The Truth About Teachers’ Pets

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?

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12 thoughts on “The Truth About Teachers’ Pets

  1. My favourite students ….. are pretty much what you said up there. I have one who annoys me to no end with his antics, but he’s such a genuinely goofy, awesome kid, that I have a hard time not loving him for it. I have a couple whose zest for life just floors me, like you said, interested in everything — not just the subject matter, but everything.

    My absolute favourites though, have to be the ones who listen even when I’m off track (my thought train derails pretty easily, haha, and my kids KNOW it…), but later, when a grade 6 student comes to me and asks if I had a good time out West with my family for Christmas because she remembers that I got thrown off topic before break and mentioned it, it’s lovely. To know that they care about me too is just really encouraging.

    I loved this post 🙂

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    • I love it when they do that! It’s nice to know that sometimes they see us as real people, and they recognize that we have a life outside of the classroom, too. And yes, annoying and lovable often go hand in hand.
      Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you enjoyed it! I really enjoy your blog, too. It seems we have a lot in common. 🙂

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  4. One of my favourite teachers (and tutor) left the school for a new job, I was devastated, because I didn’t realise how much I would miss him until the last bell rang, informing us that the summer holidays had began. I had always spoken to him, although I didn’t actually like him as a teacher, I respected him as a person and I’m not sure if I was his favourite, but the way you describe how your favourite students are, I probably wasn’t! 😉
    Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, sometimes, those kids that don’t seem to like you, actually do! I will always miss Mr Rosser, I have just finished Year Nine 2 weeks ago, and I already know that Year Ten wont be the same without him.

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  6. Well, my 8th grade English teacher (Mr. Moore) and 8th grade Science teacher (Ms. Ryan) had to be by far my most favorite teachers ever. I think it was mainly because of the fact that
    1) They showed an interest in my well-being, school-wise and personally. They both cared about how well I did in their class, as well as how I do in life with friends and things like that.
    2) They were knowledgeable in their subject and taught it well/made it fun. Both teachers showed that they knew a lot about what they were teaching and taught it to me in a way that was easy for me and the rest of my classmates to understand. Even when it came time to do something that us students and even the teacher dreaded, they tried their best to make it fun.
    3) They were both likable teachers! I just liked their personalities honestly and how they were so genuine in what they did and said. For example, if Ms. Ryan asked me how my weekend was, she was genuinely interested in how my weekend went.
    4) I guess that it was because they tried their best to make school fun and went those extra miles to ensure that I received the best education and to make my 8th grade year as amazing as possible! (which they did)

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  7. I’m actually an 8th grader. I’m really close to almost all of my teachers. My reading teacher has taken me out for supper, my Spanish teacher takes up all of her prep hour talking to me, my Leadership adviser calls me babe, and my language arts teacher and I have so many inside jokes I don’t even remember the latest one. I trust them all. They have all helped me with countless struggles. They’re always telling me how proud they are of me, how amazing I am, how beautiful I look, and how much they love me. They’re always making me laugh. They can be brutally honest with me because they know I’m mature enough to handle it. They even talk lesson plans with me! They include me in their home life. Things like their husbands and dogs and kids are things I know everything about. My Spanish teacher got engaged this past weekend, and I was the first student to know. They all told me who they had for the faculty Secret Santa. They used me as cover-ups, messengers, and spies. I absolutely love being able to walk into their classrooms and talk with them casually. I love being able to text them at night. I love being able to end a conversation with “I love you.” But it’s been really hard because according to my classmates, I am the straight A, strong leader, “kiss up” kid that every teacher dreams of. My classmates are convinced I try to impress the teachers. They’re convinced I am the teachers’ best friend. Sometimes, though, I think my teachers are my best friends because they are the ones that have been there for me when my friendships are falling apart. They’ve been there through problems at home, through frustrations with my class, and through deaths of pets. The teachers have been the ones embracing me, reassuring me, and lifting my spirits. So I guess I don’t understand why it’s such a threat to my classmates that I have strong relationships with my teachers.

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  8. I’m not a teacher but I kinda was the favorite. I play the oboe in band, and there is another oboe. I’m first chair, and she isn’t. She doesn’t really let that get to her but she recently has. She thinks I’m the band directors favorite. He teases students, Ina nice way, and I am on. I answer the questions whenever I can and in return, I get to play solos, I get to do the tuning, I get to be examples in class. And she is jealous. I never thought about it. A lot of teachers like me because I’m a kinda nice and I answer questions and all that stuff. You get more responsibilities.

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  9. My favorite teachers:
    -always smile and are never fake or professional to the point of being a robot (students hate fake teachers just as much as teachers hate fake students)
    -believe even in the students who give them no reason to

    -who are incredibly kind but wont allow themselves to get trampled on
    – who don’t look like their scared of us (surprisingly there are teachers like this, teenagers don’t bite lol )
    -who joke around,sometimes at the expense of another student as long as it’s not hurtful
    -I once knew a teacher who said “preschool teachers should never teach grade 7 and up” so far that teacher has been right.She said the older grades don’t just give their respect because your a teacher, the teacher has to earn the students respect just as much as we have to earn the teachers.The day I meet a teacher who can teach both preschool,elementary, and high school I will be very impressed.Each levels expects different things.
    – teacher who care but aren’t nosy, they know you already have a mom/guardian of some kind and you don’t need two
    – As mentioned above, they earn are respect, not demand it
    -who love their jobs
    – who teach considering all the different ways to learn (visual,auditory,etc)
    – who don’t ever look at you like “how don’t you get this!” and rephrase things to help you understand instead of just saying the same thing again (that drives me nuts!)
    – who don’t have temper tantrums (one teacher I had would randomly brake in to fits at least three times in a class, I started tallying on the side of my page her little break downs and then circling the tally when she would disrupt class to yell at us. Other than that she was a nice teacher but she never was good at teaching me
    -who only tell you to be quiet,focus,pay attention,etc when they are REALLY annoyed not just slightly (otherwise it looses meaning)

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  10. My favorite teachers are the ones who favorite me, the ones who make me feel special, the ones who show me that they are proud of my hard work, and the ones who show that they care.

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