Friday, December 3, 2010

Awards for all?

Joanne Jacobs has a piece about a parent complaining that only some kids were recognized for their performance on state testing. I actually agree with the parent on this one.
This, he said, was unfair to students who traditionally score lower on standardized tests and might not reach proficiency no matter how hard they try — mainstreamed special education students, for example.
Some kids will never reach proficiency. It's just a fact of life. If you make your standards low enough for all, then the achievement is meaningless and all of the kids know it and blow you off.The better response, for me, is to simply thank everyone publicly, en masse, and announce the barbeque for all. Then, reward or thank the good students separately.

Really, the "Always Praise in Public" rule isn't always your best course of action. I am against, for example, the tactic of an academic assembly during the first two periods of the day for which every class trudges down to the gym and sits by class.

"Everyone is sure to be a winner
with these fun 4" trophies."
What happens next is the whole point and is also the most excruciating part: the Guidance counselor, feeling all very important because she gets to "honor" the "good" students and bask in the reflected glory, reads the names of the high honor roll (20 kids), honor roll (140 kids), and merit (15 kids). She asks them to stand while this endless list is being read. Do you know how long it takes to read 175 names?

A little subtraction shows that there's maybe 30 kids in that grade who couldn't manage to get anything ... administration is proud that they didn't publicly shame any of them by saying their names. Except that they are still sitting down while everyone around them is standing up. Is it any wonder that they feel like shit? Most memorable student quote about the assembly (in informal geometry afterward): "Here are all the smart people in the school and none of them are YOU."

Back to the fun. Guidance has them sit ... and does the 11th grade. And repeats for the 10th. And the 9th. Can't have anyone left out, can we? An hour and something later, you've managed to humiliate as many people as possible, so you send the school back to class. "Don't make any comments to the Dweeb in the hallway, now."

Maybe the proper response is to not require everyone to recognize them. Give them their own awards night and invite them and their parents to come or not, as they choose.  You know, like the sports awards night, where the non-athletic can avoid having to sit through endless coaches' attempts at public speaking.

God knows there is nothing worse than a coach with limited vocabulary and no experience speaking to a crowd who's attempting to appear smart, clever, witty and interesting ... for each of his 54 football players, naming and praising the "spectacular work ethic" of every member of the 1-6 team, including the kids who lost eligibility for drinking and fighting.

It was also interesting that the rest of the fall teams had much better seasons, one winning a state championship, but the football team spent the most time congratulating itself.  But I digress ...

Maybe the takeaway from all this is simple:  The people who attend an awards night should be the ones who were there to watch the achievement itself.  Anyone else is excused. Those who wish to attend can do so.  I'd much rather have an awards night with the rest of my team and the spectators who were at the games. Everyone else feels like "Johnny come lately" hangers-on.  The same is true for academic awards:
If you weren't there when we did it, why would you want to be there to celebrate it?
If you can answer that question, then you can come to the ceremony and we'll all have a blast. If you can't, then you shouldn't be required to be there and we probably would feel uncomfortable if you did show up.

1 comment:

  1. Awards ceremonies always feel like a waste of time--sometimes even when you're the awardee.