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.
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.