No Child Left Behind?


Will you explore an idea with me for a little while? Basically, I need to think out loud for a bit.

Last week I went to my 4th grader’s school to help serve sundaes. You see, the sundaes were connected to how many of their multiplication facts the students learned. The higher they achieved, the more toppings they got on their sundaes.

I didn’t think much about the idea in the beginning. My son was excited and eager to make it all the way to his 12’s. He gave me weekly reports on his progress. He was extremely motivated. We did flashcards at home and he used an iPad app occasionally. Thankfully, he met his goal. He was able to construct quite the creation when the day came.

When the paper came home to volunteer to serve the sundaes, I signed up. I don’t get many opportunities to help in my boys’ classrooms, so this seemed like a good occasion.

As soon as they started unloading all of the goodies on the tables and gave us directions, I had a sudden change of heart. I was going to have to check kids’ tickets and make sure they were allowed to have my topping. I might have to tell a kid no. My stomach started to churn and I got teary-eyed. My mind immediately thought back to those students I had that no matter how hard they tried, they just couldn’t learn their facts. Then I thought about those kids who didn’t have anyone at home who would quiz them or be sure they practiced.

I watched some of the kids walk away from the line with just a couple of toppings, and I knew some of them had learning issues that likely prevented them from being very successful. It felt so icky.

I am not the parent of a child with special needs, but I think this scenario would be hard for me if I was. I realize that everyone got ice cream, but what about the child with autism who only got syrup…because he has autism.

How do you handle a situation like this? What could be done differently? I’m just asking the questions.

The reality is, there will always be competitions. There will be kids who don’t receive the Presidential Fitness Award in gym class for various reasons. There will be kids who don’t get the perfect attendance award because they get sick a lot. There will be kids who never get a solo or speaking part in a school production. Some children will be the first one out in a spelling bee every time because he/she isn’t a good speller.

Maybe the key is teaching our kids to deal with disappointment. Emphasize with your kids that we all have different gifts, maybe not even academic or physical, but the ability to be a good friend, honest, or an excellent listener. Encourage them in their strengths. Affirm them when they aren’t able to attain as high as they would like for whatever reason. Come up with your own special rewards at home based individually on their abilities when there is something on the horizon that is a big deal that you know they can’t achieve.

So, I just don’t know!! What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


6 thoughts on “No Child Left Behind?

  1. Not sure that was the best motivator…especially for young kids. I personally don’t like to use food…lots of hurt feelings. Why couldn’t they work together to make the sundaes and maybe count/measure?

    • Love the idea of a cooperative experience. I don’t think rewards are a bad thing, it was just the public nature of it that really bothered me. I think I saw too many kids try hard and fail in spite of their effort, and that’s frustrating as a parent and as a teacher. Thanks for reading!

  2. This is definitely a hard one for me. My twin girls are highly motivated by things rather than food. They like ice cream, cookies, etc. but if given the choice they will stay on task and earn “listening rocks” all week or even all month to earn the prize of a pony. Regardless, the topic at hand is dealing with disappointment for not meeting a goal. With twins, sometimes we use this as a motivator. We teach 1 girl that because of her bad choice (usually bad attitude, not listening, hitting sister, you name it), she loses a rock. Other sister gets a rock for listening. And what’s the result?? Crying, whining…oh goodness. But you keep fighting the fight. My prayer partner has been helping me use this as teaching moments to explain diasappointment…or to teach about better choices. However, if we encounter a new situation I haven’t equipped them for, I have to show a little more grace. I can’t expect them to do something perfect the first time. Just like the multiplication tables, maybe there was ample time to practice at home with family, after school with a teacher, or during recess. If a child chooses not to practice that equals a consequence (less toppings). However, should there be different standards for each kid? I don’t know. I’ve never been a teacher. I hold my kids to the same standard regardless of personality or strengths. All I know is that teaching kiddos is hard, home or school!!

    • Your girls are blessed to have a mama that recognizes their strengths and weaknesses and pushes them to make good choices. They are great kids! I offer extrinsic rewards to my boys at times, too. I think what bothered me was the public nature of the students’ success or failure. It just seems that the motivation could have been more individualized. Honestly, I really don’t know the answer. I just think it’s important we try to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. And your’re right, teaching kids is hard in both places!!! Thanks for joining in the conversation.

  3. Amy!
    I am not one to typically comment, but this just pulled at my heart too strongly! I’ve recently left the classroom to stay at home with my daughter, but posts like this remind me of why I was a teacher in the first place. It also reminds me of why I am thankful for my school where I taught (Bloomington Project School)… A place where you would never see anything like this happen. EVER!!!
    Here is what learning facts looked like for my students.
    1. First, we talked about why we learn facts and how they help us as mathematicians. We saw them as something important, but not the main focus of our mathematical thinking and discussions.
    2. Pre assessments were given privately in an interview with me and each student. From those interviews, we together set realistic and attainable goals based on the individual child’s strengths and struggles. Parents were shared on this information and helped students practice at home. (BTW, you would have been welcome in my room at any time or any day).
    3. While we as a class knew we were all working on our “just right” goals- the specifics of those goals were never publicly displayed or discussed.
    4. If we had a celebration around this, everyone would have gotten as many toppings as they desired. Not a prescribed sundae based on outward motivation (aka humiliation). The celebration would have been based on new learning and hard work achieved by all!
    5. My students did not have a party, but we reflected at the end of the unit on what went well, what didn’t and what new goals they had for themselves to continue growth as a mathematician.
    Some kids memorized one fact, some all of them, some were working on addition facts, some went beyond. I knew those specifics, but kids only knew what applied to themselves. There were no sundaes to compare against each other.
    We all celebrated and supported together hard work by each individual. Each at their own, unique, “just right” place.
    I think a lot of it comes down to intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation and creating an inclusive classroom community where we value individuals and know we are all there learning different, but equally important things.
    Whew!! My keep to myself personality unleashed a bit here. Thanks for thinking out loud and allowing me to do the same. 🙂

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