Halo? Or Horns?

In the business world a biased work review is known as "halo or horns." (I’m not here to debate the wisdom or theological appropriateness of those terms—they’re business terms, not mine.) Halo error happens when "one positive performance aspect causes the rater to rate all other aspects of performance positively"; horns error happens when "one negative aspect results in the rater assigning low ratings to all the other aspects [rated]."1

Let’s face it, we’re all guilty of both from time to time when, either formally or informally, we rate those we supervise. So we can be sure halo or horns happens in the classroom—not only when we teachers are being rated but also when we "rate" our students.

Usually the individual being rated has brought it on himself, for good or bad. You know what I’m talking about: here’s Aloysius, who is a joy to teach. He loves my class, gives good answers, is inquisitive, and is always prepared. If he’s late to class once or twice, I can overlook that.

Now let’s talk about Herkimer. The word "irksome" comes to mind. Other adjectives include "frustrating," "immature," and "rowdy." I really don’t want to say anything bad about him. Let’s just say that when he’s absent, I don’t shed any tears. Every time he comes to class I’m waiting for him to mess up—and he never disappoints.

I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t deal with students according to their needs. Some of them need more attention than others; individuals respond differently to different stimuli and incentives. I have to come down harder on some students than others because they’re oblivious to warnings or hints.

But what I must guard against is giving darling little Aloysius a free ride; he’s a sinner too. And I must also guard against wounding Herkimer’s spirit. Has he been trying to do better? Has he improved since the beginning of the year? Would I notice if he had? Do I assume the worst about Herkimer while always cutting Aloysius a little slack? Aloysius may come to believe that outward conformity is the way to get what he wants out of life, yet his heart may be manipulative and self-centered. Herkimer, though disruptive, may be characterized by ingenuousness, a trait that will serve him well through life—if he will allow the Lord to conquer his other areas of weakness. I can recall falling into this pattern of erroneous thinking many times, to my students’ detriment, I’m afraid. One especially embarrassing example: "Mary" was talking in class . . . again. I called her down for it and then added, "And I also heard about that note you wrote in chapel—you’re going to be in trouble for that too," which, of course, had absolutely nothing to do with the issue at hand and didn’t need to be brought up in front of other students. But what was worse was the blank stare Mary gave me and then the explanation from another student: "A different Mary wrote that note." Oops.

What had I done? I had allowed "one negative aspect" of Mary’s behavior to prejudice me against her in other areas. Yes, I apologized—to Mary, to the class, and to Mary’s mother, who also heard about the event. How much better it would have been had I dealt only with the behavior that was a problem at that moment and not charged off into other territory.

Let’s work to avoid classifying students as "near perfect" or "nearly hopeless." Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and ask God’s wisdom to deal with children or teens the way Christ would have us to. Let’s judge others the way we want to be judged (cf. Matt. 7:12; John 7:24).

1Raymond A. Noe, John R. Hollenbeck, Barry Gerhart, Patrick M. Wright, Human Resource Management: Gaining a Competitive Advantage (Boston: Irwin McGraw-Hill, 2000), p. 304.

 by Steve Skaggs. Updated October 21, 2015.

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