Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Medals of Honor

One of the things you get to do when you're a chapter leader is distribute UFT award certificates. At years end, you get a pile of them in the mail for various subject areas and you have to find people who will give them out. There are a few, though, that you get directly from your district rep, and they come with medals. I figure since I spend all year doing this job it ought to be my students who receive the medals.

But there are more complications of late. Beginning last year, the certificates were available online. So instead of saying, "Sorry, that's all there are," you have to say, "Well, if you can find me some parchment paper I'll print more for you." Last year I printed so many for others that I never got a chance to give out my own. So here I was with four medals this year. I gave away three of them, to three girls from three different countries.

The first was to a girl who was very quiet, but always tuned in. I couldn't count on her to jump up and do the things that Charlotte Danielson has orgasms over, but she was always right there. I think she was taught not to volunteer or interrupt, and no amount of encouragement from me or observations of others was going to alter that. I also felt that she probably didn't receive a lot of acknowledgement from others, so I thought it would be a good idea to change that. She was completely surprised by it, and had no idea why it was coming. She asked me what it was for, and I told her it was for being an excellent student. Perhaps she was the most traditionally excellent, having the best grades of anyone I chose.

My second award went to a girl whose average was in the eighties, but who really did excel in less traditional ways. One thing I really love to see in my students is a willingness to interact with anyone from any background. This girl thrived on that. She was happy to be with people who spoke her language, but equally happy to be with anyone who spoke any language. This made her an excellent English learner, and I think also makes her well-equipped to deal with college, work, or pretty much any situation that should come her way. She also has a real joy for living, evident in her smile and pretty much everything she does. This meant whenever she did group work, which was usually an excuse to make students talk, talk they did. It may or may not have been on topic, but her groups were always lively.

The third plastic gold-medal winner went to a girl who always interacted with speakers of other languages. Now sure, this was largely because no one else in the group actually spoke her language, but that worked very well for her. She was always jumping up and down and volunteering to do absolutely whatever. She would show up for first period ten or fifteen minutes early and either talk to me or study furiously for whatever test she was taking. She also had test grades in the eighties, but showed me something that I thought would work for her wherever she went in the future.

This girl did something that none of the others did. While she was happy to have received the award for herself, she came to me the next day lobbying for why a friend of hers ought to also receive it. I won't go into why I disagree absolutely with her, but I'm very impressed that she's thinking of someone other than herself. This is a quality I really cherish, and something I don't see that frequently in young people. In fact, I don't see it at all enough in adults.

Now I wish I could tell you that she learned this quality from me, but I very much doubt that to be the case. I loved seeing that in her, and love it even more because it was so unexpected. This girl will one day do great things not only for herself, but for others as well.
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