Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Day When All Students Are Not Treated Equally

Today was Reward Day along the hallowed halls of Backroads High.

It's good to reward students for following rules and showing up and passing their classes. Don't think I'm complaining one bit. No. Not Val. Far be it from VAL to voice her displeasure. Some of the kids are a bit more vocal every year. Not in a throw-themselves-on-the-tile-kicking-and-screaming kind of way. More in a general-grumbling-and-mumbling kind of way. Keep in mind that the criteria to be met for Reward Day is listed in the student handbook. It's in folder form, handed out to each student when schedules are picked up. Still, some of them must remember those hazy lazy days of lower elementary, when everybody got an award, and nobody's tender self-esteem was marred by unpleasantness.

"I can't believe I'm not on the list! I only went to in-school suspension ONE time!"

"I was told it's only for second semester. That what you did first semester doesn't count."

"I was told it's for first semester. That what you did SECOND semester doesn't count."

"I'm passing all of my classes but one!"

"I'm passing everything but P.E."

"You guys. Think about it. It's not really worth coming to school every day just to have Reward Day. You can miss way more that three days a semester, and those days you take off can be your own Reward Days."

Sometimes Reward Day is a trip to a theater for a new release movie, with free small soda and popcorn. Sometimes it's a trip to a mall in the city. Sometimes it's a visit to City Museum, or a bowling fun center, or skating. Sometimes it's a barbecue at the park, or open gym, or DVD movies and snacks in the cafeteria. You never know. Today, it was an outdoor sports day with a barbecue to enjoy the 90-degree sunshine. The point is, students get a somewhat unstructured day with their friends to text each other and goof around. Don't think the destination is what makes the day.

Some schools have reward days in which the students who don't qualify must take finals or do busy-work skills worksheets all day to remind them that THEY DIDN'T QUALIFY FOR REWARD DAY. I disagree with this reasoning. First of all, if a final exam is truly to be counted as a final exam, all students need to take it. Nobody should be excused for good behavior. Secondly, students who don't have good enough grades for reward day are punished by possibly lowering their grades even more with a final exam. And that busy work? It's cruel and unusual punishment. Because it doesn't matter if you give the unrewarded kids a pony and cotton candy, THEY STILL KNOW THEY ARE MISSING FUN TIME WITH THEIR FRIENDS. No matter how they try to rationalize it.

"It's so hot out there. I'm glad I'm inside."

"Yeah. It's nice and cool in here. We're not getting a sunburn."

"And they're getting all dirty on the softball field. Yuck."

"The wind would mess up my hair."

Yes, those left behind know they are not being rewarded. Our policy is to treat the day in the way you deem appropriate. Short of taking your class outside to watch Reward Day, that is.

Still. They know. The unrewarded. Better luck next year. Everybody has the same chance.


  1. Another example of how the world is not a fair place. I don't remember Reward Day when I was going to school.

  2. We are having an all-day-at-the-park day. It's a 3rd grade things. The teachers BBQ for the kids and they have all day to goof around. We end it by launching dozens of water balloons at them. They love it.

    We planned on taking all the kids (with just a few exceptions) but the list of "have nots" has gotten longer as their grip on their sanity has become more tenuous. We'll see how many kids get to go next Tuesday...

  3. I guess it's good for kids to learn the real world doesn't reward everybody equally. Still, sometimes even when we do everything right crap falls out of the sky and dumps on our parade. Good idea to be able to find the pony in the crap. Is that enough philosophical metaphors for you?

  4. I think incentives work better than punishment any day and taking finals is absolute torture when others aren't. Now in the past, when I taught school age summer camp, there were few kids we loved tossing water balloons at.

  5. What a brilliant system. Just enough of a sting to help kids transition from the "everyone's a winner!" of youth to the sink or swim of real life. That's cool, I liked reading about it.

  6. The title "Reward Day" should give a hint that being treated special is a reward for doing well or for following the rules. Makes sense to me.

  7. Stephen,
    Now that you mention it, I don't remember a Reward Day either. We went to school, we passed our classes, and we didn't get in trouble. It's like Chris Rock says when guys brag about supporting their kids and staying out of prison: It's what you're SUPPOSED to do!

    Well, you can't have bad apples stinking up a barbecue.

    There are NEVER enough philosophical metaphors for me!

    Ah...a rewarding experience for you AND the kids.

    Yes, they learn about sowing and reaping. Sometimes, you raise a crop that nobody will buy.

    Some of them have Reward Day confused with end-of-the-year free-for-all.