The teacher’s pet trope, explained

Students prove professors’ unfair biases

The Urban Dictionary defines the teacher’s pet as “An annoying student who kisses up to the teacher and does a bunch of favours for said teacher in hopes of getting a good grade.”

Being the teacher’s pet and befriending them can be beneficial at times. Evidently, good grades aren’t solely based on whether or not a teacher likes a student, but the way that students present themselves can influence a teacher’s perception of them, which can lead to unfair bias.

Research conducted by Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov demonstrates that it only takes one-tenth of a second for us to judge someone and make a first impression.

Teachers are humans, and just like everyone, they hold preconceived opinions about students that are unrelated to their work. These opinions can be either conscious or subconscious. Teachers may try to be completely objective when grading, but at times fail to do so.

Among the different areas where teachers can be biased, one is grading. Depending on the subject of the course, professors teaching English, humanities, sociology, creative writing or any classes where there are written pieces, are susceptible to bias when grading. Of course, professors teaching math and science can’t be biased as there are only right and wrong answers.

A study done in 2014 demonstrates the prevalence of a halo bias in Australian university professors.

“A linear-contrast analysis showed that, as hypothesized, the graders assigned significantly higher scores to written work following the better presentation than following the poor oral presentation.” The results suggest that keeping the students anonymous helps prevent bias in grading.

Nadine Lardjane, a Social Science student at John Abbott College, confirmed that some of her teachers show unwarranted biases.

“Last semester I had an English teacher who admitted that she would hide the student’s name when correcting papers because she knew that it will influence her grading,” said Lardjane. “If she was correcting an assignment of a student who never participates in class, she would probably be more strict than when correcting a student who always participates in her class.”

“That’s why it’s super important to be the teacher’s pet and kiss their ass once in a while,” added Lardjane.

From my own experience, I’ve noticed that my professors have shown bias to my own advantage. Perhaps because I constantly spam their emails and chat with them; a true teacher’s pet. In one of my assignments, my professor clearly stated that she would give me the full marks for my assignment and then added “but be careful for next time.” I think this clearly shows somewhat of a bias. When I looked closely at the rubric, I saw that I didn’t deserve those points.

Amanda Lepage also expressed her encounter with an unreasonable, biased teacher who taught creative writing at John Abbott College.

“My teacher was extremely biased when grading. She often had an idea of what she wanted a written assignment to look like, but would not give pointers or explanation,” said Lepage.

Looking back, Lepage described her situation as unprofessional. The class killed her creativity as she was constantly graded based on whether or not her teacher agreed on the content and subject of her prose.

Lepage further stated that when she presented her pieces to other teachers, they said it was good.

Another college student, who asked to remain anonymous, mentioned that her teachers show disfavour towards immigrant students and easily get frustrated with them. For instance, if she makes a mistake, as a white student, her teacher will likely be more patient and lenient. However, if an immigrant makes the same mistake, the teacher will degrade them and criticize them by saying things such as “Why don’t you understand, is it because English isn’t your first language?”

Implicit biases are unconscious attitudes and stereotypes that influence a person’s judgment and actions. It is crucial for educators to understand the different biases they possess to ensure that every student is treated equally and fairly. These biases have a powerful impact on the students’ academic achievement. For example, implicit biases may lead to unintentional discrimination like gender or racial biases that will affect the academic performance of students.

The Rosenthal and Jacobsen study done in 1968 suggests that teacher expectations are likely to influence the student’s performance. This phenomenon is known as the Pygmalion Effect: when positive expectations influence performance positively, and negative expectations influence performance negatively.

There are many strategies to address implicit biases in academic institutions. First, to prevent any bias affecting educators’ work ethics, professors are encouraged to recognize their biases by partaking in the Implicit Association Test which will help assess the different biases they may hold. Along with that, grading systems should be reformulated to avoid such encounters. Perhaps professors could begin by hiding students’ names when grading papers. Another solution is for professors to follow a strict rubric to avoid their subjective influence and determine a neutral grade.


Feature graphic by @the.beta.lab

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