Sunday, April 12, 2015

Why give awards?

This is a departure from the norm for me. This is definitely a post that shares how I am feeling at this exact moment.

This has been a tough year. I am questioning what is going on in my class and looking to improve my game. The curriculum needs a rehash, so I haven´t been posting about the classroom as much this year. I have had many challenging kids, and frankly a part of me has been wondering if I am the teacher I was when I started. Then just when I was ready to chalk this year up and work on doing better next year this happened.

It started in February. It was the time of year where teachers are asked to nominate students for the STARS (Students Taking Accountability and Responsibility Seriously) awards. These are my favorite awards because they are not geared toward the super A students, or the most successful students. These awards are for students that (in my opinion) can slip through the cracks. These are those kids who have a great attitude, work hard, are kind to their peers, and just make being in the classroom a pleasure. Most years I have a student to nominate, and this year, I nominated two seniors.

Fast forward to Monday...

One of the worst things that could happen to a school - the death of a student had touched our lives. One of the young men I had nominated for the STARS award was his best friend. He was completely devastated by the loss. On Tuesday, he was visibly upset and when I took him aside, he ended up in my arms crying. It is one of the hardest things about being a teacher. What can possibly be said to comfort someone whose friend died suddenly in a senseless accident?

All week, I put myself in this students´path. I checked with his other teachers and his counselor. On Thursday, he told me that he had reached acceptance and was trying to come back from the sorrow.

Saturday morning - The funeral

What more needs to be said?

Saturday night - The awards ceremony

They really make a big deal of the awards ceremony. First, there is a dinner and then each student is interviewed, like in a talk show, by the emcee. He reads what the teacher wrote about each student and then asks them some questions. Every award winner gets their turn in the spotlight.

There are about 40 award recipients between 5 - 12 grades, so the ceremony is long. Both of the students I nominated were recognized in the first half of the ceremony.

One of the first recognized was my student who had lost his friend. He was there and tried to plaster on a smile, but it was difficult. He touched my heart though by getting through it and even winking at me during his ¨interview¨. Afterwards, his mother (who is Colombian) called me his beautiful angel and was so glad that someone had recognized how special her son was. His father, who I had sat through two years of parent-teacher conferences, who was normally a gruff, no nonsense guy, hugged me! Needless to say it was very touching. The young man told me at the end of the night, ¨I never thought I was the kind of kid that would win a school award. This has given me the self-confidence to be successful.  (To my credit, I did not cry....but I was so touched.)

The second young man I nominated is one of those really smart kids who is a bit of a smart-alack. He has been in my class for the last two years, and although is a whiz and math and science, he puts forth real effort in Spanish. I was surprised when he had continued to Spanish 4, and although he is not my best student, he is a hard worker that often surprises me with what he can do. When the emcee read what I had written about him, he turned around in his chair and stared at me like I must have him mistaken for someone else. I just shrugged and smiled. His parents were also so kind to me. They told me what a good influence I was on their boys (I have his younger brother as well), and how much they talk about me at home. Their father turned to me and just said, ¨You are really a great teacher.¨ I didn´t cry then, but I am now.

There was one other very special nominee that night, one I had to wait for until the end of the ceremony. That nominee was my daughter Kate. Kate is a freshman at my school and had decided to come to the school where I worked, not our neighborhood school. From the beginning, she has worked to make a difference in the school and she is kind to everyone. I have heard from many teachers how wonderful she is, but for her to receive this award, was confirmation for her that she had made the right choice. She was touched and surprised to be nominated. She handled her interview with poise and grace, and her father and I are so proud of her. I had never realized how wonderful these awards were for parents.....for someone to realize what we already knew.....that our kids is a great one.

For me, this has made me remember why I teach....why I get frustrated-angry-happy-mad-sad-encouraged.....and why it is all worth it. Although my students won the awards, I really felt like I was the real winner - for having the privilege of getting to know them as their teacher. So, to answer the question, ¨why give awards?¨, for me the answer is to show your students their worth and how much you care for them. And, if you are as lucky as I was last night, to receive some of that love and respect in return.