This bothered me until I realized that she described all of her students in this way.
She was intentional, wanting to make it crystal clear that she was committed to caring for each one. This lesson has stuck with me since my first year of teaching. Since then, I’ve aimed to count all of my students as my favorites.
But there are some students who are just - to put it nicely - ridiculously hard to love. Can our most challenging kids be our favorites, too?
From the first minutes of the first day of school, Teddy was a terror. He wasn’t your typical troublemaker. He wouldn’t bite (or push back too hard). Instead he used psychological warfare with me:
You don't care about me!
No one loves me! I want to die.
I hate this school. I hate this class. And I hate you!
He was never discreet when he complained. He would hiss and shout out his frustrations during lessons, vocalizing them like cusswords. He would sulk and collapse on the ground. He would get up into my face and challenge, crying angry, bitter tears.
And he was just a wee second grader. A boy who had just learned to tie his shoes.
Teddy - in his typical, boisterous fashion - blurted out during a read aloud, "My dad pushed my mom so hard that she started bleeding."
My jaw dropped and I lost my place in the book. As I sat on a stool in the front of the classroom, I began to view Teddy in a much different light.
Over the course of this year, I learned a lot more about him. The kicker was the news that his overseas dad wanted nothing to do with him. My heart was broken.
Here was a student who needed me to regard him as my favorite. So, during the year, I made an intentional choice to see him this way, even when he was his most unlovable self.
Since my family and I moved to Finland last summer, Teddy has reached out to me several times over email. His messages are brief (and drastically different from his pithy classroom outbursts):
When are you moving back to the United States? I miss you so much, Mr. Walker.
How is the baby inside of Mrs. Walker’s womb?
School just isn’t the same without you.
These are breakthrough words, much softer messages from the same boy who used to catapult himself at me, bursting into angry tears and slinging hurtful words with clenched fists.
Throughout my time of teaching in Finland, his emails have deeply nourished me, reaffirming my commitment to view each one of my students as my favorite.
Note: For the sake of confidentiality, I gave my student a pseudonym in this blog post.