For the kid who doesn't get the award

Originally Appeared in : 9812-6/7/18

The end of another school year is approaching, which means it’s time for teachers to figure grades and determine which names will be recognized during the academic banquets and who will be awarded the gold medals for achievement.


These students are deserving of their honors. They read the novel instead of the online summary. They memorize the math formulas. They understand science concepts such as the survival of the fittest. But these academic heroes are just a small percentage of the student population who achieve amazing things in an average 180-day school year. And there are awards for students like these.


But in my 23 years of teaching, I’ve learned there are other students whose achievements are just as amazing…maybe even miraculous…but they are never recognized because we don’t give awards to students like them.


So today I want to recognize them—the students who have sat in my classroom and others like mine—who approach those 180 days one day at a time because survival is the only concept they understand, and that’s how they get through the 16,380 hours from kindergarten to graduation. Today I give the gold medal to these students:


The boy who works harder than the valedictorian of his class—but who will never get higher than a C.


The girl who knows all the answers but is paralyzed by shyness and cannot raise her hand.


The boy who just doesn’t fit in, who tries but can’t figure out why the other kids call him a freak.


The invisible girl whose day will end without one person speaking to her, including the teachers because they have 48 minutes to teach 32 students.


The boy who stifles his dream of going to college because he comes from a working family who has different plans for him.


The girl who didn’t finish her homework again—because she closed at McDonald’s again—so she can pay the electric bill or buy groceries so her little brother can eat.


The boy who is raised by loving grandparents but who needs me to be more of a mom than a teacher.


The girl who lived alone for three months, who had no idea where her mom was or if she was coming back.


The boy who discovers the constant fighting between his parents is over…and so is his family…and somehow he believes it’s his fault.


The girl who cries herself to sleep because there’s a man in her home she doesn’t know, just like the one she didn’t know last week, or the week before.


The boy who was unaware of his father’s illegal activity, who shook in terror the night before when a task force swarmed his home and took away his hero in handcuffs.


The girl whose eyes hold dark secrets that cast shadows across her face, whose long sleeves cover the scars of her emotional pain, who struggles to control the anxiety boiling inside her—but sometimes fails.


The boy who sends me a message from jail and asks if I will send him some books to read


The girl who watches through the keyhole in the bathroom door as her mother shoots up, even though she promised she’d stop


And the girl who checks into rehab for the third time since freshman year and tells me, “Mrs. Sargent, this time I’m going to make it.” (I couldn’t force myself to attend her funeral.)


Each of these scenarios represents actual experiences, not just of one student but of many teens who have shared similar challenges in my classroom since August 1994. We don’t give awards to students like these. There’s no test to measure the thing inside them that sits there while I insist they learn to evaluate credible sources or analyze poetry or read Shakespeare. In school there’s not a percentage to assign for “survival,” so we can’t record it in the grade book and declare a winner. But these students—they are heroes. And today…I give them the gold medal.


Reprinted with permission.

This article originally appeared on The MOM Journey blog, where moms aren’t perfect and that’s perfectly okay. Karen Sargent has taught high school English for 24 years and is the author of Waiting for Butterflies, which was awarded the 2018 Christian Small Publishers Award for Christian Fiction and the 2017 IAN Book of the Year. Visit Karen at KarenSargentBooks.com

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