On Friday, one of my students was carrying two Mylar balloons filled with helium around school with her. Both of them had congratulatory messages on them, and I overheard her telling several of her friends who apparently did not read the balloons that it was not her birthday. I asked her what the balloons were for. There was a special barbecue lunch that day for students who had made honor roll the previous quarter, and she said that her aunt and uncle (whom she lives with) had gotten them for her because it was the first time she had ever made honor roll. I said good job, and gave her a fist bump.
Then I started thinking. This student really has made a turnaround since the beginning of the year. Some of it certainly seems to be related to changes at home. She started the year living with her mother and doing just enough work in my class to get a D. She moved in with her aunt in December, and she has been doing pretty solid B work ever since. I reserve Thursday afternoon for students who want to come to the classroom to work or to get extra help, and while she is often chatty when she comes in Thursday afternoon, she has been the most regular of any student all year, and she usually at least gets work done while she’s chatting and being silly. Some of you who know me in real life, or from Facebook, remember her from a story I told about a Thursday afternoon a couple months ago. She showed me a worksheet where she had to label diagrams of a penis, testicles, vagina, and ovaries, and she said, “Look what we’re learning in science class! It’s disgusting!” Later that day, she said something about her history class, where the regular teacher is out on maternity leave. She then holds up her science homework and proclaims, “When she comes back next year, I’m going to show her this, and I’m going to say, ‘I KNOW how you got pregnant!'”
Anyway, the first thought I had was that it was nice of her aunt and uncle to encourage her for making honor roll. She really has started working harder, and she deserves some kind of recognition for it. But then I thought of the hundreds of students who made honor roll and did not receive any balloons from their parents. Of course, they are recognized by the school with certificates, and this barbecue, and students with straight As additionally received a coupon for In-N-Out Burger. (As I was passing them out, I told the students that if they didn’t like In-N-Out Burger, they could feel free to give me their coupon, and I’d put it to good use. No one did, unfortunately.) But I know that it often means more to a child, or even to an adult, to be recognized by those closest to him or her.
My past is full of times when I felt that my talents went unrecognized. Mediocre students would often talk about their parents giving them money or rewards for good grades, and nothing like that ever came up for me, because I always got good grades. I’m not saying that I necessarily agree in all circumstances with the concept of material rewards for good grades. But a little recognition and encouragement would have helped.
Friends, if you have children, encourage them at things that they are good at, even if they are already consistently performing well. If you have adult friends who are overcoming challenges of any sort, encourage them. Tell them that it is inspiring to see their hard work. Maybe they need to hear it, even if you never doubted their ability to complete these challenges. And those of you who are running marathons, practicing healthier lifestyles, pursuing advanced education, or doing volunteer or missionary work in disadvantaged environments, good for you. Thank you for sharing. I enjoy seeing the fruits of your labor and your hardworking spirit.