02/06/2014 12:23 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

'Why Can't You Be More Like Steven?' When Teachers Compare Siblings

"Kath... I mean Stacy."

It's happened to our tutors and mentors in the various programs sponsored by Kars4Kids lots of times. It something that's just bound to transpire when you tutor one child and then, not long after, you tutor that child's (usually) younger sibling. It's a mix-up that's easy to understand.

But what happens when teachers compare students in the classroom? It's not something you'd ever do at home. You'd never compare your children. Out loud that is.

Your child's teacher, on the other hand, likely didn't read the same books you read. After all, why would a teacher read parenting books?


The author stands just ahead of her sister

This being the case, what do you do when your kid comes home from school and says, "Mrs. Levy always compares me to Rachel," Rachel being said kid's older sister? "Why can't you get the assignments done on time, like Rachel did? Why don't you have neat penmanship like Rachel?" she'll mimic.

You sympathize. More than that, you want to do something about this -- it's just not right. There is, however, surprisingly little out there on the Internet on this particular subject.

It's funny: you would have thought this subject ripe for the picking by some young graduate student looking for grant money. After all, it's most often the case that siblings will attend the same schools and have the same teachers. But no, there's almost nothing out there on the 'Net. No one is talking about this.

So I put it out on Facebook, and asked my friends to tell me their stories. Miriam Gladstone told me about her daughters, Naomi and Deborah, who were two grades apart. Naomi pulled down top-notch grades, but Deborah was a different story, due to learning disabilities.


The author stands between two siblings

When Deborah was in fifth grade, her teacher -- a veteran with 25 years of teaching behind her -- handed back math tests and as she returned Deborah's paper said, "You're the only one that didn't pass the test. Why can't you be like Naomi? She always got 100 in math. I can't believe you are sisters. "

Deborah ran out of class and in fact, out of the school. The principal informed Miriam that her daughter had gone missing and then drove around the neighborhood to find her. Acting on a hunch, he drove past the apartment building where Deborah's family lived and found the girl crying outside on the stoop. The whole story came out.

Miriam was a teacher in the school, so she had to be careful how she spoke out against the teacher, but she did register a complaint. Three years later the teacher's contract was allowed to lapse after a different parent complained. Deborah and Naomi are both married with children of their own, but Miriam still fumes when she remembers how Deborah suffered as a result of a teacher sizing her up and finding her wanting in comparison with her older sibling.

Karyn Rheinhardt had a similar story, this time regarding her boys. Two sons, five years apart, had the same teacher. The elder boy was quiet and hard-working while the younger was quiet, too, but always brewing up some kind of mischief. The teacher kept asking the younger son, "Why can't you be more like your brother?"


The birthday girl author, surrounded by her siblings

Usually, son number two just ignored her. But one day, fed up, he stuck his tongue out at her while the teacher's back was turned, except, as luck would have it, she turned at the last moment and saw the boy's outstretched tongue. She said, "Don't you want to be like your brother? He's such a good boy!" and then she suspended him for two days.

When Karyn came to speak to the teacher she was advised, "You should tell him to act like his brother Steve."

Karyn looked at the teacher, flabbergasted, and said, "I already have one Steve. Now why would I want two?"

The teacher gave her a blank look. Karyn decided to pull her third son out of the school, then and there. After that, Karyn made efforts to keep her boys separated in the various classes and activities they attended. She felt this gave each boy his own space to fulfill his potential. "It worked out fine. My second son blossomed into such a great person, in spite of that horrible teacher."


The author and her sister at Gettysburg

And then there was my mother, Shirley Kopelman Meyers, who recalled being compared to a sibling -- this time a younger sibling. "I had Uncle Myron's homeroom teacher for History, which I could never warm up to. One day she made a statement that didn't make sense to me and I raised my hand to ask a question. She said, with surprise, 'That's a very intelligent question. Stay after class; I would like to speak to you.'

"When class was over, she referred to Uncle Myron's straight-A record and said, in not so many words, 'What's the matter with you?'

"I said, 'To tell you the truth, Miss Beachler, I just don't like History.'

"She replied, 'To tell you the truth, I don't like teaching.'

"Now that was a real lesson," said my mom.

Has a teacher compared your children in the classroom? What did you do about this?