I am finally beginning to recover from the end of the year hectic schedule that is a part of every teacher’s life. In most schools you will find a similar schedule of events to wrap up the school year: standardized testing and award ceremonies. Since my first year of teaching, I have always had a twinge of guilt when preparing for these award ceremonies. Although I had an award for every student, something about the process didn’t ring true. Are we accomplishing what we wanted with these awards or are we teaching students to work for us and labeling some students “good” and others “bad?” How do these awards define “good” students? Does it acknowledge students who challenge and question the status qup or quiet homework completers who don’t rock the boat? How are students who don’t get awards impacted by this recognition of “good” students in front of parents and peers?
Alfie Kohn brings another potential ramifications of these award ceremonies: “The reason praise can work in the short run is that young children are hungry for our approval. But we have a responsibility not to exploit that dependence for our own convenience. A “Good job!” to reinforce something that makes our lives a little easier can be an example of taking advantage of children’s dependence.” If students are depending on us, as teachers, to dictate what is “good,” then they are never internalizing a pride in their own work. Kohn also warns of the danger of creating “praise junkies,” students who constantly need praise and who don’t have a strong, sense of self. To be honest, I have to admit that even now I am wondering what the response to this post will be. I am wondering if I will get a “Great post!” comment from a reader, but I can also recognize that need for praise in myself and reflect. I must have had teachers who didn’t just concentrate on awards. Is the same true for the students in our classrooms?