Do teachers at Leesville have favorite students?

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All the different handwritten responses from Mrs. Z’s fourth-period class. Additionally with a photo of Mrs. Z at her Senior Prom. (Photo courtesy of Abigail Crawford)

Introduction: 

Every person is born with bias and who we choose to surround ourselves with can shape our perspectives and biases. 

Every teacher has biases whether they want to or not. Bias can turn into discrimination depending on how it manifests. A good teacher doesn’t let bias control them or define how they treat a student. On the contrary:  teachers who give in to this bias tend to have negative impacts on their students which can turn into student favoritism. 

Favoritism is when a teacher gives an unfair advantage to a specific student or group of students:  better grades, not marking tardies, leniency on certain behavior, gift giving, assignment overextension, preferred equipment usage, or giving the best seating or spots, and rude behavior with no previous provoking actions. 

Favoritism as defined by the Dictionary is, “the practice of giving unfair preferential treatment to one person or group at the expense of another.” However, favoritism is built into humans as we all have opinions and preferences. The distinct line is crossed when other students suffer because of preferential treatment.

Overall, favoritism can show up in other ways as well, but the main form of teacher to student favoritism is when they gain an unfair advantage above the other students in the classroom. 

A teacher’s bias is also different from student favoritism. A teacher’s bias is the cause for favoritism, as a bias leads to who the teacher decides who receives preferred treatment. Bias might show up in appearances, clothing styles, social ideals, religion, race, and gender. These are contributing factors that can lead to student favoritism.

As well, there is a difference between having favoritism toward a student and just overall treating students differently. Having favored students is harmful to the rest of the class and gives an unfair advantage. Treating students differently can help them. 

For example, an introverted student might not want to participate, but an extroverted student might want to speak their mind. If a teacher treats those two students differently to help them progress at their own pace, the teacher is not showing favoritism. Treating students differently can also be a good occurrence as well to help students in individual ways, as students have different needs and personalities. 

Conversely, if a teacher starts treating the extroverted student with better grades because they love to interact and the introverted student has worse grades because the teacher just likes the extroverted kid more, then that is student favoritism — it depends on the bias of extroverted v. introverted and the teacher has a preference that the extroverted student deserves better grades. 

According to medium.com, teachers’ favoritism in the classroom is detrimental and is a form of discrimination. 

But I also believe that teachers can have favorite students. It only becomes a problem when they don’t offer the same resources, help, and opportunities to every student. 

Polls and responses: 

Leesville has its fair share of favoritism. 

In an Instagram poll, students commented on the teachers they thought showed the most discriminatory favoritism towards their students. Because of censorship, I will only be releasing fake teacher names. Out of all the responses, there were recurring names. 

In addition to the Instagram poll, I had a valuable conversation with Mrs. Z, an English teacher. She went on to question and converse with her English students about favoritism. She then let them write anonymous responses about favoritism and teachers at Leesville. Then she handed all 28 responses to me without ever reading them.

The answers varied — some students didn’t mind favoritism as they saw it as a way of having a relationship with their teachers. They felt favoritism wasn’t discrimination and that even if their teachers had favorites it was only preference and not about advantages over one or another student. Similar to how we all have good friends and acquaintances. This similarly goes back to my point above that teachers can have favorites but they still must treat each student as though academically they are equal and offer help to all of those who need it equally. 

The teachers in rebuttal: 

I had a long and personal conversation with Mrs. Z  about how she felt about favoritism. Mrs. Z talked about the importance of knowing the definitions of favoritism, and if the connotation is negative or positive, helpful or not. 

Mrs. Z said, “I think it’s real. I think we all have egos. We all make good and bad decisions; however, I also hope that I can teach my students that what you do comes back to you… I would ask those particular people, ‘Did you follow the rules?’ ‘Were you respectful?’ ‘

Usually, those things run concurrently.”

When it comes to Mrs. Z, I believe she is misunderstood and only human, she is not purposefully trying to talk to some students and not others.  comments that if someone doesn’t talk to her first she won’t talk to them just out of respect that they might want to be left alone. Mrs. Z doesn’t fit into the definition of student favoritism as she offers the same help and support to every student and doesn’t grade them based on favoritism. 

I first approached another teacher about what students said about their teaching and favoritism. Upon asking if she would answer my questions, the teacher took the responses I had in my hand and read through each one, laughed, and declined to answer questions. 

I tried to explain how having favoritism is in the eye of the beholder and not necessarily bad, but she still declined to answer or comment. This teacher has a reputation for having student favoritism and treating students differently based on how much she likes them and often giving the cold shoulder to those she does not. 

I wasn’t sure what to think about this teacher’s response because it was so opposite to Mrs. S who wanted to have a conversation and explore what students thought and the definition of favoritism. It was a stark difference and the two different mindsets were interesting to observe. 

Mrs. R  is also cited for much student favoritism. An anonymous interviewee talked about how this teacher would hold tryouts and reject the students they didn’t like as much even if they were qualified and only accept the ones who they did like. 

Another teacher who I will call Teacher B talked so harshly to students they didn’t like, the teacher made students cry. I witnessed this firsthand and then watched as they seated her two favorite students next to each other. 

As much as I wish I could find each story of favoritism, my free speech is being taken because of the 1988 Supreme Court case of Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, which confirmed students in public school journalism can be censored. The case specifically worries me because the school could take down my writing and prohibit me from writing and interviewing. 

I would have liked to hear more because I don’t like to write about a controversial topic without hearing both sides. If any teachers would like to interview I would be open.

Hear from students:

I interviewed multiple students, along with the polls, to get direct stories. 

Hannah and Katie were both present during the conversation with Mrs. Z and wanted to comment on their opinions on teachers with favoritism. 

Hannah, junior, said, “Yes oh my gosh completely. Even when they say they don’t have favorites, it’s so obvious.”

Katie, junior, followed: “I don’t think it’s a bad thing; everyone has favorites.”

Additionally, Sarah, sophomore, commented about her experiences with a Leesville teacher. “So basically in [class x] there would be people they would always put in the front; they had favorites. And others who worked just as hard were put in the back.” 

I agree everyone has favorites, and I think when the line is crossed it’s not okay to have favoritism. I think it’s okay to have favorites as long as it doesn’t turn harmful.

In Mrs. I’s case, they use it to promote good behavior in the class instead. They favor students who treat her with respect and complete their work. 

Mrs. Z  said, “I’m fascinated; Well I guess I can understand that. But let me clarify how I think favoritism looks. I definitely have favoritism –I like the students who are respectful and follow the rules that I ask them to….It doesn’t mean I’m not going to help them as a student but that’s the truth.”

 

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