Monday, June 1, 2015

...And the AWARD goes to...

My daughter and I were talking today about school award ceremonies; she expressed how she thought they were silly: "Did one need to be given out for every subject? Who needs an award in PE...PE?"  Hey, I remember getting an award in PE as a student and feeling I deserved it.

As a teacher and coach, I have handed students awards for a variety of reasons. I have always struggled with this process. For several years, I honored students with an award for the subject English. The rules were to pick one student for the sake of time. (If you have ever sat through those hot, packed gymnasium  award ceremonies, you would agree--until it is that moment your child is being recognized and you want time to stand still.)  I got around the rule by picking one from each grade level I taught at the time: 7th through 9th.    I complied, but it was still difficult. I wanted to personally go to each student that I didn't select to proclaim, "I'm sorry; you deserve an award, too." I remember being told that the more awards I gave, the less valued was the award.

In these ceremonies, time was also always of the essence so there was little time to dedicate to telling what the award really represented and why this person embodied those characteristics. Yet, I felt compelled to let this person understand, so I stole extra moments to do that.

This year handing out awards to elementary students felt somewhat like herding cattle. There were so many awards to get through in so little time.  Some kids seemed not to care whether they received an award (I wonder if that was bravado), while others really stood up taller with beaming smiles. Maybe it's the breath stopping hope that you will win mixed with the dull shy ache when you know you didn't win that keeps most of us from really embracing the awards ceremony.

Were there too many awards given which diminished their value?  Were there not enough so that some true candidates were left out?  Did some kids just not embrace what the award represented?

My struggle never ends with handing out awards.  I truly feel students should be honored for many reasons. I want the awards to be meaningful to the recipients but not cause those who didn't receive an award to feel insignificant.

Do we have to be the overall, the best. or #1 to receive an award?  Maybe the awards would be of greater consequence if the meaning were clearer.

I exposed my concerns toward the end of one school year to a group of ninth grade students, explaining that I could give each person in the class an award for something if I could, but it was difficult to chose just one to represent the entire class. Then came the response that created that moment: "Well, go ahead then Mrs. Roberson and tell each of us what you would give us an award for."  With that, I proceeded to hand out my verbal awards to each child. It was a quiet moment when the bell rang, and there were still five students I hadn't time to acknowledge.  The class was willing to be late as it urged me to go on to hear what I had to say about their final five classmates.

....BECAUSE YOU SEE WE ALL WANT TO BE AWARDED WITH BEING SEEN!
That's what an award does.  It acknowledges someone for who he is at the core. It says "I SEE YOU!"  It honors students efforts, sacrifices, overcoming, striving, areas of success, attitude, leading, and perseverance.

...And what would these awards be for in a fifth grade classroom?


  • Maybe we should give an award to the kid that kept coming to the teacher for math help despite not doing well on some tests. 
  • Maybe we should give an award to the kid that sensed the emotional needs of others and responded with help and a kind, "It's all right."  
  • Maybe we should honor the kid whose behavior was not perfect at the end of the year but greatly improved due to obvious effort.  
  • Maybe we could give an award to the student who bravely forged ahead in homework and studies despite parents fighting and divorcing.  
  • Maybe we should give an award to the students that make it through each day even though anxious trembles riddle them much of the day.  
  • Maybe we should give an award to the student that befriended someone new this year. 
  • Maybe we should give an award to the student who kept trying after failing.  
  • Maybe an award should go to the student that set a goal this year and met it.
  • An award should go to the student that kept listening and participating and discussing even though it was 2:30 in the afternoon on a sunshiny day.
  • An award should go to the student that learned to not give up but believe in himself when he worked hard to finally reach reading goals in the fourth quarter of the school year because the teacher wouldn't relent in decreasing  them.
  • An award should go to the student that smiled at others when she might not really have felt that solid on the inside. 
  • An award should go to the student who realized hard things like learning code could be fun.
  • An award should go to the student whose evenings were often filled with more homework than others because it just took them longer to grasp information.
  • There should be an award for the student that encouraged his peers to do the right thing when faced with temptation. 
  • There should be an award for the kid that walked quietly in the hallway and stood quietly during emergency drills, not because he liked to or agreed with the rule but because that's what was asked of him. 
  • There should be an award for the student that told the truth even when faced with the strong stare of consequence from her peers. 
  • There should be an award for the student that didn't compromise standards.  
  • There should be an award for the student that hugged mom and dad at the door. 
  • There should be an award for the student that always volunteered to hold the door for others without being asked. 
  • There should be an award for the student that tried something new, found mediocre results, enjoyed it anyway, and remained willing to keep trying new things. 
  • There should be an award for students that helped teachers remember important things. 
  • Maybe there should be an award for students that patiently helped teachers solve technology problems. 
  • Maybe there should be an award for students that bravely kept their mouths closed when teachers disappointed them. 
  • There should be an award for students that sat longer than their brains and bodies can possibly allow.   


So I disagree with those who say, "We can't give them ALL an award.  It would make the award less valued" because there are many ways to roll out the red carpet to HONOR students. and so many STUDENTS to VALUE if we but only see.

Oh, there should be so many awards for so many reasons for so many students.
[And there definitely should be many awards for kids that have survived me as their teacher all year.]