How I Turned My Least Favorite Student Into My Favorite

How I Turned My Least Favorite Student Into My Favorite

There was a time I dreaded going to school every morning. I’d drive to work with a sense of doom even picking up a pumpkin spice latte couldn’t erase. It wasn’t because of cranky administrators, long hours, hostile parents, or the heavy workload. No, it was all because of my least favorite student, Emily (not her real name).

Emily was always the first one through my classroom door – usually beating me – and the last one to leave. She didn’t stop talking. Like EVER. She’d start chattering as soon as I was in her line of vision, even if I wasn’t totally within earshot. And she never stopped. 

She had opinions on everything and shared every thought that popped into her head stream-of-consciousness style. When she wasn’t talking, she was laughing or singing. And it didn’t matter if I didn’t respond or if her classmates ignored her. She kept talking, laughing, and giggling to herself anyway. 

My least favorite student wasn’t even the one with the biggest behavior challenges.

I’d had students with much bigger behavior challenges – those were defiant and aggressive. I knew other teachers found Emily delightful. But I’d never had a student get under my skin as much. I tried everything to get her to be quiet – gentle requests, reprimands, consequences, bribes. She never said anything rude. She just didn’t have an “off” switch.

The frustration built in me until everything she did drove me crazy. It annoyed me when she corrected other students. I could hear her tapping her nails on her desk from across the room, even though no one else could. When she remembered to raise her hand before blurting out her opinions, I still fought the urge to roll my eyes. The mere thought of her on the weekend would put me in a bad mood that was hard to shake. 

Then I overheard Emily telling a classmate I was her favorite teacher ever. What? Me? How was I the favorite teacher of my least favorite student? I was sure I visibly cringed more than once when I heard her shriek my name, running to tell me about the show she was binge-watching or what she had for breakfast. And in that very moment, my heart softened and I vowed to find a way to appreciate Emily and connect in ways we both enjoyed.

Here’s how I turned my least favorite student into my favorite student. 

1. I stopped beating myself up.

It’s okay not to like everyone you encounter. We don’t always click with people we meet. Why should it be any different with a student? Giving myself permission to let go of the guilt and shame took a huge weight off. 

2. I took time to learn about Emily’s life.

Her parents hadn’t been responsive to my many requests for a conference about the incessant chatter and early school drop off, so I asked past teachers, the principal, and the guidance counselor for insight. I learned Emily had a very rocky home life, and child protective services had been involved. My colleagues raved about Emily’s ability to show up at school, keep a positive attitude, and be motivated to learn despite the hardships she dealt with at home. Learning more about her background allowed me to focus on the whole child instead of the behavior. 

3. I made an effort to connect.

Emily loved musicals. I’ve never had much interest, but I asked her for a list of her favorites that were available through streaming. Then I tried to watch at least a part of one every weekend. We would discuss it throughout the week while I let her help me with little classroom tasks.  

4. I looked for her strengths.

Emily was an extrovert who wanted to be helpful. She liked learning, as well as sharing her own knowledge, opinions, and experiences. I gave her several classroom jobs. She was the official class greeter, tour guide, and messenger – all jobs that let her interact with others (and frequently took her out of the classroom so I could get a little breather). Focusing on her strengths allowed me to see challenging behavior that had been driving me crazy in a positive light. 

5. I helped her channel her chatter.

I gave her a notebook to jot down her thoughts instead of blurting them out. Then gave her three minutes at the end of class to share what she thought was most important. I also allowed her to teach interested students songs from Hamilton during weekly free time, complete with a performance of the song they’d been working on once a month.

6. On the bad days, I remembered it was only temporary.

I reminded myself I would be Emily’s teacher for only one school year. That made it easier to vow to fill her with positive memories of her time in my class. 

Yeah, I know we aren’t supposed to have favorite students – or at least not admit to it. But when you really put in the work with those formerly least favorite students, they have a special and long-lasting place in your heart. I’m a better teacher and a better person because of Emily.


How I Turned My Least Favorite Student Into My Favorite

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Rachael Moshman
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed., an editor at Bored Teachers, is a mom, educator, writer, and advocate for self-confidence. She's been a teacher in classrooms of infants through adult college students. She loves pizza, Netflix and yoga. Connect with her at rachael.m@boredteachers.com
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