Everyone Gets a Trophy

I have been a classroom teacher for 21 years. I absolutely LOVE working with kids. If working with kids was the full scope of my job and I had more parent support (like teachers had when I was a young student– teacher and parents are always on the same side with the ultimate goal of helping the child be successful), I would never yearn for the 6 weeks of no school to arrive every June.

There’s the first point I guess I want to make. Being mostly gracious, I typically laugh or smile when some )*&*%@#$ person makes reference to the three months of summer that teachers don’t work. If I were less gracious and tactful (y’know… like a good number of parents I get to work for), I’d probably blow a gasket with profanity and punching something (or some other high-class move. SIX weeks… probably. School gets out for us on the 10th of June and our first round of trainings begin on the 13th. Yay.

Back on track… I teach in a building that has a long tradition of an end-of-year awards ceremony. The categories that were in place when I came to this building 8 years ago were: Met Standard in Reading, High Growth in Reading, Met Standard in Math, and High Growth in Math and… you guessed it… EVERYONE needed to be recognized at least once. Seriously. Not even kidding. So… there were standards for each of those categories: meeting standard on reading and math assessments was pre-determined by The District. High Growth was determined as a team. Pretty cut-and-dry. Y’either meet the criteria or not… exceeeeeeeeeeept… everyone needs an award. How on Earth is this even logical? Well… it’s not. It’s ridiculous.

So… I’m not completely heartless… I do love kids dearly and especially MY kids. My classroom is a family and I LOVE my students like my own children. One year, we got the green light from admin that it would be okay to only give awards for the kiddos who earned them in that category, but we needed to create a category for those other kids (e.g., participation). I felt awful for the kiddo who didn’t earn an award and watched classmates be called up multiple times to be recognized for their hard work. Even though they’re only between ages 7 and 9, I hoped they didn’t know that being called for a participation award meant lack of desired achievement and have their spirits crushed. I also hoped their parents weren’t in attendance because they would likely be angry for the anguish caused by their child having to sit and watch others be recognized while not being recognized themselves.

We’ve tried over the years to find balance here, but it’s challenging. We want to honor our students, have a positive end to our year with them,  and do the right thing.

That being said… I don’t think we do any favors to kids by making all things equal. To me, it’s like… TRANSLATION: Don’t worry about doing your best nor putting in the hard work! Why? Why should we? In the end, we’re all the same anyway! What a horrible message to send to youth… to citizens- no matter their age. Being good at something– or even THE BEST– is a wonderful honor! As a society, do we really want to discourage hard work?

If you’ve not seen the movie Idiocracy, this would be the PRIME EXAMPLE of what could happen in such a society.

I cannot believe the masses would ascribe to that way of thinking. Yet, this spring, we’ve seen a number of schools hit the media for doing-away with honors all together. Schools saying that naming a class valedictorian makes others suffer emotional trauma, so they aren’t going to do that. Now… I was an above average student as a high schooler. I was not enrolled in (nor eligible for) honors classes, but about mid-10th grade, I got my head on straight and started to consistently pull As and Bs. I neither worked for nor deserved special recognition in academics, but there certainly were those who did. It didn’t even occur to me that I should bemoan not being chosen. This was in the day that only ONE was chosen. I think the following year, both a valedictorian and a saluditorian were chosen, but still… no hurt feelings. When I attended our local graduation last year, there were 11 valedictorians! ELEVEN! WHAT?!? This is exactly what I’m saying. Give those young adults some CREDIT and by the time a young person is ready to graduate from high school- for crying out loud- stop trying to shelter them from disappointment. Contrary to what others might believe, disappointment is a powerful tool for personal growth. I ache for the children whose parents have exhausted themselves over the years trying to avert any sort of negative outcomes in their lives. Not to say that I WELCOME tragedy– not by a long shot. I do teach my kiddos, though, that when things get hard, when we’re hurt, when we fail, when we don’t achieve the expectations we’ve set for ourselves or live our lives in a way that honors God and others, we don’t go and bury our heads in a pillow! We tighten our boot straps (or ponytails) and get back at it. We improve. We learn and grow and choose our outcome.


So… starting a year ago, our team expanded our end of year awards categories to include the following:

Met Standard in Reading, Made High Growth in Reading, High Achievement in Math, Excellent Achievement in Science, Best Learning Buddy, Perfect Attendance, and Excellent Attendance. This is what we’ve agreed to do this year as well. We WANT to recognize our kiddos as much as possible, yet there are STILL kids who don’t meet the pre-determined criteria in any of those categories.  The key there is… pre-determined. A couple categories (meeting standard/perfect attendance) are completely rigid and not up to us (as teachers) at all. It’s a yes or a no. The other categories do have some flexibility, but when that criteria is pre-determined… that’s that. Right? Nope. Let’s make sure everyone gets a trophy.



I was going over awards with my partner teacher the other day and there are 3 kids in my class and 4 in hers who are set to get a participation award due to not meeting that set criteria in the other categories. We work really well together and I love this lady! I was kind of ticked, though, when she asked me to fudge the high growth criteria for two of my kiddos (and she also shared that she had done the same with a couple of hers). WHAT?!? I’m so conflicted. I don’t disagree that these particular kids have made growth and done well, but these particular cases showed that they had not earned the recognition.

I actually thought of some fun (completely non-academic-based) awards to share with my students as a potential remedy to this whole issue. I’m not sure if I’ll go that route… I can, but it’s more work and will cost me about $30.

SOOOOOooooooo… Do I stick to my guns and be a hard-nosed stickler to these two kids (whose parents will likely be in attendance) or do I flex a little and include those two kids in the high growth category? I will pray and ponder to do the right thing… for my integrity and for my heart for my students, but do know that this topic elicits a lot of conflicted feelings with many teachers. In fact, anyone who works with children and uses rewards (e.g., coaches, youth/teen centers, etc…) deals with this too! It’s hard. Really hard.

The other thing that’s sort of along the same lines is that everything is a graduation. This year, I have children finishing elementary school and finishing middle school. I’m super excited for each of them making those milestones (I don’t think there was ever an idea that they would not reach it– as could be said for nearly every other family in America– kids typically finish elementary and middle school). I can’t wait to see what is to come for each of them as they move on to what’s next. We’ll also have a high school senior next year! Big year! We have two older children in their 20s, so we do certainly GET that kids achieve and grow and accomplish, but I think it’s important to preserve graduation as something really really special.

There was a discussion about this on Facebook  last week about someone super annoyed with some aspect of their child finishing Kindergarten. Apparently they’ve only recently learned that there’s no kinder graduation at their child’s school . Now… I’m a little more accepting of the idea of a kinder graduation, just because they’re finishing their first year of school and yaaadaa yaaadaa, but really finishing kindergarten is just that… finishing. That little certificate opens literally no doors besides the ones to the first grade classroom. True that not everyone gets promoted to 1st Grade, but that’s a matter of academic, social, and or emotional readiness. Most people fully anticipate their child will finish kinder and   move on to 1st Grade.

I’ve been to a number of kinder graduations– both as a parent and as an elementary school teacher. They are so darn CUTE in their little mortar boards! Parents are so proud and the kids are too. It’s absolutely DARLING! As a parent, I even loved seeing my little babies stand so proud. I’ve hardened with age or something, I guess. I think the bar should be set a bit higher. Things get tough and when that happens, it’s important that our children have learned the lesson that hard work is needed to achieve the goals that we set for ourselves– for those we wish to bring a smile to their face. When our first child walked into the stadium to receive that high school diploma… oh wow! I’ve got to grab a tissue even writing about it all these years later… THAT… was an accomplishment. School was a CHALLENGE, yet with hard work, and the GOAL in the forefront… it was accomplished. I could hardly breathe as I knew the announcer would be calling that name… we had waited so long to hear it… HE had doubts about whether or not it would happen and then… it did. It was triumphant! That… moment… was worth all we told him it would be!

So, kids… here’s the lesson… it might SEEM like a favor to slide on through. Trust me… some days, I wish things were a LOT easier than they are. I do know, though, that by setting goals and working hard, I can achieve anything I want to… and so can you.


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