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Classroom Favorites

– By Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor
Author’s Note:
These articles are in no way, whatsoever, intended to be comprehensive or complete.  They are written and contributed in an effort to provide a “starting point” for valuable (and intriguing) discussion. Why discuss/review students’ learning capabilities and our current methods of trying to educate them? Educators, students, parents, and our community can learn from one another.  I have the greatest respect and admiration for all educators, especially in Belize!

Classroom Favorites
A lucky few students, especially the well-behaved ones, usually get smiles and warm body language from their teachers. Sadly, other students, especially the ‘not-so-well-behaved’ ones might get only half-hearted greetings or mostly frowns many times. Certain students are always called on to answer questions in the classroom, whereas, others are never asked. Well-behaved students usually get positive responses from teachers: Yes, of course you can…Unfortunately, the ‘not-so-well-behaved’ ones get an entirely different reaction when they speak out: How many times must I tell you? Raise your hand in this classroom, and speak when spoken to, not before!

Well-behaved students are always encouraged to share their opinions with the rest of the class. Not-so-well behaved students many times are cut off after a few words — We don’t have time to hear your nonsense. Favoritism is usually quite unconscious (NOT done on purpose) on a teacher’s part. Sadly though, it manages to creep into classrooms, like a poisonous snake, and destroys students’ morale. If left unchecked, favoritism totally disrupts classroom management.

Most teachers would not admit, or even realize, that they play favorites in class. On the other hand, ask students if teachers play ‘favorites’ — you’ll get a totally different answer! Perhaps teachers feel that they have valid reasons to justify favoritism, even if they don’t call it by that name. Some teachers may think that they are merely rewarding the ‘good’ students, and downplaying the ‘not-so-good’ students.

Nonetheless, regardless of what we call it, some teachers do play the favorites game. No teacher will admit that he/she favors certain students over others. (It’s not easy to admit faults.) However, as educators, we should be aware that favoritism destroys classroom management, and is very detrimental for students.  Favoritism creates an unfair class system. When a teacher calls on favorites, he/she creates a class system where certain students are grouped as ‘special’ or better than others. This leads to hurt, confusion, and unfairness in the class. It discourages teamwork and creates friction and jealousy among students. Worse even, it can bring out bullying behavior.

Moreover, we should not underestimate students. Even the ‘not-so-well-behaved’ students are real people (with real feelings) and they’re more observant than we realize. If we pay more attention to the “good ones” over others, students will know it! They’ll be enraged because of it, and not be open to wanting to ‘learn’.

If we give students A, B, and C a level of attention that students E and G know they’ll never get, it totally brings down their self-confidence – especially if they are ‘not-so-well-behaved’ in class.  All students should, though, experience hard lessons that will make them better people; and they should see that negative actions (behaviors) bring negative consequences. Still, favoritism (even if unconscious) is deeply hurtful and makes students less trusting, less inclined to participate, and less willing to take healthy social chances. So, we should not have quid pro quo relationships with our students:  “If you’re well behaved and likeable, you’ll get my favorable attention. If you’re a behavior problem, however, you’ll get on my nerves, and you’ll get only my indifference.” This form of classroom management (surprisingly common) actually reinforces students’ outcast, rebel-like, and unruly behavior.

As educators we need to be aware of how we respond to students, because most of the time we are totally unaware of how much students notice our behavior. If a student feels resented, disliked, and distrusted that leads to a very unhappy classroom. When one of our students is unhappy, or dislikes being in the classroom, we educators must struggle with his/her constant misbehavior. Still, we need to always be on guard against playing favorites with students. We need to develop a good reputation with all students; only so will we be in a better position to control classroom behavior. The only way to create a positive teaching experience is by continually working toward a trusting and influential relationship with all students:  well-behaved and not-so-well-behaved.

Each educator is human and will connect with some students better or quicker than others. It’s only natural that we appreciate the students who are more approachable, more willing to help, or more trustworthy in the classroom. But, giving them more time and attention or rewards over other students is favoritism, and it’s wrong. It’s not that easy to be the same pleasant educator day in and day out – especially on days when we have to deal with rude and obnoxious behaviors of certain students. Nevertheless, if we choose to always look for the best in each student, even in difficult situations, we’ll be motivating them in turn to “bring out the best” in themselves.

I welcome comments and ideas, especially from educators, that will encourage our “island” students to better connect to a sense of purpose, enjoy learning, and succeed in school!

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