“Do I get an award for being better?” asked one of my students.
I sighed. “I’m not really up on how all of that works,” I told him.
“Oh,” he said. “I just wondered if you knew if I would get an award this year for improving.”
My answer to him – that I didn’t really know how to answer his question – was about 50% true. The day before, one of the directors had stopped by my room and pulled me out into the hall. Apparently each year they like for each instructor to give one award to one student who demonstrated the most effort.
Whatever that means. Well, she clarified it a bit for me by saying, “Not the smartest student, but the one who showed the most effort.” Because, you know, being smart and showing effort don’t naturally go hand in hand. She then asked me if I planned to attend the end of summer banquet where the awards would be presented. I said yes, but I had been given no information about where and when it would be held.
*side note* at this point y’all I was so exhausted from the lack of organization I had been putting up with for months.
She gave me some information but said she would email me that afternoon with the specific name of the building where it would be held on campus. I said I would email her the name of the award winner.
I’m not really sure how I feel about this whole award for showing the most effort. In the end, I went with a student who continually put herself out there and took some major risks in her work. The award for English did not go to the young man who asked me if he was getting an award for showing improvement. Since our conversation wasn’t private, I didn’t launch into how he thought he had improved in English or any other course. In English, he grumped about having to write, was openly honest and polite about not doing at least 50% of the workload, and spent several days sleeping in class or attempting to listen to music on his phone. Maybe this was an improvement for him, but I couldn’t hand him an award for it. So when he asked, I knew he didn’t get an award from me, but I had no idea what the other instructors had decided on or even what he did in other classes.
Of course there were more students than not who totally deserved an award for effort. Many of them came to class and engaged with the material in the ways I asked them. Several of them pushed each other by asking challenging, thoughtful questions. Yes, they were all a little tired and burnt-out at the end. So was I. We all kind of crawled across the finish line together. Giving an effort award to one kid? I could make an argument for many of them to get it. It didn’t feel right to me.
I was concerned that by giving the award to one kid I might discourage others. But I never found out what happened because I never received the specifics of where the final banquet was held. I am sure other instructors did though. Through a conversation with one of the directors, I figured out that lots of details were passed out to instructors during lunch. Everyone, but me, ate lunch at the campus dining hall. Although the program paid for our lunches, I opted to bring my own for a couple of reasons: (a) I wanted to make sure I ate healthy and (b) I needed to get work done for my classes in the fall. That hour of time was precious to me, and I used it to work on course syllabi. Of course, this means that there were lots of little details and messages I never got, and I suppose that’s a consequence I have to live with including missing the final banquet.