Monday, April 27, 2009

The "Great Job" Generation

When an adult today saw one of Bryant's drawings (which was a fairly adorable tree in a rainstorm) she said, "Great job!" Instead of beaming with pride I flinched and grimaced. Not because the picture was ugly or that I have any negative feelings toward this woman, but because I got the distinct impression that she would have given him the same praise if he'd brought in a squished cockroach. The phrase "Great job!" used to mean something, but it has been overused to the point where it is utterly devoid of meaning.

There is a whole generation of kids who have been raised to believe that everyone is equal, everyone gets a trophy and everyone did a great job - whether they actually did or not. This mentality is probably harmless for a kid's first season of t-ball or soccer or for the annual Easter egg hunt where it would be ridiculous for one kid to have two eggs and another to have forty-two. Truthfully, what mother in her right mind wants to drag home a kid who has had that much candy?

As a teacher of middle school students, I get to see the ugly side of the equality doctrine as misinterpreted by teens. The early trophies and gold stars for everyone reinforce the idea that they don't have to stand out or try hard or really do much of anything to receive a reward. Natural consequences are replaced by artificial ones and reality gets skewed. What was meant as a method of preserving self-esteem until children are mature enough to handle competition and disappointment has led to a generation of kids who feel they deserve to be rewarded for taking up space in my classroom. While I have some amazing, intrinsically motivated, independent learners in my classes, I also have kids who want a trophy for continuing to breathe unassisted. News flash - school is hard, work is hard and tests are hard!

I guess you could say I'm tough on my kids, but when they bring me the drawing of who-knows-what, instead of saying the automatic "Great job!" I ask what on earth I'm looking at and get some pretty funny answers and some windows into their creativity that would have been lost with a vacuous piece of flippant praise. I am not Mom-of-the-Year or Teacher-of-the-Year, but I want the kids around me to know that when they hear praise from me it is a direct result of hard work or inventive thinking or unique insight.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Watch Where You Step!

On the way to drop the kids off at school this morning I saw an image that has been with me all day. A lady on her morning jog past our neighborhood elementary school abruptly broke stride before crossing the street. Although I'm not a runner myself it seemed a little odd to me that she just stopped. It seemed even stranger when she crossed the street and made a beeline for the nearest leftover sprinkler puddle and began furiously scraping her feet. My eyes darted to the other side of the street where the telltale pile of puppy poop cleared up the mystery. When I looked back over she was still shuffling away in the nearly nonexistent source of water.

This image succinctly portrays how I feel about agreeing to do some of the jobs in my life. Once I consent to do a seemingly effortless task I manage to plant my foot firmly in the nearest turd and spend an unfathomable amount of time trying unsuccessfully to remove it from my shoe. Last night, Brendan needed to look up how to wear a toga. No, I'm not sending my nine year old to frat parties. It was Olympics Day at school. But the point is that a five minute Google search tuned into a three hour download of Internet security software that I had to babysit along with the three boys in my life, our weeks worth of laundry and the night before school scuffle complete with tears and bloodshed (strawberry, knife, 3rd grader - you get the picture).

At work, I got suckered into being Team Leader for one more year under the assumption that I've done it for two years and could use the lesson plans I already have. Come to find out the state has changed what we have to teach and our district has decided this is a good year to go in a different direction. What is that smell? I'm pretty sure it's more doodoo on my shoe and there is no puddle in sight.

This is not to say that I tromp around with metaphorical poo on my shoes all the time. Things do go right, more often than not, but there are some people in our lives who just love mucking up the sidewalk for their own entertainment. To them I would like to say, keep your steaming landmines to yourself, I manage to step in my fair share without any help.