Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hmmmmm... The Issue of Recognition

When I was in fifth grade, the great goal of the "gifted" set was to be on the Safety Patrol. To wear that sash and badge and help direct the little ones to their buses was the mark of honor, the reward we got for putting up with a good deal- jibes and teasing from classmates for being nerds and curve-breakers, the scrounging of the over-acheivers and their busybody parents (helicopter parents are not as new as some would have you believe), and the work involved in learning and doing extra work that was often assigned to keep us busy. Being socially isolated on top of that, I took great pride in showing myself to be somebody by wearing that badge. I had the extra knock in fifth grade because I didn't test into the highest math group (in the tests, though every single I gave was accurate, apparently I did not do the problems quickly enough...), making me a social pariah even among the gifted group as "not good enough."*

When one is doing a lot of work and getting very little reward or seeing very little use in it, little things like awards and certificates and hearing your name called can be a huge deal- especially when you are a child.

Seared into my memory is that day I was not made a patrol for a whole six weeks of the fifth grade. My whole little world was aimed at maintaining my position, perhaps to be eventually made Captain! But no, I was knocked aside- with only one B on my report card (my handwriting sucked)- for a girl with all Cs, and one who was particularly good at making it clear I was none too socially included in my class- I was too tall, too plain, too fat, and too bookish.

I remember the teacher sending me out of the room, because I actually started to cry. Did she have any idea what a disaster had befallen me? No, she had no clue. I got a lecture about how I was supposed to be so mature, how she needed this award to go to this girl who had worked so hard to get that all-C report card. How I would have this honor many times, and this might be the only chance this girl got. Oh yes, I remember. I could quote you the conversation exactly if I didn't think you'd find it boring. And I reacted like a 10-year-old might, left to pull myself together in that hall and chew on my disgrace among my peers, alone. To be honest, it still makes me tear up, that's how horrible it was. After all... I was ten years old. The reverberations from that disgrace actually did follow me for the rest of my school years, forever on the fringe.

At ten, I comprehended what the teacher wanted, and why this had happened. My brain processed it coldly, and still chews on it now. Someone else needed a reward. They needed something to work for. They needed a goal, a carrot before their nose. And apparently, I was undeserving of that. My work was worth nothing compared to the needs of another. My needs were not as important as another's. Clearly, my own pain was a frivolity, my own position of less worth. Why would a child who has talent need a reward for those talents?

We can, as adults, probably see clearly why that girl needed that safety patrol badge more than I did; I can already tell you who will tell me so, either in the comments or the emails I will get later, about how petty and childish it is to dwell upon that moment, or still feel it painful to do so. Certainly, that teacher did what she needed to do to help that other girl- she rose to be Captain of the Patrols (what a miserable six weeks that was for me), and a decent student through high school. I can sit here and reason it out and provide solid logic for it. None of that adult reasoning does anything to help a ten-year-old girl, I can tell you, especially one who was still considered new and trying to fit into social circles enough to at least not feel alone.

Joey came home today with his awards from school (we didn't go to the ceremony because he was at Mt. Vernon- he got his awards when they got back). He has certificates that say he knows multiplication 0-4, and 0-9. Woo. Hoo. He's known those for almost two years now. He had a nice Health Award, and a Most Improved Participation in Music award.

And that is what he got. No math. No reading.

Kinda makes you wonder about who gets awards and how it is determined, doesn't it? Your top math student gets no math award? What's that about? Do people not understand what powerful reinforcement these awards can be?

Trust me, I just spent a lovely twenty minutes hearing all about it. The field trip to Mt. Vernon? I had to pull teeth to get anything about it. That two other students got math awards, and he didn't? I know all about it. And I assure you, I will be giving him lots of hugs and kisses and working hard to make him understand how proud I am of him tonight. After a year like he has had, to have no recognition of his strength in math before his peers is, I know well, searing. Already being the only top math student not in the gifted program, plus being disabled with social interaction issues, is quite bad enough, without this. Add into it the loss of the spelling bee. And after the year he's endured? Come on, let him know you are proud of his academics. It's not like its even being a patrol- all it costs you is a piece of paper. Seriously.

*And just a little fault of vindictiveness here, boy did I prove that to be a joke when I became the youngest captain of the high school math team as a junior.


little.birdy said...

That is so, so wrong. I want to give him a million math awards because he was seriously smart at it back when I was working with him too, but it won't be the same. Grrr. Tell him he is my favorite special boy who changed my life and showed me my calling, and squish him extra hard from Miss Katie.

farmwifetwo said...

"How dare you not want that child to get the award more than you did"... eye-roll... I had a the same teacher for Gr 2 and 3 and she would pick children to help with the holiday parties. I, again the class nerd, got Gr 2 Xmas... I also - even though I'd had my shot - got the mumps. Even though I too did very well in school, in her opinion I'd had my chance and other's got their's even though that last week of school I spent at home. 30+yrs ago, and like you I remember it like yesterday.

Children know. Children know when they've been slighted and I don't care what the reason is, it isn't right. Children never forget either. I've had school staff say to me "what about those other kids" when they expect me to share my services... You know what the answer is... same one I gave 2 of the 5 kids (which is another story) in my group at the field trip yesterday when they were mad their parents hadn't sent along money "NOT MY PROBLEM".

Cruel.... maybe... but you should have gotten your award, I should have gotten another holiday party (I got my fair share of awards but it's the party I still remember) and your son should have gotten his awards too.

Pass along my congrats on an excellent year to him for me.

farmwifetwo said...

Oh... and don't get me started on having the 5 busiest boys in my son's class all day yesterday. The Teacher had 3, the rest of the parents had 4 and I got 5. They... did exactly as I expect...

But what pissed me the most is the slighting 2 of them got by their parents.... and IMO that's worse than what any Teacher can do. Not enough lunch, not enough drink, no money for the gift shop at the museum, no money for a pop before going home.

I'd like to say I'm surprised at these parents but I know of them... this isn't new... BUT, IMO... It's the most ignorant thing you could ever do to your child.

But, they have to learn too when both came nagging for money... it wasn't up to me to supply it nor was I. Yes, I could have... yes, it was mean... but enabling them and their parents...

Sometimes the song is correct "you have to be cruel to be kind".

Lucky for your boys... they have you.

Accidental Expert said...

The whole award thing has boggled my mind. My kids were never the ones to win, and I've wiped away many tears. If those teachers only knew.

Amanda said...

I remember when I was in high school and I was always on the honor roll... and my mom was so proud of my younger siblings' C average one semester (OK, for them academically it was an achievement, although they were very smart kids, but that's a different story) that she refused to put my report card on the fridge with theirs. Why? Because it would make them feel bad.
At the time, I remember thinking, "They SHOULD feel bad. They slacked and got C's." (As I said, my siblings were very smart, just not inclined to work.)But I was also pretty hurt-- what was I working hard for?
And yes, even after I graduated with honors and went to college and they did not (one did not even graduate), even after I got a good job, even after all the professional recognition I have gotten... I rememeber the refrigerator.
As a teacher, a parent, and a former kid, I have to say that talents of all kinds are going unrecognized in favor of hegemony. I won't start on my soapbox, but I will say I empathize with Joey's anger.