stephanie jones

How to Make School Not Suck #2 – Awards

In anti-bias teaching, classism, democracy, family-school relations, poverty, social class, teacher education resources on May 20, 2009 at 8:16 pm

#5 Stop singling out the same kids over and over for school awards. You know exactly the kind of celebrations I’m talking about: a very small number of well-dressed, submissive, overly-willing-to-please kids get all the recognition in a class-wide or even school-wide award ceremony. If the other kids are lucky, they might get their names called out, but then some sit there never having had the thrill of being publicly recognized for their gifts and talents. Do this: if you or your school gave out awards for the end of this year, ask yourself some tough questions: a) who were the kids that never got recognized? b) how many of those kids are from middle-class or wealthy families? c) how many receive free or reduced lunch? d) how many of those kids are white? African American? Multiracial? Latino? Asian American? e) how many of those kids have already had the privilege of “special programs” such as the gifted program? f) is there any evidence in your answers that you are, or your school is, perpetuating stereotypes and expectations for kids based on race and class?

If you know anything about how children build personal connections with school and develop motivation in school, then you’ll already know that the kids who never get recognized are the very ones who will decide to quit trying. When you reward everything they are NOT, and nothing that they ARE, you send very clear messages about whether they even belong in the school setting. Shame on anyone who does this.

And – we’re sending horrible messages to the kids getting all the recognition as they sit and watch their classmates’ eyes well up with tears and yell and lash out at students and teachers: You deserve praise and they don’t. And when they can see traces of racism and classism in those decisions (even if they can’t articulate it that way – my own daughter said, “all the kids who didn’t get an award were _____” – she knew), they can begin to adopt those same racist, classist beliefs about school and society at large.

And what about the parents of children who attend such events whose child never gets recognized? Well, they probably already hated school and you because they have read through this bullshit long ago. But you surely didn’t help things.

Every single child has something worth valuing publicly.


Recognize and reward the wonderful talents and gifts of every student and you will create a better world, starting in your classroom, school, and then beyond.

Stop repeatedly making some of your students Powerful and others Powerless in school settings. Rethinking awards is one place to start.

Besides, without knowing it, you might be publicly and proudly revealing the racist and classist practices that are already at play in your classroom or school, and surely, surely, no one would want to be caught in THAT situation.

  1. Thanks Stephanie. I’m so glad I stopped to check out your blog tonight. Next month my kindergarteners have “graduation” and I have the unlucky job of choosing a valedictorian and salutatorian to speak at our graduation… I am waiting until the last minute to decide because I refuse to give this more power than it should be worth. Your post gave me good reminder on what kind of decision I should make this year. Thank you!!

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