A lucky few students—those cute, smart, and well-behaved ones—are accustomed to big smiles and open body language from their teacher. For others, though, it’s a half-hearted greeting and barely a glance.
Some students are afforded the privilege of helping out in the classroom before school or during recess, but others are rarely invited.
Some call-outs are answered without a second thought. Yes, Lily, of course you can sharpen your pencil. While others get an entire different reaction. Anthony, how many times do I have to tell you? We raise our hand in this classroom!
Some students are encouraged to go on and on about the time the family beagle had puppies. Wow, what a great story! Others are cut off at the knees. We don’t have time for stories, Jocelyn. I asked if there were any questions.
Favoritism is an insidious snake that wriggles unnoticed under your classroom door, poisoning morale from the inside out. Left unchecked, it will slither into every area of classroom management.
If asked, few teachers would admit, even to themselves, that they play favorites. Although plain as day for students to see, favoritism is often hidden from the teacher beneath a veil of justifications. I don’t play favorites. I just let those with good behavior know I appreciate them.
Make no mistake. Many, many teachers play favorites.
Maybe you do too.
No teacher wants to confront the possibility that he or she favors some students over others. It’s never easy to take a hard look at yourself and be honest with your heart’s intent.
But self-examination is crucial, because favoritism is not only bad for classroom management, it’s worse for your students.
It creates a class system.
When you play favorites, you give rise to a class system—where certain students are socially grouped and labeled as special or entitled or somehow better than others. This causes hurt, confusion, and fist-shaking unfairness. It discourages teamwork and creates friction and jealousy among students. At its worst, it brings about bullying behavior.
It causes resentment.
Students are often underestimated. They may be short, gangly, or self-absorbed, but they’re real people with real feelings, and they’re more observant than given credit for. If you play favorites—affording special privileges or attention for some and not others—every student will know it. And they’ll simmer with resentment because of it.
It weakens self-confidence.
To see certain students given a level of attention you know is never reserved for you can be a blow to your self-confidence—particularly if you have a shy personality. Yes, kids are resilient, and we’ve all experienced hard lessons that make us better people. But favoritism can be especially hurtful, making students less trusting, less inclined to participate, and less willing to take healthy social chances.
It further alienates difficult students.
Some teachers have a quid pro quo relationship with their students. In other words, if you’re well behaved and likeable, you get my favorable attention. If you’re a behavior problem, however, or if you get on my nerves, you get eye rolls, sarcasm, and indifference. This is a highly manipulative and surprisingly common form of classroom management that reinforces outcast, rebel-like, and unruly behavior.
It creates an unhappy classroom.
It’s obvious to students when a teacher plays favorites. In most circumstances the only one unaware of it is the teacher herself. The resulting resentments, dislike, and distrust create an unhappy classroom—which is the death knell of classroom management. For if your students are unhappy, if they don’t like being in your classroom, you’re going to struggle with near-constant misbehavior.
It undermines your influence.
Playing favorites will undermine your efforts to increase your likeability, build rapport with students, and acquire behavior-changing leverage. To create a dream classroom, to create the teaching experience you really want, you must continually work toward a trusting and influential relationship with your students. Playing favorites makes this an impossibility.
A Notable Difference
It’s inevitable that you will connect with some students better or quicker than others. And there is nothing wrong with appreciating or admiring particular students—some will be more approachable, more willing to help, or more trustworthy with special projects.
But that doesn’t mean you’ll give them more time and attention than others or reward them based on their likeability, personality, or appearance. Doing so is flat-out favoritism—clear to anyone paying attention—and it’s wrong.
How To Avoid Playing Favorites
Avoiding even the perception of playing favorites isn’t complicated.
Follow your classroom management plan, regardless of who breaks your rules. Don’t yell, scold, berate, or take misbehavior personally. Be the same consistently pleasant teacher day in and day out.
Make every student a target of your heartfelt smile and kindness. Choose to see the best in each of them, despite how difficult at times that may be.
And when deciding who should go first or who should help out in your classroom…
Pull names out of a hat.
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