Image from Pexels.

Image from Pexels.

In every high school, there is always that kid—the quintessential teacher’s pet. Teacher’s pets are notorious for, among other things:

  • Always throwing up their hands the moment the teacher asks for volunteers
  • Spending the occasional lunch period eating with the teacher “just to chat”
  • Constantly acting excited to be in school, even at 7am on a Monday morning
  • Asking questions about every single thing the teacher says in class

Though the brown-nosers themselves may vary, one thing remains the same: they are widely disliked. It is no secret that the “Teacher’s Pet” award in the yearbook is not truly an award. But why is this? Why have high schoolers traditionally frowned upon those who seek to better themselves? And is this the proper thing to do?

In high school, there seems to be a subconscious glorification of putting in little effort. Reactions to a test certainly vary, with some students utterly dumbfounded by the exam they just took and others acing it without a sweat. It is not unlikely to hear people bragging about how little time they spent studying. “Oh yeah, I looked at the notes for twenty minutes, but I still got an A on the test” is basically the definition of a humblebrag. For some reason, students generally appreciate these claims. They seem to demonstrate a sort of natural intelligence, suggesting that a person doesn’t require studying or hard work to perform well. (The amount of studying time you put into something is definitely linked to performance, though). If we look at natural intelligence as a person’s most valuable asset, then this boast is quite successful. It says “I’m smart without trying.” This quality is lauded among high school students, and the kids who manage perfect grades with little effort are respected as flawless geniuses.

Outside of the academic world, however, natural intelligence is not the most important quality that one can offer. In a professional setting, hard work will get you much further. Employers don’t hire based off of SAT scores or how little time you spent in the library during college. They hire applicants with good qualifications and a strong work ethic (among many other things). Promotions aren’t given to people with the highest IQ; they are given to those who have worked ceaselessly and put forth their best effort every single day. And as difficult as it may be to admit it, teacher’s pets are the products of hard work. They aren’t normally the kids who are naturally gifted, able to ace a class without a second of thought. No, they are the ones who need to study in order to be successful. All of that time spent getting extra help and asking questions isn’t just sucking up; it’s valuable instruction that can be vital to understanding material. High schoolers’ general dislike of effort is one reason that teacher’s pets endure such criticism; they are putting in more work than most other students care to do.

But when does this augmented effort turn into “sucking up”? Sucking up is universally despised. It is perceived as a form of cheating the system, with students receiving grades that they didn’t really earn because they have a favorable relationship with the teacher. This, more likely, is the true root of students’ attitude toward teacher’s pets. It is one thing to be curious and engaged in class; it is quite another to ask questions or go in for extra help with false motives. Students who have rightly earned the title of teacher’s pet rely on their relationship with the teacher to propel their grades in the class. Though there is nothing explicitly wrong with their behavior, it is easy to see why they are criticized.

It’s tough to walk the line between interested student and suck-up. One is an admirable trait, and the other is reviled by peers. As much as you may want to avoid becoming a teacher’s pet, perhaps other students are partially to blame. High schoolers have shamed the hard worker and extolled those who are “naturally smart” (and often lazy). A shift in perspective may be warranted, for not all so-called teacher’s pets are sneakily cheating the system. Their behavior just may be genuine. Bottom line? If you want to be engaged and interested in a class and a teacher, go for it. Don’t let childish insults prevent you from seizing any opportunities to expand your mind.

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