SOL: Gold and Silver Students

The last few days of school are approaching and with them come the awards ceremonies. Every year I am asked to recognize the shining stars in our fifth grade. The academics, the leaders, the good citizens, the hard workers. Those who do school well.

I left school this afternoon, the list prepared, in time to attend my daughter’s senior awards ceremony. All told nearly 200 graduating seniors stood before us. All had astounding GPAs and golden opportunities ahead. These children worked hard, studied for the tests, wrote the essays and got to school on time.

I recognized names. These were gold and silver award winners in elementary school. Those who do school well get the awards, the scholarships, the acceptance letters from colleges, the bright futures.

I don’t deny the value of their hard work or their excellence. They do the right thing the right way.  We look at them and say what a great group of kids. We’re proud and hopeful.

But tonight, I worry. What about those who don’t shine gold or silver?
What needs to be done?
What should I have done?

If only
I had been tougher;
inspired them;
engaged them ;
trained them;
convinced them that hard work matters.

All of those if only’s. This always gets me.

What is the source of the desire to work hard?
How is it acquired, developed, maintained?
Can it be taught?

These questions propel me into pre-summer thinking.

How and why do I work hard?
When do I give up?
What does it take to get me to come back and try again?

When I was young, I worked hard to please. My parents. My teachers. As I grew, that changed. Working hard became a way to get to the world, a world away from the people I started out wanting to please.

I found places I excelled and areas I foundered in. No surprise, I avoided the places of inadequacy and ran toward all the areas I felt I could do. Success bred success. And I developed a belief that I just had to work hard and look long enough and I’d find my gold and silver. This has led to an inexhaustible desire to work hard.

What happens when performance today doesn’t equal gold or silver?
I wonder, how can we find the gold and silver in our students?
Are we showing them pathways to find it?
What can I do?

These questions propel me into summer learning.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Tuesday Slice of Life. And thanks to the generosity and wisdom of Slicers who meet here every week. Read more slices here.




18 thoughts on “SOL: Gold and Silver Students

  1. This really has me thinking! It makes me think of Dr Seuss’ All the Places You’ll Go… There’s a part where he says how you will be winning and the best but the next page he says sometimes you won’t. It’s so true. There are times some of us get awards for hard work but then there are times you work hard and get zip. Does that mean you shouldn’t work hard? Do you work hard for the promise of the award or because the work is meaningful?

  2. And what of the children who didn’t work hard in front of you, but who help their mothers raise little ones? Those who struggle with their identity and so cannot participate because it cannot be a priority yet? And those who fear failure too much? Too much is at stake to be focusing on the one or two who got it early. xo

  3. I echo your concerns about what else I could’ve done as this school year ends. I took a twist on the awards…we are having classroom awards. The sixth graders are creating their own. They made the award and are writing acceptance speeches. It’s AWESOME! So much more meaningful and fun. 🙂 Happy almost summer!

  4. Your questions about what inspires us to work hard really strike me. I’m also going to pay attention to some of the times when I want to give up. As always, your insights and reflections get me thinking too! Thanks!

  5. When, as a teacher, you find the answer to those questions, please let the world know. My children were never at the award ceremonies and it was excruciatingly hard to keep them motivated to succeed let alone excel in school. I applaud your heart for asking the question and know that you are an excellent teacher because you ask the questions.

  6. Those are important questions to ask. You want to reach every student, but how hard it is. There are those students who may not excel at the traditional tasks, but most likely have interests and passions that they do excel at. How can we reach everyone? It’s a challenge.

  7. I love how your wonderings pushed you first to reflect on YOURSELF and what motivated you to work hard and shine. Such a key first step in all wonderings. By looking in, we can start to look out. And a powerful idea to ponder for the summer. You have me thinking now, too!

  8. I LOVE your questions…. they keep you engaged and the rest of us as well. I am not a fan of the “stars”. I’d like to see everyone celebrated!!!! We find out so much more about kids and how they succeed years later. The ones without stars, blaze too and often remember our role in it that we might never know about!!!!!

  9. With the Common Core we have narrowed down the broad spectrum of activities that kids can engage in that can make them feel good about themselves. “Shop” classes, art, music and the like all take a back seat to a certain kind of intelligence that not everyone has. Two of my non-academic achieving brothers became printers and had successful careers thanks to a high-school program that sent them for training. Now the one percent continue to prevail and get all the “goodies.” This is a very important post today.

    • That “certain kind of intelligence” is needed but so are the many other kinds of intelligences. We do our children and our future a disservice by setting those aside in favor of the academic types. Thank you for you story this morning.

  10. This makes me think of my student Clyde who I saw this week. He was one of the stars. He won awards. He was golden as a student. But today he is floundering, unsure of where he wants to be, what his future will hold. Stars shine at different times. As teachers, it is our job to see the light for our kids and guide them toward being the best of who they are. We can’t change them, but while they are in our care, we can be a model for hard work and kindness.

  11. Oh, Julieanne, you know how to ask and ponder on the hardest of questions! You’ve got many brains spinning with this post. Mine included. Thanks for being the kind of thinker who ignites others to think and not just accept status quo.

  12. Those are great reflections, Julieanne, but I fear that, if we are not finding the silver and gold in our students, we are either not looking hard enough or looking for the wrong things. Sometimes we miss the gems when searching for fool’s gold.

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