I was reading this article about schools going ‘reward free’ in the name of tackling a ‘lack of resilience’ in the up and coming generations.
As a teacher, parent, current over-achiever, and former under-achiever, I must respectfully disagree.
Let me tell you my story. When I was at my first primary school – a Catholic affair – I was labelled ‘the naughty kid’ from the very start. In grade 1, I started having horrific religious dreams about Jesus crucifying me, nailing me to the carpet, or calling me an evil child. My grade 1 teacher used to smack me and put me in the back room to get rid of me. By grade 3, my teacher made me complete my school work in the office and I had to stay back after school.
This was not violent behaviour on my part, mind you. Just impulsive silliness. Flushing apple cores down toilets, staying out in the rain, occasional backchat. Still, my education did not start off on the right foot. What I really needed was a firm teacher who could build a relationship and get inside my head.
Once I changed schools, I experienced that. When I did the wrong thing, I was reprimanded; but when I did the right thing, I was praised. My teacher believed in me and I improved out of sight.
A few years later, I still had behavioural problems but I had started to develop a talent for academia and sports. I played soccer and touch football skilfully, and competed in athletics and distance running, often making it to district and regional trials. I also achieved in the top percentiles for English and writing competitions.
Fancy that – a naughty child who is also academically skilled!?
Sometimes I won, sometimes I didn’t – but it didn’t really matter because at the end of the day, I was only racing against myself.
When I did win, I would get the chance to receive a medal or ribbon on assembly. For me, the naughty kid, it helped my teachers and peers to see another, more positive side of me.
In some schools I’ve taught in, there have been rewards days for behaviour, attendance, and effort. These are areas that anyone can achieve highly in.
I have absolutely no issue with seeing children rewarded for hard work.
For some of the children we teach, this may be one of the few things they can feel good about.
No-one is suggesting we should give out medals for last place – but a little bit of encouragement goes a long way in motivating some children. There are certainly some children who may only get their time to shine on the sporting field or in the world of academics, so it makes no sense to take that away from them.
When did we become such a nation of scrooges?
As a child, I received ribbons for places and medals when I won. As an adult, I still race against myself, I set the bar high, and I still have the box full of trophies and medals I received in some of my brightest days. I certainly don’t lack resilience.
Let the children celebrate their wins and support them through their disappointments.
I just want my finishing medal and my beer, damnit!