So, today in one of my classes, I had that magical moment where a student goes “Mr. Jazzman, you’re one of my favourite teachers this year.” Your heart swells with pride, and the heavens burst forth with song and rejoicing, etc., etc.
Of course, it doesn’t really mean anything.
Not in the sense that the student doesn’t actually like you. They do. However, this early in the year, it’s kind of like that love you have for the new car. The love that will instantly vanish in a white-hot fire of rage the first time some small yet critical part fails, requiring a $500 repair bill and a week of public transit. Students are the same way with teachers. And yes, I did just compare teachers to automobiles. Personally, I like to imagine myself as a Ferrari.
The student does in fact like you as a teacher, but it’s something that probably relies heavily on the fact that you haven’t had to come down on them like the wrath of heaven for some indiscretion, or they haven’t gotten roadblocked by a few of your tasks yet.
All the same, it is wonderful to hear. Something you strive for as a teacher is to make that positive impact for just one person, and forming that bond where a student feels comfortable enough to tell you that you are their ‘favourite’ means you’ve made substantial progress. Declarations of admiration, affection, friendship, and love are rarely negative, regardless of circumstances.
Of course, there’s the opposite extreme that can tell you just as much about your status with a student. The usual phrase is something like “That’s not fair!” or, in higher levels, “This is ______” (insert offensive statement of your choice). Usually this happens right after enacting some sort of management procedure, particularly one where the student is required to have a detention or suspension.
And this, too, can mean almost nothing. Again, not in the sense that the student isn’t angry with you (they definitely are), but in the sense that their anger can be a positive sign. Often as teachers we face students with difficult home lives and a hazy at best understanding of discipline and responsibility. Although angry at being called out for their transgressions, many students actually respect you more for being ‘tough’ with them.
I’ve told many colleagues and sometimes students (depending on the scenario and age level) that it is not my job to be their friend. Whether they ‘like’ me or not is irrelevant. What matters to me is that for today and all the future days that I will have that student in my class, their learning, growth, and safety are my primary concerns. Whether that means the student grumps their way through a year with me and emerges with a sliver more of respect for personal responsibility or ends up beaming profusely because I inspired them to pursue music as a career path, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that they grew.
Of course, as a first-year teacher, I will gladly take every single “favourite” status label I can get. They can make a nice mental stack to go through every time I resist the urge to ship some individuals off to Siberia in a cargo box.