Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Playing Favorites

Serena is just about everything you could want in a student: she's bright, hardworking, pleasant, respectful, helpful. She comes from a wonderful family that supports her in every way. Most importantly, she's not one to complain gratuitously. So when she told me recently that she had a problem, I was inclined to take her seriously.

Serena explained to me that one of the other teachers at my school is exhibiting favoritism. She didn't say who it was and I didn't ask; we just had a chat about how we could address this. I suggested that the teacher might be paying more attention to a single student because the student is struggling and needs more help or attention right now, or that the teacher simply doesn't realize that he or she is doing it and may not have any particular feeling one way or the other. As is always the case if kids come to me about another teacher, I don't ever speculate negatively on the other teacher's motives, speech, or actions, and encourage the kid to address it directly with that teacher. Most of the people I work with are pretty reasonable and helpful, and if a kid brings up something one-on-one in a respectful way, they'll listen.

After a little brainstorming on this, Serena seemed to feel better and changed the subject. But the chat gave me something to think (and blog) about. I tend to think about some students more than others, for a variety of reasons. I worry about the kids who struggle; I thank the Lord or whoever for the ones who make me laugh and help me out; I stress about the kids who are defiant and lazy and uncooperative. There are certainly those kids who tend to fade into the background, and I've been trying to make a more conscious effort to pay particular attention to those kids this year. You know the ones: Neither especially sweet nor overtly disrespectful, not especially high-achieving but more or less competent. I've made a mental list of a half-dozen or so of these kids and checked their grades more often than others and made overtures towards conferencing with them more often, thinking about book recommendations for them, etc. Those kids get lost and I don't want them to feel lost.

And it's hard not to have favorites. The few kids I've blogged about here do tend to have special places in my heart for various reasons, and there are kids I taught several years ago that I still miss and think of often. I think that's just human nature. The key, I think, for us is to not play favorites, to consciously work against exhibiting or acting on those biases.

That brings me back to Serena's concern. It's possible that it's nothing, that it's a coincidence, or that the teacher has good reason to pay extra attention to this child. I don't know. But it's a good "check yourself" nonetheless--for me, for all of you, and maybe even for that individual teacher.
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