Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Teacher's Pet

I knew early not to brag. I learned not to volunteer. By freshman algebra, I learned not to respond even to a direct question.

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You can take your returned test and slide it face-down into your folder. When someone asks how you did on the test, you respond only, "I did okay." And still, someone is going to say, "You got an A, didn't you?" as if your test score were part of a personal campaign to make everyone else feel inferior. And even though you didn't confirm your good grade, some classmate is still bound to give you grief about it.

If you're in elementary school, they will call you teacher's pet. It's not the worst thing you could be called, but it would be better to be called nothing at all.

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I always hated being called teacher's pet. Like anyone of any age, I hated being singled out in a negative way. What particularly rankled me, especially as I got older, was that I was being mocked for doing the right thing. I did well in school, and I rarely caused trouble. That's who I was. That's who I am. I like school, I'm pretty good at it, and I'm a rule-follower.

Pencil and Paper - Flotsam of the Mind

What really bothered me was the implication that I was sucking up. I didn't get good grades to suck up to my teacher. I got good grades because I understood the material. My only intention was to do well. I wanted the A, but I wasn't looking to curry favor with anyone. I admit to being proud of those grades, but I never thought it made me superior. (And I'm sure there were days in junior high or early high school when I gladly would have accepted a B for a tad more popularity.)

Decades distant from that teasing, it's all too fresh in my mind. My first grader was called teacher's pet by some classmates this week. Childhood teasing is one area in which I would prefer my expertise to go unused. Just thinking of the way I felt makes my chest tighten, and I hate to see my child feel the same way.

I shared my experiences with my daughter and gave her what advice I have: keep doing your best and take pride in your work, but be humble and don't volunteer if something comes easy to you. Excel, but keep it quiet. Have pride, but don't be prideful.

Then I had to tell her that, even if she does those things, some kid is going to call her teacher's pet anyway. It's what kids do. If you do well in school and don't get in trouble, some kid is going to call you teacher's pet. It's crappy and unjustified, but it happens. It's life.

I was hoping I wouldn't need to share this life lesson as early as first grade, but our life lessons find us. I'm certain we will have many similar conversations over the next ten years. I also know that nothing I can say is going to make it any better. That's a life lesson I could do without.


  1. My chest tightens the same way - I totally know that feeling. One thing that D's kindergarten teacher did well was that she called her daily helper the "Teacher's Pet" (although D always thought it was "Teacher Rat") so that everyone got to be it and it was a thing of honor. Still, I totally get this. I loved your advice to excel and be proud but not prideful. Good advice.

  2. Geh. This behavior really needs to stop. I think a lot of the socially needier kids, especially those with bad home lives, will bend over backwards to be accepted by their peers. That includes bombing at school when they could have done better. I also hate the practice of singling out one child to serve as an "example" of good behavior for the others. I hear this actually works in Asia, but it NEVER has the desired effect in America. If this happens to you in America, you are guaranteed to have no friends for the rest of the year. If ever.