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Dialling down the favouritism
March 25, 2011 3:58 AM   Subscribe

Asking this for a friend. She is a student, and one of her teachers is showing her a bit of favouritism and she wants to know how to get him to dial it down a notch so that she doesn't alienate her classmates and develop a false sense of her own abilities.

My friend is a student in design. One of her teachers has been treating her more nicely than her classmates, and it's quite a small class (less than ten). She's also good friends with her classmates.

She thinks he just sees her as a kindred spirit in terms of design sensibilities. He will say stuff like she is a bright light in the class (in front of other students) has called her work "flawless" (which she thinks is impossible), and will generally spend more time talking to her than the others. She's concerned that she's not getting accurate critical feedback on her work. She feels that in times when her work has not been up to scratch that he's been complimentary of it anyway. She's a bit self-deprecating in general and quite talented, however the things she quotes from him do seem a bit much at times.

What can she do to get him to dial it down in class? She's been trying interact less with him in class and doesn't want to have to confront him about it, as it'd be super weird. Is there anything else she can do?
posted by scuza to Human Relations (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I don't think there's any way around a "confrontation," but it doesn't have to be hostile. Just stay late after class, and tell him, "I think you're being a little too kind to me. I'm sure my work isn't 'perfect,' and I'm trying to get better, so please, I would appreciate it if you'd critique me a little more strongly."

In fact she could say, half-joking, "I mean, some of them are starting to think I'm the teacher's pet!"

That wouldn't be insulting to the teacher, and it will get the message across.
posted by musofire at 4:28 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think she should avoid the direct confrontation and see this opportunity as a way to test what she knows and what the teacher knows. Do this by pushing and challenging his comments and her view points.

Examples:

"You're a bright light of the class."

"Bright light doesn't help define what works about this piece and what doesn't and it won't help me land contracts or a job later. So specific things can you point out that really work with this piece?"

"Um, ok, the use of two colors really sharpens the impact and adds emphasis to logo and headers on each page."

"Yeah, I can see that, is the choice of two colors too limiting? If I had gone four color, I might have been able to better highlight not only the headers, but the 2nd teir information also, which could be important to the reader. What does the rest of the class think, would 2 or 4 colors help with conveying the information?"

She's gotta push herself to learn and test out theories and techniques, test whether the teacher's comments are good ones or not and the only way to do that is to keep challenging herself, the comments and the thought behind them. And she should try breaking some of the rules. If the teacher says "Oh that's the perfect way to handle this situation" then redo the project, even if it's just a rough comp in the opposite way and put the two up side by side and see the differences between them. If nothing else, she could show them to fellow students and ask for their input.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:39 AM on March 25, 2011


I gotta disagree with brandon up there.

Take what you can get.

What is your pal going to do when the boss favorites her...and not her pals.

The problem isn't in the teacher finding her work a step above her classmates...its how your friend is reacting to it.

Enjoy.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:56 AM on March 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


"Bright light doesn't help define what works about this piece and what doesn't and it won't help me land contracts or a job later. So specific things can you point out that really work with this piece?"

Actually...I think this is what I disagree with. Saying that would REALLY piss a teacher/boss/manager off.

Although if your friend does say that...she won't be plagued with this problem anymore.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:58 AM on March 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Actually...I think this is what I disagree with. Saying that would REALLY piss a teacher/boss/manager off.

Say it to a teacher in public, in this situation and almost always to a boss/manager in private. If the higher up still gets pissed, they're too sensitive.

The point of going to school is to learn and part of that, is pushing boundaries and teaching oneself how to learn and push, when to cross lines and not. If this student is as talented as the poster writes, then they really need to get on the ball and figure out what their strong and weak points are. The only way to do that is to push.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:06 AM on March 25, 2011


"Say it to a teacher in public"

OMG. NO! Do not challenge a teacher in public. Can you ask for clarification, more feedback, etc. sure, but don't challenge them. (Note disagreeing with a point is not challenging them.)

Here is a trick, your friend could say something like "I'm interested in entering this into a design contest (or whatever appropriate peer reviewed event would work) could you give me some suggestions on how to make it better?" Asking the prof to look at it from someone else's perspective should prompt him to give it a more critical eye. A great class project might still be a poor contest/journal/etc submission.

As for her friends, if the situation is as she says it is, they will see that she is not actively currying favor and not trying monopolizing class time. That should be enough to keep them from holding it against her that the prof really likes her.
posted by oddman at 7:51 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


What is his role in the department and how long will she have to be around him? I ask because:

I had an English teacher in high school who treated me this way - I was smart, sure, and a confident writer - but it still made me incredibly uncomfortable to be singled out in class all the time. I would sweat and get nervous in his class because I knew that he was going to make me read from my essay or ask my opinion about Hamlet while everyone else just sat there and stared at us. Outside of class he would seek me out and recommend books or ask me about colleges I was considering.

It was overwhelming having someone be so 100% a fan of mine, which is the real sad part. I reacted very badly and started being very cold to him, cutting his class, making fun of him - every childish thing I could do to make him leave me alone. The class ended eventually, and for the rest of high school (another full year), he acted almost... wounded every time we had to interact.

I wish I had been mature enough to tell him the truth. If your friend's professor has any kind of influence in the industry, it's in her best interest to handle this with class. She doesn't have to "confront" him - but she should be mature and at least talk to him.
posted by polly_dactyl at 7:55 AM on March 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Eh, ride this gravy train! It's a good thing to be teacher's pet -- this idea that it's a bad thing may be borne out of misplaced ideas about ambition and whether as a woman it's ok to stand out in a crowd. She can get accurate and brutal critical feedback elsewhere; it doesn't have to be from this guy. It's really important to forge a solid relationship with professors who you click with on several levels, and she should not let this opportunity pass. These relationships are what gets you launched into your career -- the extra modicum of critical feedback she might be missing won't hurt her.

However, she will have to make sure the other students don't resent her (too much). This can be accomplished by just being a nice person outside of class -- not trying to one-up them or being overly focused on talking about school during socializing time. But she shouldn't fixate too much on this. Like it or not, school is a competition, and she's winning. Others will resent this, but she shouldn't let this undermine her achievement.
posted by yarly at 10:13 AM on March 25, 2011


Oh, and I totally disagree with this dialogue:

"You're a bright light of the class."

"Bright light doesn't help define what works about this piece and what doesn't and it won't help me land contracts or a job later. So specific things can you point out that really work with this piece?"


A letter of recommendation from him stating that she was a "bright light in the class" is exactly what will get her contracts and a job later.
posted by yarly at 10:15 AM on March 25, 2011


I'd go to his office, not confront him during class time, and certainly not in front of her classmates!

In fact, I don't think I'd "confront" him at all. I think I'd say that I really appreciated his positive feedback and wondered if he could give me some critical feedback as well, as I wanted to challenge myself. If, during the course of the conversation, I could bring up that I was worried about being perceived as teacher's pet, I might do that as well.

But, you know, other than the critical feedback she wants, teacher's pet is not a bad thing, really. It's only sour grapes and jealousy on the classmates' part that could make it a problem. And she should be dealing with THEM if they have a problem with it, especially if they are her friends.

And if they aren't? Why should she care if they think she's getting favoritism? She is doing good work, and should get credit for it.
posted by misha at 10:33 AM on March 25, 2011


The point of going to school is to learn and part of that, is pushing boundaries and teaching oneself how to learn and push, when to cross lines and not.

I agree...but I think that taking a compliment a teacher/prof/mentor gives...and using it AGAINST the teach/prof/mentor in a kind of challenging way is a good way for grasshopper to be eaten by snake.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:12 PM on March 25, 2011


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