Math = Love: Awards

Friday, May 17, 2013


We had our awards assembly on the afternoon of the last day of school.  Considering the fact that we have an attendance problem at our school, this was probably not the best idea.  Many of our students just chose not to show up for school on the last day of school.  Others chose to skip out right before the assembly began. 

For Algebra 1, I gave two awards.  I gave one award to the student with the highest Algebra 1 average.  This student was very deserving.  But, it was also her second time to take Algebra 1.  Last year, she did not pass the end of instruction exam at the end of the year.  So, she was required to retake Algebra 1 concurrently with Geometry. 

I also wanted to reward a high-achieving student who was taking Algebra 1 for the very first time.  The student with the highest average in this category was also very deserving.  She worked extremely hard all year.  In the past, she had not done well in math.  She doesn't like school, and she is very vocal about it.  But, this year, she made an exception for Algebra I.  She kept the perfect notebook.  She did every single homework assignment.  She asked questions when she didn't understand things.   
She challenged me as a teacher this year, and I'm thankful for that.  Every time I tried to play review games with her class, it would fail miserably.  You would think I would learn, but I didn't.  And, every time this student would get frustrated with the review game, she would announce, "Ms. Hagan, I don't think I'm learning a single thing."  As painful as that is to hear sometimes, it's something I need to hear as a teacher.  I wish I had a bunch more students who were willing to speak up when my presentation approach does not meet their needs. 

Next year, I want to give my students more opportunities to vocalize whether or not something is helping them to learn.  Because, that's what it's all about.  It doesn't matter how fun an activity is if it isn't helping my students to learn. 

Anyway, back to the awards assembly.  I walked up to the podium to announce who will be receiving my top student awards.  I gave the award to the top Math Analysis student and the award to the top Algebra 2 student.  I announced my first Algebra 1 winner, and no one rises from their seat.  I announce my second Algebra 1 winner, and no one rises from their seat.  I find this hard to believe because I had asked this student if she would be there just hours earlier.  I had done everything but tell her that she was going to be receiving one of my awards. 

After the assembly is over, I look up and am surprised to see my missing student approaching me.  She has a question to ask me.  "Can I still have my award?  I was too scared to go up there and get it."  I'm not sure if this student has ever won an award before.  I proudly presented her with her medal, and I shook her hand.  It breaks my heart to think about what must have been going through her mind as she sat there in the auditorium. 

Next year, I want to do a better job.  I want to do a better job of recognizing students.  I shouldn't wait until the last day of the school year to congratulate them on a job well done.  I'm not sure what this will look like yet, but I'm thinking about it. 

In the mean time, I'd love to hear about how you recognize students in your own classroom!   


  1. Sarah,
    I love what you are doing but I am afraid that you are taking on too much of the responsibility of your students. Once they reach puberty the direction of their lives is already set and without an "epiphany" event it will never change. Go back and read The Allegory of the Cave in Plato's Republic. The students who don't care are the people who prefer to live in the cave. The students who try are on the path to become "Übermensch". Your job is to be true to your standards of what you think a good teacher should be and let the rest go. I think that you have a great future ahead of you both as a teacher and a super person.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I'm not familiar with The Allegory of the Cave. I'll have to look into that.

  2. Ya, Allegory of the Cave is awesome, but I respectfully disagree with Bob: I agree with your thought that you (and I) "shouldn't wait until the last day of the school year to congratulate them on a job well done"

    I have these cards I call "Choice Cards" (CC's) because students can choose any number of ways for the card to reward their grade--from replacing HW to extra points on tests, and some other ways. Students earn these CC's by doing their HW all week, and I think they simply like the feeling of getting something tangible for their work. I'm not 100% satisfied with the way I've used CC's this past year, but last year I asked students for the #1 reason they did their HW, and overwhelmingly it was for CC's. I need to improve how I use them and give them out, but that's one idea for you.

    Thanks for your reflections and keep up the great work!