I was recently surprised when a student directed the F-word at me. “You’re my favourite teacher,” she said.
It surprised me, you see, because I hadn’t even been trying. I’d simply been walking to the canteen.
“Well, that’s… nice,” I replied and, rather than slowing down to ask why or to find out if she was about to ask for an extension on her essay, I simply sauntered away with the chest-swell of pride that can only be generated by the unsolicited compliment of a teenager. I was somebody’s Favourite Teacher, and I wore it as an invisible badge of honour for the rest of the day.
One point per F-word. Two points if witnessed by other students. Three points if witnessed by staff.
There was a time, long ago, when this was a more common occurrence. There was even a time, I blush to admit, when I did try. And it wasn’t just me. In my first few years in the profession, being Favourite was something so valued that my fellow newbies and I kept a running tally. One point per F-word. Two points if witnessed by other students. Three points if witnessed by staff.
Sure, I may have tried to sway student preferences with Minties after every assessment and the promise of a film in the final week of term, but otherwise it was a fair competition, and I would generally come out in the top three. (Note: if a student declares more than one teacher to be Favourite on the same day, no-one gets a point. Some students are serial Favouriters. Keep tabs on these types as future politicians.)
Being Favourite comes more easily when you’re a young teacher, but youth is not the only way to win students’ hearts. Years of observation have led me to deduce there are several ways of increasing your chances:
For the early childhood teacher: Colourful clothing + big earrings + sing-song voice.
For the lower primary teacher: Turning up + smiling + patience + offering art/drama.
For the middle/upper primary teacher: Telling funny jokes + giving fair grades + never getting anything wrong + driving a cool car + having a good hairstyle + possessing interesting trivia facts + supporting the right sports team + sharing stories and photos of entertaining pet.
For the secondary teacher: Self-deprecating humour + offering Minties after every assessment + knowing pop culture references + using slang ironically + not giving detentions + letting a few swear words slip out during class + coaching a sports team and/or directing the school production.
But before you memorise the above and start eagerly drawing up your own tally sheet, please keep in mind that it’s inadvisable to try all these things at once. You don’t want to come off as desperate and risk being labelled Least Favourite Teacher.
Also – and this may come as a shock – it’s advisable to not place too much stock on the day-to-day Favourite accolades you might accumulate. Sure, you might get a short-term surge of adrenaline and triumph, but the truth is that students can be fickle; their preferences temporary. One minute you’re the it teacher, and the next they’re fawning over the Economics teacher who made it to the finals of Australia’s Got Talent.
It’s the English Teacher with distinctly uncool glasses and remarkably untrendy shoes.
In the long run, it’s the Enduring Favourites that truly matter. These are the ones remembered fondly decades later. When I think back on my high school years, my Enduring Favourite isn’t the charismatic, sporty Maths teacher; nor is it the hip, young Drama teacher. It’s the English Teacher with distinctly uncool glasses and remarkably untrendy shoes. She never bought us pizza or entered a national talent competition, but somehow she managed to see through my class-clownery and made the time to actually talk to me. She encouraged my love of Shakespeare and poetry, despite such things being viewed with suspicion by the rest of the school.
When I ask other people about their Favourite Teachers, their eyes look upward and then, with a smile, they might recall an eccentric Art teacher who fashioned her own hats. A Grade 3 teacher obsessed with the Beatles who never stopped humming. A Year 6 teacher who was proactive in restoring a neglected tennis court, then taught all the students to play… To reflect the worth of these Enduring Favourites, I’m altering the scoring system. One hundred points for ten years. Five hundred points for fifty. Now that’s something worth aiming for.