As the children filed in, excitement was in the air. Parents pulled out their overly large, expensive cameras and started firing away. I found a seat squished between a two families, and discovered that my only view was essentially through the many smart phone cameras pointed at the classes. The principal and vice principal lined all of the kids into their spots and everyone was beaming broadly. Quick check of the time, and head count of the teachers – I had about 56 minutes before I needed to bolt, hopefully this thing might wrap up early and I could peak in at the end of year party as well. Let the games begin.
About two seconds into the ceremony, I engaged with a new form of elementary school culture shock: Superlatives in the Scarcity Culture. The first teacher began announcing awards, and it turns out that each child was receiving anywhere from 3-4 awards. They spoke highly of the Good Citizen Award, as being a special honor decided by peers, but it turned out that there were several Good Citizens per class. I decided that this could be a fun little personality assessment.
Here were some of the noteworthy awards:
Helping Hand Award: As a well-trained and well-mannered child, this is the kid that loves the rules,and makes sure that they help the teacher in the classroom. This kid likely does not connect well with peers, but is good at pleasing adults.
Handy Helper: This kid wants to help the teacher, but is too clumsy or impulsive to do it effectively. Their effort must be acknowledged, even if it causes more harm than good.
Best Veterinarian: This award was given out to two kids, so I am assuming that these are the kids that show a high curiosity for dead bugs on the classroom floor.
Best Dance Moves: Constantly fidgeting, this kid has ants in their pants, and tries to make it look like rhythm.
Best Dancer: Not to be confused with best dance moves, this is a kid who has had some dance training (via Youtube or expensive dance studio) and pulls those moves into some cohesive format.
Star Student: This student had at least a mediocre performance in the subject for which it was awarded.
Rockstar Student: This student was above mediocre in the subject, or maybe did it with some extra flair.
Superstar Award: This student does well in the subject.
Strategies to Add Up to 100: This child can use problem-solving skills, and might already own a calculator. This child also likely has a parent who checks their math homework.
Nonfiction Expert: This child loves facts, and can be a know-it-all. This is the kid who follows you around pointing out errors in the lesson or inaccuracies in their “I Can Read” story about frogs.
Really Into Reading: Socially anxious to the core, one of this child’s coping strategies for classroom downtime is to bury their head in a book and avoid eye contact.
Most Improved: Impulsive and inattentive, this child is lucky to retain basic lessons. The teaching team is all amazed that there has been some learning entering their brain.
PE Award: They came, they saw, they participated.
One of the teachers had the audacity to give a 5-minute speech before her class awards were distributed. She spoke about some of the things they had learned through the year, and also why she had the best class ever. She then stated that parents have an essential role in the education of their children, because children spell love “T-I-M-E.” It took all I had to not heckle right that moment. Yes, it is important to value your children and spend time with them, but this generation of children has parents who invest more T-I-M-E than any preceding generation, and it is constantly pressured to increase. My best guess is that the T-I-M-E my daughter spent canoeing with her father the preceding weekend did more for her than me sitting in this auditorium listening to the list of false accolades. My mother never attended any of these events because she had a career that meant she couldn’t be available at all during my school days – she was a teacher. Funny thing is that I always saw her work as meaningful, and never took this as a reflection of lack of investment in me.