at the end of the school year is not my idea of winning a prize. It does not reward the child who has natural ability and worked hard or the child who has struggled but also achieved something through hard work. To me this attitude simply says, "It doesn't matter if you work or not you will be rewarded."
The long summer break from school started here yesterday. One of the local children showed me his certificate "congratulating" him on finishing the year.
"It doesn't mean anything. We all got one. It's the sort of stuff you give to the really little kids."
"So what would you have done?" I asked him, "I'd really like to know because I think I agree with you."
He thought about it for a bit and then said, "I think I'd ask everyone in the class to think about it and tell the teacher what they think someone needs to get. You know like you know your friend tried really hard at something. Kids know that sort of stuff."
I am not sure that would work - and we discussed why it might not work - but if awards are to be given for trying rather than coming first then there is most certainly no harm in listening.
There is a group I know where the adults who have formally taught something to the others during the year get given "certificates" at the end of year event. The certificates "thank" them for "doing such a great job teaching..." Many members find these certificates offensive. Like the boy I was talking to they feel it is the sort of thing you might give a small child.
A certificate like that given months later is a meaningless gesture when someone has voluntarily put in many hours of preparation for the class - often for just a few people. A simple seeking out and thanking the person responsible for doing the work on the day will mean much more.
I know I tried to do this when I was teaching and working in a school library. I also know I probably failed to thank children sometimes but I never had any shortage of willing helpers and volunteer "library monitors". At the end of one year when I was asked to nominate a child for helping in the library. I looked over the many helpers and I chose a child who could barely read. The school principal queried this but I stuck by my decision. "He deserves it."
Every afternoon after school he had come in and tidied up the library for me. He had emptied the waste paper bin, returned all the games and puzzles to the shelves, and generally made himself useful. I had thanked him of course during the year but it was often a casual, "Thanks T... " and nothing more. On the school "Speech Night" he was as surprised as anyone else on being called on. His look of bewildered pleasure was something I can still remember.
The following day, the last at school for the year, he gave me a shy smile and said, "Thanks" before racing off. One of the other library monitors who was there at the time turned to me and said, "He deserved it. We all know that.... "
Giving the same thing to every monitor would not have had the same impact. Are we really doing children any favours when we award everyone a prize?