My Child Has Too Much Character #TeachingFAIL

My daughter’s school has something called “Character Awards”. Each quarter of the school year, children are chosen from each class to win the “Character Award” for that term. All of the children who win are announced and celebrated and get to miss class for an afternoon to attend their own private party. Their pictures are hung on a display board right at the front entrance of the school, so everyone sees the pictures every time they walk in. It is a BIG deal to win a Character Award!

I hate the Character Awards.

My daughter has never gotten one. Not in 2 years, during 8 different chances to be chosen. Since children are chosen from each class, you’d think the odds are pretty good that she’d have been chosen at least once. Her odds seem even better when you consider that she’s a straight-A student who has never lost behavior points in a single class.  (Losing points is very easy to do and some kids lose points every single day!)  She’s polite and kind, a bit shy but answers clearly when called on and will raise her hand to help whenever she can. Her teachers all tell me that she’s truly a delightful student and they wish all their students worked so hard.

So every quarter, when the Character Awards are announced, I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to tell her.  When she asks what she did wrong. When she asks why she hasn’t had a turn.  When she points out that some of the kids were chosen for a second or third time. Or that some of the kids who won a Character Award actually get into trouble often in class.

When the final awards of the year were announced a few weeks ago, my daughter was once again passed over. She got into my car at carpool time with tears in her eyes. I knew immediately that the Character Awards had been announced and that she wasn’t chosen.


So when I went into the school the next day for one of my volunteer shifts, I was determined to find out why. I talked with her teacher a little about other things that were happening at the school, making pleasant conversation. And then, as I turned to leave the room, I pretended to remember a quick question about the Character Awards. I mentioned that my daughter was hoping to get a Character Award at some point and I wondered if she had any tips about how my daughter could improve the way she acts in class.

Her answer? The teacher laughed a little and said that my daughter really couldn’t get any better. She does everything she’s supposed to do and is such a pleasure to teach. So I asked her straight out why she thought my daughter hadn’t been chosen. The teacher then admitted that there aren’t as many real awards given out as it seems.  She said they like to give some of the awards to children who aren’t good in the hopes that the feeling of being rewarded will encourage them to act differently in school.

I get it. I do. There are a lot of ways to try to teach children. Positive reinforcement, even when not actually deserved, might indeed show some children that it’s more fun to be rewarded for good behavior than to just get attention for being bad.

But what they are doing is at the expense of a lot of other good little girls and boys. Girls and boys who work hard every day in the hope that they’ll win a Character Award. Kids who hold their breath every quarter when the winners’ names are announced to the entire school, hoping that this time they’ll finally be acknowledged for their hard work and good behavior.

Kids like my daughter, who go home in tears once again because they think they weren’t good enough to be chosen.


So, to my daughter’s school, I want to say:

While you are working so hard on those children who are not good in class, you are sending a message to all of the children who are. That maybe all of their hard work isn’t that important. That maybe it would be better to stop trying so hard.  Maybe it’s more fun to be loud and disruptive in class since you’ll get an award anyway.

I told my daughter that she doesn’t need your Character Award to know she has great character. I explained to her why you’re awarding some kids who behave well and some who don’t.  And the fact that she understood?  That she said she didn’t mind and would work hard on getting a different award next year?

It shows she has more character than all of you.





  1. Wow…what a touching post, you daughter is great and should be proud of herself for being awesome. She doesn’t need an award to justify her value!
    Whirlwind of Surprises

  2. What mastermind thought up this idea?  I’ve never understood why institutions think rewarding negative behavior will result in the behavior changing!  Your daughter is a smart little girl with more character than the adults handing out the awards.

  3. Gina H. says:

    Reading your post I could just cry for your daughter. It’s amazing how some teachers can be so insensitive and I think even cruel. I hope you send a copy of this post to the school. Thanks for sharing. You daughter sounds very smart & sweet!

  4. We had this in our elementary school too & my kids didn’t get chosen. It was so heart breaking to watch them get discouraged. I know teachers have good intentions with things like this but honestly, sometimes it does more harm than good.

  5. We had this at my daughter’s elementary school too … and it was heartbreaking…
    In middle school they moved to a PBIS model where everyone was on a points system and all of the students who met a certain number of points was rewarded for their good behavior with an afternoon event… a movie or a dance or a ‘chillin on the green’ – so much better for building school character…

  6. Fantastic and touching post. My son’s middle school is also on the PBIS point system model and works aut wonderfully.

  7. Unbelievable! One of the many horrible decisions being made in schools today. Thanks for sharing.

  8. I can totally feel you on this, except I’m on the other end. My son has gotten similar awards and it ticks me off. I know what they’re for – and so does he. When he thinks he’s doing well and has started to improve they announce these and when he’s “selected” he’s crushed because he feels like they’re telling him he’s not good enough or he’s not trying hard enough. Very aggravating, to say the least. The character of some of these teachers and administrators is too far gone. 

  9. They have similar awards in my younger sisters school. She’s in gifted and talented as well, and her teachers had only good things to say about her. However, every time awards season came around she never got anything. In fact, the school consistently selected the same two girls year after year. My sis didn’t get upset, she realized the awards for what they were- a favoritism tool used by school administration, and not a reflection on realities in the classroom. I’m not a big fan of awards (although I have a ton from my grade school days), I feel that if you demand parental involvement and initiate proper and effective discipline then you won’t have to use awards as a psychological tool to goad bad behavior kids into behaving better (because, like you said, that sounds a little backwards- and certainly gives a bad example to everyone involved).

  10. I hate to say it, but I have seen things like this happen during my time in the schools (from both sides of the desk now). I will say that sometimes it’s not the actual teachers who do stuff like this. I have seen a principal override a teacher to reward a student when they definitely did not deserve it. I think students should be allowed to be chosen once. Also, if I were your daughter’s teacher and I knew that she was upset about not receiving an award, I would have given her at least a character award of my own to make up for it. 

  11. Wow.  Deplorable.  I am so sorry for your sweet girl!  Glad she has a smart Mom, though…

  12. I don’t even know where to begin…after having dealt with the public school systems for 32 years, you would think that nothing surprises me.  I am so glad that my last, finally graduated last year.  It seems that common sense, is no longer a given when it comes to education.
    I’m so sorry that your daughter has been hurt.

  13. It’s pretty much like giving the tiniest, newest kid on the Little League team the Most Improved award.  They should just rename it.   “Positive Steps”. Or “Pat on the Back”  “We’ve noticed Johann took some big positive steps this semester.  He deserves a pat on the back”.  The party and stuff? Overkill.

  14. I am so sorry for your daughter. My kids school gives out WOW awards. Each month is a different theme: kindness, helpful, hardworking, cooperative and such. A few kids are picked each month and by the end of the year each child is picked once. It is ok but you can see each month half the kids have that quality and half the teacher is hoping they will start to have that quality. No party is given just a certificate at an assembly. You can also see that favorites are picked first and the others later in the year.  They do have another program where kids get tickets for being caught having good behavior. The tickets go into a big pot and one is picked from each class for a mini party: ice cream, root beer float and such. It is suppose to be random but I see that the favorites keep getting picked.  We just had our end of the year assembly yesterday and they had these weird 180 degree awards, it could be for anything that a child improved: behavior, academics. The kids picked were a strange collection and they never said what was improved. Some of the kids did not want the award or seemed confused by it. One girl I know was great (behavior and academics) at the beginning of school and at the end so I have no idea why she got it. My oldest I had to pull out to homeschool last nov so she never got an award. She was disappointed but glad to not have her teacher. She told me her old teacher would of waited until the end of the year to give her a wow award so the kids know it doesn’t mean much. If you want to know why I homeschooled I actually posted it on my blog. 

  15. I’ve worked in the schools for 6 years (not as a classroom teacher though, so I didn’t give out awards), and it’s definitely sad how the whole awards thing is carried out. Favorites always win first, and then the difficult children…and then the favorites again. It’s frustrating to see a difficult child get rewarded for every. little. decent. thing they do, while other, less “in-your-face” kids don’t get rewarded for the SAME things (and things 10x better) that they do every day. It’s almost like, “well, we expect this good behavior from you, so it’s not impressive or important.” Well-behaved children who are not teacher’s pets get overlooked and sometimes even ignored or forgotten on a daily basis.

    • That’s EXACTLY it! My daughter is just completely overlooked. The same (favorites) have gotten the award 2 and 3 times, the disruptive kids get the award, and the quiet, good kids like my daughter are completely forgotten. :(

  16. I’m so glad to find this blog.  My daughter is an honor roll student that has been tested for the gifted program.  I beg her teachers to tell me something that she does wrong.  I hardly ever get any feedback.  She is  half way through the 3rd grade and has never been chosen once.  I have been considering talking to the principal about it, but then it would feel like she only got awarded because I  said something.  She used to cry about it and be disappointed , I used to encourage her to do things certain ways and maybe that would win the teachers approval.  Now, we just don’t talk about it. I tell her I love her no matter what and think she has awesome character.  It really effects her self esteem though.  I’m  keeping my kids home during the ceremony next time.  Did you get any resolve with it. 

    • I’m sorry that this is happening to your daughter too. :(

      My daughter never did win the “award”. But she’s in a new grade now and they don’t do those types of awards any more. She still gets perfect grades and her new teacher really seems to like her and praise her enough, so we’re MUCH happier now.

      I hope your daughter’s situation gets better soon.

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