Teacher’s Pets

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Do you have ‘favourite’ pupils?

Of course you do. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have your favourites – anyone who says they don’t are being economical with the truth.

All teachers have their favourite kids. Ask the children. They instinctively know who is liked more than others because they are on the receiving end of our actions and behaviour. If you have your own children ask them and they will soon tell you that certain children get treated differently.

Show And Tell

Unfortunately, some teachers are dreadful actors and make a hash of the pretence of ‘you are all equals in my eyes’. But that’s where it starts – the eyes. Some children get ‘a look’ and they know they aren’t liked. Children can easily feel pushed out and unloved.

Children expect teachers to treat everyone in class equally and that’s what should happen. Professional teachers won’t intentionally favouritise particular children over others but unprofessional teachers will – fortunately, there aren’t many of these around.

But professional teachers can come unstuck and perhaps fail to see that they may be unwittingly and inadvertently favouritising. Subtle differences may emerge in a lesson where certain children are allowed to dominate discussions or some children get more praise or feedback than others. Do some children get a fair chance at playing in a team? Have some children received ‘Student of the Week’ four times whereas others haven’t even had it once? Unintended bias and regular favouritism can soon rear its ugly head and lead to friction.

Children can soon sense partiality even if the teacher can’t. They have an inherent sense of interactional fairness. As teachers we have to constantly monitor our behaviour and interactions with all children…and adults. Self-awareness and self-reflectiveness are crucial to effective teaching.

Tread Carefully

Some teachers don’t hide their emotions and feelings about pupils when they enter the staffroom. This is often seen as a decompression chamber and a safe place to vent your spleen and let it all out. Wrong.

I saw a supply teacher do this once and he had a few things to get off his chest about some children. One child he praised and praised and praised but he also had unpleasant things to say about one boy who had been ‘winding me up all morning’. He went on to say a few other negative things until we quickly caught on that the child he was talking about was the son of one of our teaching assistants. Fortunately she wasn’t in the room at the time or there would have been an assault.

Staffrooms are places to decompress but they are still, or should be, professional spaces that breathe respect. You never know who is listening and with visitors coming and going, it is a dangerous place to air your thoughts. What you think stays in the staffroom very seldom does.

Acting

It is very easy to betray your emotions when in a school environment because so many people are watching you. Tone of voice, facial expressions and posture all powerfully communicate a message and a huge part of the day is acting and keeping things in check and camouflaging.

One of the many reasons why teaching is exhausting is because teachers have to adopt a persona and acting all day is hard work, especially if you genuinely don’t like some of the children you encounter. Exiling partiality takes mindful effort every day, but treating some children differently than others, whether subtly or overtly, can influence everyone in the class.

Nothing Personal

It was reported a few years ago that teacher bias can influence how we mark and our personal feelings might get in the way of assessing children’s work. No surprise,  this still happens.

Research has shown a significant relationship between teachers’ fairness towards pupils and positive outcomes. Teachers’ fair treatment of pupils enhances motivation and performance, quality of learning outcomes, pupil-teacher interaction and pupil enjoyment and achievement.

It’s perfectly acceptable to like some children more than others in the same way it is for adults to like and dislike each other. Just don’t let it show. Favouritism and lack of inclusion fuels failure and creates a class system within your class that weakens self-confidence and causes resentment.

You can’t be every child’s favourite teacher – they like some more than others but then that’s little wonder.

It’s a simple truth: the best teachers treat children fairly. They also have a multifaceted classroom management plan that avoids favouritism. Every child wants their teacher to like them and that’s not too much to ask, is it? It’s perfectly acceptable to have your favourites but completely unacceptable to treat them differently to others.

The only teacher’s pets should be the school dog and the class goldfish.

John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project manager, writer and editor. I am the teacher without a tongue. www.johndabell.com

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