You could see her pride from the front door. “Look mom! Look what I got!” Thea stands in front of me holding a signed award of recognition certificate given to her by her incredible 4K teacher. Apparently on November 5th Thea had great behavior and she now hands me the certificate to prove it. Of course it goes on the fridge.
That night as I clean up after dinner, the award catches my eye and the irony of it hanging there so prominently hits me. I don’t believe in awards in my classroom, it is one of the things I threw out 3 years ago and have never regretted. And yet, today I saw just what that piece of paper meant to my kid. You couldn’t have burst her bubble even if you tried. But still…I wonder if this means that November 5th was the only day Thea has been behaving well? Or was it her turn to be awarded? What did she do exactly to get this recognition? Did every kid get it? I ask her and she has no idea. All she knows is that her teacher gave this to her and to her that is all that matters. Granted she is 4 and is not the most reliable explainer but still I wonder how did she even earn it?
Did my students ever know why they earned something? The thing with awards is that they are subjective and are meant for show. We pick a goal and then award a kid if they have met that goal. Often we don’t tell them how they can earn something but instead surprise them when they have. We make a show of it so that others know that they should try to earn one as well. We can’t really give one to everyone because then they don’t mean as much, so we continue creating losers and winners in our classrooms simply by giving them a piece of paper or trinket in front of their classmates. You see, it is not the actual award that sets the kid apart, it is the show of it in front of others. You need to see that your award is special to you for it to mean something and that just sits wrong with me. We think that physical awards make kids feel special, yet our words can do the same, in fact, often our words and taking time to say things to a child will have a much more lasting impact than any piece of paper can. Than any trinket. Than any ticket.
For now the award stays on our fridge, in a few days, she will no longer care about it and it becomes just another piece of paper in our already paper-filled house. I don’t plan on keeping it and although Thea tends to hoard paper, I don’t think she will mind. To her it was validation that she is a good student, to me it was just more questions as to the great intentions we may have as teachers. Do we really feel we need to award students certificates any more? Do we really need to put on a show? Or are we just perpetuating the myth that there must always be winners and losers for people to feel special?
I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” will be released this fall from PLPress. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.