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Sami Dale-Barron

Professor Casell

ENG 1201.211

15 December 2019

Why Do Teachers Have Favorite Students?

When I was in high school, I had a Spanish teacher that I really liked and from ealy on it

was clear that she liked me too. She was always really sweet to me and excited to see me. She

took note when I wasn’t in class and would say that she missed me when I returned.

It was apparent that I was the favorite, I could tell and so could everyone else. I had

classes with her throughout high school and favoritism began to blossom quite rapidly. On the

first day she began to call me “cariña,” which is the Spanish word for “sweetheart” almost like it

was my name. As if that didn’t make it obvious enough, mid-way through my high school career,

I had my very own candy drawer in her desk that was kept locked. Only I could access the

drawer with her special, off-limits, teacher-assigned keys.

I had no idea why she liked me so much or why she thought this wasn’t obvious to other

students. I wasn’t particularly good at Spanish, I never did my homework, and I was not pleasant

to be around. I had very few friends. Perhaps she just didn’t care if other students noticed, but

one thing was apparent, the other students were jealous and they were mean to me. I was

obviously very grateful to be the favorite but the negative attention from the other students made

it rather unenjoyable. I wondered why some “Teacher’s Pets” receive backlash but others don’t,

it’s like they’ve accepted it. I researched and later learned it was because I was a “Teacher’s

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The idea that every teacher has a favorite is what’s referred to as the “Teacher’s Pet

Phenomenon.” The interesting part about it is that it states that most teachers don’t even

acknowledge they have a favorite despite nearly every one of them possessing it. In Zohar Tal

and Elisha Babad’s piece, “The Teacher's Pet Phenomenon: Rate of Occurrence, Correlates, and

Psychological Costs” the focus is put on “who is the teacher’s pet?”, but the corresponding

research looked at Israli elementary students. The research found, “...90% of students and

teachers investigated recently reported having personally experienced or witnessed a teacher's

pet in their own classroom at one time or another…” (Tal & Babad, 1989) It also found that the

majority of “pets” are female.

When discussing the “Teacher’s Pet Phenomenon,” it’s imperative to mention that there

are two different types of “Teacher’s Pets.” In Slawomir Trusz’s, “The teacher’s pet

phenomenon 25 years on,” it is stated that the phenomenon has a negative connotation as well as

effect on students who are not the “pet.” Taking it a step further, this piece states, “Students

assessed the phenomenon more negatively than teachers, although this evaluation was modified

by respondents’ views on two hypothetical types of pets, i.e., pet-leader versus pet-rejected.”

Students’ sex, their academic status, the level of education, and the class profile cause favoritism

but this is what is referred to as the “pet-leader,” which means that other students were accepting

of the favoritism.

The “Pet Leader” is what is depicted commonly in movies and essentially what the

general public would envision as a pet. This student is high-achieving and skilled in the subject

the teacher teaches in, they receive high marks and an overwhelming amount of accolades. No

one in the class dares to treat this “pet” in a negative manner because this student is the goal

student and loved by the teacher. All of the other students want to be this student. They believe
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that being as smart, or what they believe to be as smart, and performing as well as this student

will result in favoritism shown towards them. This favoritism is a valuable asset due to the unfair

advantages it offers. When one is favored, they will commonly get less harsh grading and receive

more leniency on assignments.

On the flip side, “pet-rejected” students are students that are not chosen as the “pet”

based on the characteristics presented by the “pet-leader.” This type of favorite creates a very

turbulent, and often negative, environment for everyone in the classroom. “Pet-rejected” students

are often criticized and receive backlash from other students due to their status and it’s lack of

understanding as to why they are the “pet.” This favorite is chosen as the favorite, not due to

his/her high performance and knowledge but instead, because of external factors that make the

teacher feel connected to the student. These external factors could be a number of things from

ethnicity, background, and gender as a few examples. Interestingly enough, women are more

commonly seen as favorites. Some theorize that this is due to societal views on women.

When it comes to the “Pet Rejected,” other students are often upset. They don’t want to

be like this favorite so they don’t accept them as their favorite. Instead of striving to be like this

student, they beat him/her down in an attempt to weaken the relationship shared between the

student and teacher. In Debora L. Roorda, Terrence D. Jorgensen, and Helma M.Y. Koomen’s

piece “Different teachers, different relationships? Student-teacher relationships and engagement

in secondary education” the focus is put on attachment theory (“psychological model attempting

to describe the dynamics of long-term and short-term interpersonal relationships between

humans”) and states that student’s with positive relationships with teachers will reach out to

those teachers in times of stress which strengthens the bond and deepens the connection.
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In D. Barney, F. T. Pleban, and A. Dodd’s, “Favoritism in the physical education classroom:

Selected reflective experiences,” it is discussed why students are chosen as favorites, the

research was specific to college aged students. This piece discusses “pet-leaders” and “pet-

rejected” but this piece identifies them as “popular students” and “unpopular students.” The “pet-

leaders” would be the “popular students” and the “pet rejected” would be the “unpopular

students.” It is pretty self-explanatory.

Something that is important to consider when looking into this topic is that, even though

most of the research suggests turbulence in the classroom from favoritism of the “Pet-Rejected,”

this is not true for all of the works out there.

In Shao-I Chiu, Jiezhi Lee, and Tsanglang Lian’s piece, “Does the teacher’s pet

phenomenon inevitably cause classroom conflict? Comparative viewpoints of three pet-student

groups.” The focus is put on how the “Teacher Pet Phenomenon” does not cause conflict but also

states it has the potential to. It tested this with three groups of students and stated that due to the

teacher's level of authority and student’s level of self-adjustment. Essentially, this piece is

backing previous claims that this phenomenon is so common that it is just accepted at this point.

One could compare a teacher’s favorite student to a presidential candidate in the U.S. and

the teacher to the Electoral College. Even if every student (voter) dislikes the favorite

(candidate,) the teacher (Electoral College) can still choose that student as the favorite

(President.) This type of unequal power distribution as it pertains to one’s goals of themselves

creates a very, as stated before, unhealthy environment.

Why does any of this matter? This research is incredibly important due to how it

could correlate to the betterment of classroom environments for students. This is not to suggest

that “Pets” should be done away with altogether, they provide somewhat of a class system and
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someone to look up to/try to compete with. Although this could be negatively viewed in some

lights, it has the potential to redefine education and the structure surrounding it causing students

who aren’t the favorites to work harder to be.

Works Cited

Barney, D., et al. “Favoritism in the Physical Education Classroom: Selected Reflective

Experiences.” International Journal of Physical Education, vol. 56, no. 3, 2019 3rd

Quarter 2019, pp. 2–9. EBSCOhost,

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Chiu, Shao-I., et al. “Does the Teacher’s Pet Phenomenon Inevitably Cause Classroom

Conflict? Comparative Viewpoints of Three Pet-Student Groups.” School Psychology

International, vol. 34, no. 1, Feb. 2013, pp. 3–16. EBSCOhost,


Roorda, Debora L., et al. “Different Teachers, Different Relationships? Student-Teacher

Relationships and Engagement in Secondary Education.” LEARNING AND

INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES, vol. 75. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2019.101761.

Accessed 3 Dec. 2019.

Tal, Zohar, and Elisha Babad. “The Teacher’s Pet Phenomenon: Rate of Occurrence,

Correlates, and Psychological Costs.” Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 82, no. 4,

Dec. 1990, p. 637. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1037/0022-0663.82.4.637.

“The Teacher’s Pet Phenomenon 25 Years on.” Social Psychology of Education, vol. 20, no. 4,

Dec. 2017, pp. 707–730. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s11218-017-9388-8.