How to Handle Apple Polishers

Author: Lauren Crews 

“Teachers are great. Can I have an A?” A poster with this phrase hung in my classroom for a long time. I would jokingly point to it when a student went overboard with their flattery in hopes of getting me to change their grade. Unbeknownst to them, they were fine-tuning the art of apple polishing, and I called their bluff.

Apple polishing is when students, parents, and those in our education community consistently compliment a teacher in hopes of currying an improved grade. The name grew from the practice of bringing an apple for the teacher.

Thankfully, we don’t encounter these characters often, and incorporating the following practices will curtail even their slightest temptation.

The easiest way to prevent someone from trying to sweet talk the teacher is to establish your norms from the start. Reviewing your class expectations provides the perfect time to reinforce the “flattery will get you nowhere” attitude. This need not be stern. It can easily be tucked in while discussing due dates and your late work policy.

An apple polisher may begin with seemingly innocent compliments or taking a personal interest. Politely accept the compliment but remind the giver to keep things professional. On the surface, this can be the basics of relationship building and welcomed in a classroom.

However, when compliments become uncomfortable or given with a quid pro quo, the line has been crossed, and boundaries must be re-established.

Reteaching is a common practice in the classroom, and it may also apply to this blurred ethical line. Re-establish your expectations and their need to take responsibility for assignments. When all else fails, a private conversation may be required.

Depending on your policy and the student’s work ethic, offering extra credit or the opportunity to remediate a low grade may be all that is needed while putting the outcome on their shoulders with a non-negotiable deadline. Document everything and let the guardians know the student’s plan of action.

Of course, not all compliments and flattery fall under manipulation. A gift is simply an expression of thanks, and a compliment is just that. Another tool to combat bootlicking is never assume it won’t happen to you.

For some, a passing grade can mean more than being promoted to the next level. It can be tied to college, scholarship, or program acceptance, and some will do whatever it takes to make the grade.

It is an honor to receive a gift from a student, and compliments are appreciated, but always ask yourself if the gift comes with different expectations. By doing so, and incorporating these other tips, you will help to overcome the risk of favoritism that another parent or student might perceive.

Manipulation is never acceptable, and growth opportunities come in many forms. For additional ideas on how to direct your students toward desired behaviors, see our article Simple Ways To Blend Moral Values Into Your Teaching.

About the Author

Lauren Crews graduated from Jacksonville University. Lauren began her teaching career as a substitute. She became a Junior high Language Arts teacher and served as department head for thirteen years before moving to high school. Lauren is a multi-award-winning, traditionally published author.
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