When I was little, we didn’t have star of the week. We had a praise book that only the head teacher was allowed to enter names in, and it was a Big, Big Deal to be in the praise book. Such a big deal, in fact, that I remember it clearly. I was in it often, because I was that type of little girl. I loved school, and I loved my teachers, and I tried really hard, and I was fairly clever, in a primary school way. (this led, later, to me finishing all the maths levels in my last year; this being 1989 they didn’t have differentiation, and I was asked to help another student instead. I can still remember, with some shame, how indignant I felt. I was a funny little creature at primary school, much happier alone than with others, and the very last thing I wanted to be doing was helping another child. I just wanted to be left alone, with the maths books (I would happily have done the whole lot again) and away from everyone else. Ironic, then, that I became a teacher and now spend my life working with others. There were no signs of that at eleven)
It turns out that now, star of the week is as equally a big deal as that praise book, possibly more so because there’s just the one – or two, I’ve never worked it out – handed out every week. (there also seems to be some kind of star of the day at my children’s school – I have no idea what this actually is, if it’s awarded every day, and what for. I think they get to sit on little chairs when the rest are on the carpet. That would be a great motivator for me) This means there’s a finite number of times that it can be awarded and therefore it assumes somewhat greater importance than frankly it should. I mean, it’s a fairly arbitrary thing isn’t it really? Who knows why they get it? Do the teachers have some system where they work through every child in the class and award it fairly randomly? Or do they glance around the class when deciding who to give it to and think ‘oh, I know, she played nicely and shared this week, she deserves it’ – or, more probably, ‘well, he’s stopped being quite so naughty on the carpet this week – let’s give it to him, quick, he’ll never get it again’?
But arbitrary or not – I can’t underestimate the importance of it. I’ve spent some time working out why I – a grown, independent, pretty successful human being – am that bothered about it, and have come to the conclusion – possibly quite charitably – that I don’t think it’s my intensely competitive nature. (I can’t deny this; my family will attest to games of Triv where actual blood was shed) I’m not especially competitive when it comes to my children – well, except for sports. Then I’m having to stop myself hissing ‘Kingstons don’t do second’ whenever we talk about any competitions. No, star of the week is important to me because it says to me that my child is noticed at school. That the things that they are good at (and sometimes I feel we’re grasping at straws; child 2 got it once for ‘sitting nicely on the carpet.’ Jesus, I thought, how does she normally sit?) are acknowledged by their teachers. That the nice, usually well behaved children I see at home are the ones their teachers also see. This may be doubly true for me and for full time working parents because I never see their teachers. They can’t catch my eye at drop off or pick up and tell me they had a great day today, or that they were a little off, or that child 1 or 2 finally seems to be getting some maths. Star of the week, or child 2 getting proudly to the pot of gold or the top of the beanstalk, or child 1 earning a merits certificate, are a way of confirming to me that they’re doing OK.
It’s a fairly contentious issue, star of the week. (I know, middle class parents probably need to get out more) Presumably, to some extent, that this is because it has become very politically correct. When I was little, only well behaved – and often fairly able – children got in the praise book. We had to earn it, and there were children who never got anywhere near it in their entire primary school career. Now teaching has moved on and we can see how important it is for every child to be praised for their achievements – whether that’s learning to put their coat on when they couldn’t do it before, sitting nicely on the carpet when previously they’ve bounced around, minion like, much to the rage of the teacher, or because they’ve jumped a level in reading. And it is absolutely right that this happens, but that doesn’t make it any easier to take when your child has behaved impeccably each and every day and some other child that reguarly kicks them in the playground saunters past yours clutching their certificate high.
Its easy not to react well, in these circumstances. But it’s probably OK, as long as you don’t stomp out of the playground in a strop. What I have learned that it is important to do is to think about it afterwards, and think about that child. I’ve gone through this process with two children. One is thoroughly engaged in the school process and incredibly enthusiastic, and as a result has been rewarded with star of the week/ day several times in her time in reception, along with various pots of gold and climbing to the top of the beanstalk (yep, I’m very proud; they’re all on the fridge) The other has found school more difficult and has had it precisely twice in his two years at school; not only that but he is undoubtedly one of those who got it in reception because he had improved so much from the week before. The fact that the week before he was a total little sod was glossed over. And undoubtedly in that week there were some little girls and boys in his class who worked like angels all week, were beautifully behaved, and deserved it on a comparative scale more than he did. But you see – I’ve learned that all children deserve to be rewarded for their efforts, because all children face extremely different challenges. For whatever reason, and some linked to his fine motor control issues and some to his personality and some to who the hell knows, he is infinitely less bothered about doing well at school than his sister, and as a result he finds it infinitely harder. And I’m glad and relieved that his teachers have been willing to recognise this and reward him accordingly. But – that doesn’t mean I think he should be rewarded equally as much as some other child who behaves perfectly every single day, who try their best every moment, and who are kind and thoughtful always about others – of course I think they should be rewarded more. Because they have to learn, even at the age of five, that hard work and kindness and tolerance and persistence bring their own rewards.
And so – star of the week is yet another of those hard lessons I’ve learned since they went to school. All children are not equal. They do not start equal, and they do not finish equal. They have problems, and they have challenges, and they are all different, with different talents. And star of the week and all reward systems should recognise this; otherwise how can all children feel their efforts are seen, and noticed, and valued? And – probably most importantly – they’re four, or five, or six. If they never get noticed for the good things they do now, they’re unlikely to see the point in continuing. But it’s also a valuble lesson in life, for us and for them – they can’t get it, or indeed any reward, just because we want them to. They have to earn it.
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