading and behavioral consequences.
Just like a failing student might still be a favorite, students who are well-behaved and get good grades can still work their way on to our “bad side.” Sometimes the typically “good” kids with good grades can actually get on our nerves. I’ve talked with several teachers; I know I’m not alone in this. Here are a few examples of annoying “good” kids (teenagers, take note!):
The Grade Fighter: When you can’t be proud of a 98%, and instead choose to try to fight me for that extra 2%, I want to scream. Seriously. When you’re already a straight-A student, one question on one test isn’t going to impact your educational future (I promise), but it is going to make me suppress a sigh of annoyance every time I see you approach my desk in the future. Parents, you’re guilty of this one, too. Please understand that a B+ or an A- is actually a respectable grade, and you and your kids should be proud of it. You don’t need to fight me for the A or A+. That only makes me dread every time I have to deal with you in the future.
The Snob: I’m glad you have a good grasp on this lesson due to your natural talent and intelligence. I really can’t stand the way you just made fun of your classmate that didn’t understand as quickly, though. I’m more impressed by their tenacity and effort than by your photographic memory and rudeness.
The Know-It-All: Yes, occasionally I will misspeak or make a mistake, but not nearly as often as you like to think. I promise I know more about literature, grammar, and the history of the English language than you do. I have a college degree in this, which included taking multiple full three-credit courses on each of those topics. I’m glad you read a lot and that your 8th grade teacher taught you well (I really am!), but I still know more than you do. I promise. So please stop trying to challenge me on every turn. I’m not impressed, and I’m pretty sure your classmates are just as annoyed as I am. None of us like listening to your attitude.
All that being said, sometimes the “good” students are our favorites. The hardworking, trustworthy students will often get good grades. Sometimes the quietly diligent grab our hearts. Sometimes the charming, witty, quirky gems are on the honor roll. However, it’s always the personality that earns our affection, not the number in the grade book.
Every teacher will be drawn to different favorite students, but it’s not hard to see the unifying themes. We want the sweet kids that we can trust and that thrive in our belief in them. We appreciate the uniquely quirky kids that show confidence. We love the witty cleverness that makes us laugh and share student quotes in the teacher’s lounge later. We value the quiet respect of the shy, sweet kid. We embrace the hard worker’s academic struggles as our own. And we look through the outbursts and cries for attention to the vulnerable, heart-warming kid underneath.
Most of all, as my friends said, we want mutual trust and true respect (not that surface level nice-to-our-face-but-hate-us-behind-our-backs crap – we can usually see through that). Show us empathy, trust, and respect, and you will be well on your way to becoming one of our favorites.
But that’s just the perspective of me and my teacher friends. What about you? What do you think about teachers’ pets? Teachers, who are your favorites, and why? Students, what about favorite teachers? What do you like to see in us?