Thursday, November 13, 2008

Never a Dull Moment

Kia ora tātou - Hello everyone
A collage of trophy cups

I attended my daughters’ Prize Giving Ceremony last night. I have two at the same school. One got a prize.

We filed into the large hall for a ceremony kicking off at 7.30. And what a ceremony! Speeches, musical entertainment, speeches, singing, speeches, prize presentations, more musical entertainment, prize presentations, speeches, prize presentations, and more singing and speeches.

The performances by the girls were magnificent. Their singing and their orchestral music were truly inspiring. Much of it was arranged and conducted by the girls themselves.

The highlight of the evening was the Head Girl’s speech. It was the only speech by a student. She was by far the best orator. And she delivered by far the best speech – full of wit, it had real punch. I felt good about that, for the other speeches were, well . . .

I couldn’t help but thinking that a prize-giving ceremony that ran to over three hours must have another message. It certainly wasn’t a message for the students of the school.

The audience, of girls, parents and family, was exhausted after the first two hours. Some had left by 10-o-clock, and the ceremony was still going on with no promise of an end in sight. Sigh

When the ceremony eventually came to a close, after a summary of the guest speaker’s speech by another well-meaning speaker, we were invited to tea and sandwiches. The rooms of the hall were milling with hundreds of people.

My wife and I spent a good 15 minutes looking for our daughters. We found one. She was utterly exhausted. I went off looking for the other.

Approaching midnight, as I drove my family carefully home, I was reflecting on all that I had witnessed. I wanted to feel like a proud parent. I was a proud parent. But none of that parental pride was left.
I felt that my daughters had been duped by their own school.

I had my reflections confirmed by a colleague and father of a girl who’d collected a prize at the same ceremony. “It’s all about the school patting itself on the back,” he said.

Why do school’s do that? Why do they need to do it? I thought that schools were ‘putting students first’. Perhaps I was wrong in this case.

Haere rā - Farewell


BK said...

I think it's time for a letter to those in positions of power with one of those amazing Ken Allen poems included.

Paul C said...

Our high school always has a dilemma about commencement. The planning committee tries to make it as focused as possible. The trouble is there are so many community awards that need to be given. You want to honour the students and the community.

I agree that the focus should be on the students, their dreams, and goals.

How wonderful to have your daughters contribute so meaningfully.

V Yonkers said...

Ken, I was in total agreement up until the last paragraph. I have been to those long awards nights that seem to go on forever. However, I have also been to some remarkable awards nights that, even though long, were wonderful.

First of all, your school made a major mistake in leaving the food for last! Feed the masses, THEN they won't be as bothered in being bored.

However, more importantly, you feel into the trap many (obviously worldwide) fall into. There are 4 forces in education: parents, teachers, policy makers (including administrators), and students. Your daughter did not make all of her acheivements in a vacuum. She had her parents, her teachers, and her classmates. It seems that your school (by patting themselves on the back, I assume that it was mostly the administrators, although the teachers may have been part of the process--but I don't always get that feeling that teachers are also recognized for their role at these things)did not take into account the student OR the parents. Parents are there to be proud for the children and probably the support and sacrifices they have given (as a family often) so their child can excel.

However, parents cannot forget the influence that good teachers have on their children. It is a joint effort. My son's graduation banquet was wonderful because parents, students, and teachers were all recognized for the education students received in their 9 years of schooling.

And we had food throughout!

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora tatou!

Virginia- I agree with you about it being a time to share - frankly, I think you'd have to have been there to get the message - but a 3+ hour ceremony? That's the bit that made me uncomfortable. There is more than one way to skin a cat.

Paul- I attended a school of thousands and collected my prize. But the rule in that school was 'only one appearance on the stage'. So if a student collected four prizes, they were awarded all at the same time.

Bonnie- Do you think I should invoke Alexander Pope? Maybe a few of his rhyming couplets would do the trick?

The expense of youth presents a hall of shame,
That through a night of cups and trophies came,
No honest praise for learning effort spent;
Praise for the School was all the tribute meant.

Ka kite

Laurie said...

HI Ken,

I've always thought the best ceremonies were those focused on the students, the joy of growing and learning, and the thanking of those that helped facilitate the process. And the ceremonies should be short, because too much patting of anyone's back can become tedious rather than celebratory.

Alas, many schools do like to shout-out the accomplishments of their students and teachers – it's a way of publicly acknowledging (for the purposes of attracting more potential students?) success.

Still, what matters most is if your daughters felt good about their learning :-)


Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Laurie.

I agree with you. And I think you have hit the nail on the head about attracting new students. Many schools have to tout for their new students.

My daughters do enjoy much of their school days. Next year, there will be only one of ours at school.

My babies are all growing up!

Ka kite