Higher Ed: “Teacher’s Pet.” “Know-It-All.” “Brown-Noser.” How Labels Impact Learning

“Teacher’s pet.” “Know-it-all.” “Brown-noser.” These are just some of the terms students lob at each other in (and out) of school – especially at students who demonstrate strong mastery of a subject or are enthusiastic in class. In this episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton  explore how and why those labels are used and why they might not pack the punch they used to.

One of the assumptions underlying the use of labels such as those is that it is not cool to be smart or active in class discussion. Ed remembers that was certainly the case when he was in school.

“It was definitely…. ‘you’re teacher’s pet, you’re a brown-noser,'” says Ed. “And therefore you’re now ostracized because you’re not cool.”

Ed says labels – either positive or negative – cannot help but impact students’ learning and experiences in the classroom.

“If someone is looked at as ‘wow – that person is so cool, that person knows everything’ then I think it actually amplifies that and encourages them to go on,” says Ed. “And when you have a student who is called ‘oh, that person is dumb and doesn’t know any of the answers’ or that person is just trying to impress the teacher – and is a ‘teacher’s pet’ – then it actually I think stifles that creativity and that potential intellectual growth, which is really, really sad.”

Those labels may be losing some of their impact, though, as Ed sees a trend toward more appreciation of participation and engagement in the classroom.

“At all grade levels now, knowing the answer; raising your hand; engaging with the teacher or professor or instructor; is actually kind of a cool thing,” says Ed. “I think this is one of the few directions where I think we have actually evolved and made forward progress in how we view…. being engaged and trying and being open to learning.”

Listen to the full episode to hear more about the evolution of labels and attitudes about learning and classroom engagement. There is also a new puzzler that will require your active participation to solve.

This episode was recorded on Jan. 25, 2019.


Labels are an essential part of distinguishing between one another but they can also pigeonhole one’s sense of identity. How can we adjust our approach to labeling mental illnesses, particularly in children, in a communally constructive way?

On this edition of Two Guys on Your HeadDr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke discuss labels.