Ask Rhee Gold | When kindness is perceived as favoritism

When kindness is perceived as favoritism

Q: Dear Rhee,

Mandy, one of my students, comes from an abusive home situation. It’s not physical abuse, more like abandonment. Her parents are always fighting with one another and they often leave their young children to fend for themselves. Sometimes they forget to pick her up or they argue about who is going to pick her up while she waits in the lobby for her ride home.

Because I want to be there for this sweet child, I have done my best to take her under my wing. I make a point to help build her self-esteem and make her feel like we at the studio are her family. Sometimes I give her a ride home to save her from having to deal with parents who argue over who will pick her up.

Yesterday a different parent approached me because she sees my interest in Mandy as favoritism. It just about floored me, because I see my actions as helping a child who needs me—I would do it for anyone who needed me. I don’t care for any other child less; I’m just being a mentor or role model to a child who needs one. It seems simple in my mind—it’s an action that I think most teachers would take.

Now I’m afraid that parents or other kids are going to treat Mandy differently because they see her as a teacher’s pet. I need advice on how to handle this situation in a positive way without alienating other students or their parents while I help this child. Thanks. —Joanne

A: Hi Joanne,

Pat yourself on the back for taking an interest in a student who needs you. I believe many teachers would do the same thing you’re doing in this situation; it’s a teacher’s instinct to help a child in need. The mom who approached you has made a judgment based on a misperception.

It’s up to you to correct that misperception. While you give Mandy what you think she needs, you must be keenly aware that other students and their parents are watching. They have no idea what you know about her personal life, and they don’t need to know. I’m not sure what prompted the mom to approach you and accuse you of favoritism. Instinct tells me that she may be the only one who will come forward, but there may be others who feel the same way. If I were you, I would go out of my way to treat all the kids in my classroom equally.

In the meantime, Mandy should never feel that anything has changed. It would probably be another blow to her self-esteem. Continue to do what your instinct tells you to do for her, but be careful that your kindness isn’t perceived as favoritism. You can do this. Good luck. —Rhee