What’s on Your Nose?

Reading Time: 14 minutes

Often written in between the lines of the grade breakdown on the syllabus is the liberty some teachers reserve to include intangibles, such as participation, engagement, or, in some cases, good old-fashioned brown-nosing. Opinions writers went out to determine the nature of kissing up at Stuyvesant, to find out how teachers respond to it (spoiler alert: a number refused or were reluctant to discuss it at all), and to consider their own stances.

Mia Gindis, sophomore

I’ve always made the effort to give my teachers gifts over the holidays. There was never any ulterior motive—I simply wanted to show my gratitude for their ability to deal with me for an entire semester.

Regardless, the distinction between genuine kindness and a kid who's just looking for a curve next marking period shouldn’t need to be made, because either way, a present shouldn’t affect anything. There have even been instances of teachers returning to students gifts they deemed too expensive. Teachers should always accept the gift; it just shouldn't change their minds grading-wise. Handing a gift back almost exclusively shows that it would.

Jessy Mei, sophomore

Is it really moral to justify and normalize this culture of being untrue to one’s abilities and personality to gain favor with a teacher? Though the intent may be shallow, hopes of achieving academic success can push students out of their comfort zones to participate or seek help in subjects they struggle in, developing their knowledge and understanding of the topic, pushing them to learn and strive for success. However, when those hopes become too ambitious and students wander out of the academic field into the field of achieving personal bias from teachers, hardworking students become punished for their honesty and academic effort. In the case where a strong work ethic and integrity [don’t] suffice to succeed or do well in class, the line becomes blurred, but in most cases, there are always alternative steps to better one’s grade. Ultimately, it is up to us how we proceed in our four years at Stuyvesant, but when it comes to gifts, it is always best to keep it simple and handwritten, because even the most expensive gifts won’t carry our grade, but the things we will remember once we graduate are the teachers who gave us the opportunity to learn and thrive.

Jonela Malollari, junior

Kissing up to teachers as a substitute for working for your grade is desperate at best and pitiful at worst. Stuyvesant may not be perfect, but the whole point of the grading system is that your grades are supposed to reflect the amount of effort you put into a class and your progress in your understanding of the material. It’s not supposed to illustrate how well you can win someone's favor. I get that there's often a very real sense of desperation behind a poor grade that makes students resort to things, however minor or inconsequential, that they would usually consider beneath them. But for success to mean anything, you have to take what you get whether you earned it positively or negatively. A number isn't worth your integrity. As for teachers who blatantly buy into and encourage favoritism in their classroom, why would you lower yourself to their level?

Some students claim that sucking up is necessary to improve their college applications, but this argument is flimsy. Whether the points a student scores from brown-nosing are negligible or significant, if you’re doing well in most of your classes, you don’t need to depend on manipulative tactics, and good grades are usually indicative of a strong work ethic regardless. If you’re generally an excellent student but happen to end up with an unfair teacher, the grade that teacher gives you will stand out as an obvious outlier. Students who rely on ingratiation as a crutch are more likely to have a poor work ethic anyway, and if you’re doing poorly in most of your classes, brown-nosing isn’t going to remedy that. Even if it did, so what? Maybe this is overly idealistic, but high school and college are temporary; the type of person you are and the decisions you make are infinitely more important.

Emily Hur, junior

In the end, all Stuyvesant students are striving for the same goal: good grades. While some may fulfill this dream, others will fall short. Abandoning integrity in favor of pursuing a higher grade may be inherently wrong, but ultimately, it’s a tradition that may follow many of us into the workplace. We resort to kissing up as a grade-boosting tactic and use hasty excuses to justify it, and we convince ourselves it’s the competitive atmosphere and even deceive ourselves by maintaining that we’re “just being nice.” But in the end, brown-nosing can facilitate a harsher, more cutthroat environment at school.

While this practice certainly shouldn’t be condoned, it shouldn’t be persecuted, and [it] is up to the volition of individual students. Ultimately, teachers and the administration should use their own discretion and not allow gifts to cloud their judgments, while students should also prioritize merit and honesty over trying to gain an edge over others.

Anne Rhee, freshman

I feel that it is very important to recognize the different levels of attention or appreciation given to a teacher in order to really define what “kissing up” is. On one side, I do believe that flattery, or even constant appreciation shown to a teacher, is often wrong, since it is a waste of time to flatter a teacher rather than work hard and get good grades. From my personal experience, I have seen many students try hard to get their teachers’ attentions, but every student has different ways of expressing this. It is not only about the way this attention is shown, but also why the students “kiss up.” Because of the constant reason of “college applications” or a “recommendation” to justify why they try to experience a better relationship with their teacher, I feel that you must create this relationship in other ways. Students and teachers should get along because they have common interests or [because] they become friends, rather than [by] buying their attentions with presents or generic compliments. Not only is the foundation for this type of friendship stronger, but [it is] also guaranteed to be genuine and last longer.

Angela Wong, freshman

Why does going the extra mile in school, such as by participating in class, complimenting teachers, or giving gifts around the holidays, have such a negative connotation? When the mindset behind flattery is to receive a curved grade, the line is drawn between putting in enthusiasm and being fake. When one’s intentions are self-interested, such flattery loses its true meaning and instead becomes “kissing up.” The easiest way to distinguish between deceitful and genuine intentions is by asking, “If I knew my grade would not be altered by my flattering actions, would I still do them?”

Bryan Monge Serrano, sophomore

These occurrences show that brown-nosing is a big pandemic in our school community, but I believe that this issue should be and has been handled by teachers responsibly. Teachers should be responsible and reasonable with gifts [and] not [let] them interfere with their grading. If the teacher is unfair and irresponsible with gift giving, this encourages an environment where some students are punished simply for not having money.

Teachers are the people who mainly affect the brown-nosing culture since they are the ones receiving the gifts. They must be fair to all students by making clear guidelines of what gifts they will accept and having students blindly give them gifts, so they still know who gave them gifts, but not which gift so as to minimize a change in their grading. Teachers must also be responsible and accept gifts with open arms after they have submitted their finals grades since this also promotes a fair environment where students do not feel cheated, since everyone was graded with the same criteria and with minimal outside factors affecting their grade.

Anta Noor, junior

Ever since elementary school, I have given small gifts to teachers during the holiday season as a token of my appreciation. I know many of my friends do the same to show gratitude toward the teacher. I personally think that gift giving is not “kissing up” to a teacher, and it’s more of a friendly notion towards the teacher than an academic one.

However, I believe “kissing up” or brown-nosing does exist and is acceptable when it comes to unfair teachers. Some of my friends and I have had teachers who show clear favoritism to some students over others, and give grades based on how much they like the student. I think it’s okay to “kiss up” to a teacher if the student knows it will give them a higher grade, because that’s just how the teacher is. It might not seem right, but in the overall outlook, “kissing up” happens in our daily lives a lot because we can gain from it. All in all, I believe “kissing up” is acceptable when it’s directly correlated to the grade the teacher will give you, and if it isn’t, then there’s no need for it.

Adam Oubaita, junior

A highly competitive atmosphere such as Stuyvesant is a breeding ground for kissing up. People are always concerned with their grades and always want to improve them, so certain people resort to brown- nosing. While I personally believe in actually doing work instead of hoping for a curve, I can’t blame students for trying to heighten their grade through artificial means.

However, it is important to note that not everyone has a devious scheme to brown-nose their teachers. There is a sharp distinction between kissing up and being friendly with teachers. When the holiday seasons come along, I write letters to my teachers and impactful people in Stuy expressing my gratitude for the education they provide, the help they offer, and the time they spend. And when writing these letters, I am not expecting my average to rise all of a sudden. Plenty of friends have also given gifts to teachers as a sign of gratitude.

Maia Brydon, junior

I haven't really given presents to my teachers since elementary school, and this Christmas was nerve-wracking because it seemed like everyone else was. But in all honesty, I think a lot of the gift-giving and "forced interest" students do is not really done with an ulterior motive (or at least not a conscious one). I admit that a lot of the people who constantly go to talk to teachers after class do seem really obnoxious, but being Stuyvesant students, I think a lot of us actually do that out of genuine interest in what we're asking about. As for gift-giving, I know that at least some people do that out of honest appreciation and courtesy, nothing else. I believe a lot of people subconsciously give gifts in part because they believe it will gain them favor, but I think that's definitely not the only reason for it.

Even if I understand the motive to kiss up to more unfair teachers, there are never teachers who are unfair to the extent that students are forced to sacrifice their integrity for a grade. But there are certainly teachers who play favorites more than others, which is where it seems students get caught up in brown- nosing. To most Stuyvesant students, I would say, getting a higher grade certainly matters more than your integrity. Especially if it’s just little things, like saying goodbye to a teacher every day, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, even if you are giving up your integrity to a certain extent. This mindset extends a lot further than just high school, too—kids suck up to their parents to get what they want, and people in many industries suck up to their bosses to look better. It's just how a lot of people tend to react when they want something—they try to gain favor through little things, little things that they don’t consider all that morally wrong.

Eric Ferencz, English

In my opinion, "kissing up" is when a student uses compliments or kindness to manipulate a teacher into giving him/her favorable treatment, particularly if the student is attempting to compensate for some sort of academic shortcoming. I imagine that buckling down and working hard takes much more effort than flattery or affectation.

Me? I'm much more interested in my students' professional characteristics. Come to class on time. Try to participate once a day. Share with your peers. Hand in your work on time, and if you're going to be late, ask for an extension four days in advance.

Eric Grossman, Assistant Principal of English

My sense is that most of the teachers I know are fully capable of appreciating a thoughtful gift, but not letting it have anything to do with their grading practice. In the end, the intent behind giving a gift doesn’t really matter, because it doesn’t have anything to do with it. I tend to always think the best of my students—and not just concerning presents. Ultimately, a grade in class is about the work and the effort that you’ve put into it, and I have students that I’ve thought the world of who’ve done terribly in my classes, because as much as I liked them, they didn’t hand in work. But those are separate things.

Robert Sandler, U.S. History

If a kid says hello to me in the hallway, do I think they’re sucking up? I’d say they’re just saying hi. They want me to know who they are, which makes sense; I would do the same thing if I was in their shoes. I think giving somebody a card and saying something nice if they appreciate your passion for teaching or they give you something small like a little token—I don’t see it as a big deal. I think of it as the kids are just trying to express their gratitude. I give my own children’s teachers little tokens—small, inexpensive gifts—and write them cards.

I’ve never once said to my peer or colleague, “Look at this kid, trying to get a good grade by doing this.” Because it won’t work with me anyway, it’s all based on how they participate, their test scores, so I don’t think about it that much because it never really factors in. If I have a kid after class stay and ask questions, they seem like they’re genuinely interested. Like, is there some part of them that thinks they’re calculating, oh, so this might help them increase their grade? Yeah, that might be part of the calculus, but like, that’s fine, I think that all of our behaviors have multiple motivations behind them.

Lauren Stuzin, English

I don’t think I’ve noticed that it’s a problem. I think, first of all, that there’s a distinction to be made between wanting to be professional in class and wanting to make a good impression and being respectful to a teacher versus trying to mask some negative part of your performance in class. Some students may be nice to teachers to compensate for something […] I think students and teachers alike know that this is a thing that could happen in schools, it could happen anywhere, but I haven’t noticed it being an issue.

Julie Sheinman, English

The problem with students who are trying to use gifts to get an advantage in terms of grading in the form of a curve for the following marking period, for example, is much greater during the first semester around the holiday season, rather than at the end of the year. This is due to most grades being submitted and done with towards the beginning of June at the end of the year, so the chances of a gift affecting a grade is minimal.

I think that most students are being kind and genuine when giving presents and I believe teachers should accept the presents as a sign of care and gratitude, but only if they know it will not affect their grading. I myself had to reject a gift card a student gave me since I knew it was something that had a lot of value and could possibly affect my grading.

Emilio Nieves, English

If “kissing up to teachers” happens at Stuyvesant, it does so on such a small scale that it's not even worth writing a story about. I think it is a hasty generalization (a logical fallacy!) to assert that "Stuyvesant students, in general, are very good at kissing up to teachers."

This statement contradicts my experiences at Stuyvesant (17 years), where I have encountered students who are highly motivated to succeed, students who are so appreciative of my efforts that they have given me countless thank-you cards after the course or when they graduate (I have two boxes full in my closet that I can show you), students who walk me out of the classroom and continue the class discussions because they are genuinely intellectually intrigued, and students who consistently utter, "Hi Mr. Nieves!" when they see me on the escalator, in the hallways, or while passing my classroom while I am teaching. So, if hypothetically a handful of students practice the art of "kissing up to teachers," then it doesn't reflect badly on the student body; it reflects badly only on those students who do so.

Another problem I have with this is that "kissing up to teachers" can only be successful if the teacher allows it to affect his or her judgment. So saying that Stuyvesant students, "in general, are very good at kissing up to teachers," implies that Stuyvesant teachers are gullible, naive, or lacking in moral compass. This is insulting to the caring, hardworking, and honest colleagues that I have the privilege of working with as well as contrary to what I have experienced. So though there may be attempts at "kissing up to teachers," I doubt these attempts are successful.

Student ingratiation is never a good thing in academia. My view is that if a student is smart enough to devote his time and energy to practice "kissing up to teachers," then they are smart enough to dedicate that time and energy to figuring out the idiosyncrasies of each teacher and adjusting his academic performance accordingly.

Rebecca Lindenmulder, French and German

If a student is kissing up to a teacher, it seems to me that he/she is not sincere in the willingness to be helpful, respectful or interested in the material being taught. The teacher may benefit from the cooperativeness and help of the student in question, but in essence, I think we should try to be sincere in our interactions with others and not act in a certain way purely for personal gain. The intention the student has in how they act out their kissing up may also very well be irrelevant—if the student is kissing up in the form of engagement in class, then their engagement nonetheless merits inclusion in a college recommendation. The actions of the student, although maybe more praiseworthy when not done with only the intent of personal gain, are to be included in any case, as they show the student's level of engagement in their studies. To say their kissing up in the form of engagement will guarantee acceptance into a better college would be misleading—I think a variety of factors come into play there.

Barbara Garber, Health

I think it’s very hard to tell the difference between “kissing up” and genuinely being kind to the teacher. In most cases, students who participate often show that they’re engaged in the class rather than trying to show off or “kiss up.” In terms of gift giving, if a student gives me a gift, that shows me that they were willing to spend money and time on me, rather than trying to get a grade boost. In my class, I grade based on the work they do and how well they perform on projects, tests, and homework, as well as their engagement in class. I don’t grade based on favoritism or who gets me what gift. Therefore, “kissing up,” even if it does exist in my class, doesn’t affect how I grade because my grades are based on the effort the student puts into my class.

Meng Ping Tu, Biology and Neurobiology

Personally, I prefer students to just write me a thank-you card if they really want to say anything. I feel bad about students spending money to buy any sort of presents for a teacher, and I just don’t think it's necessary because my philosophy is that you all give yourselves a grade. I’m here to guide you to learn and to achieve your learning goals for this particular class, but how much you want to do is up to you.

The maximum is a little thank-you card. I think that's the best. The best and best is if you make your own thank-you card with crayons and paper. I post that—I tape it on my fridge because I think that, to me, is heart.