For the Kid Who Doesn’t Get the Award

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.

Please share your comments below. If you know a hero who deserves a gold medal, please share this on Facebook.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy An Open Letter to My Daughter Upon Graduation.


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  1. LeeAnne Vest says:

    I cried as I read this because I saw the faces of so many of my students. When we were in college, we had no idea that “teaching” would break our hearts. It only hurts because we love them, but that is what they need the most. I’m so glad I started this journey with you. 😍

    • Karen Sargent says:

      I cried when I wrote it. So many brave kids. So many hurting kids. And yet so many outside of public education expect miracles when we are working with brokenness. A standardized test can’t measure some of the most important things teachers do for their kids. You know. Love being on this teaching journey with you as well, LeeAnne, although we’re miles apart!

      • Kathy says:

        This is amazing! So glad you wrote it, as we live it every day! Thank you for recognizing these special kids😢💙👍🏻

    • Lisa says:

      LeeAnne, I am working toward a teaching cert and my Instructional Tech Professor told us exactly that on our last night of class. I already knew it because I worked so closely with my children’s school and was a sub… so I’d already experienced some of that heart break.

      • Karen Sargent says:

        Best of luck to you, Lisa! Education needs more people like you…who have a heart for kiddos.

  2. Kim says:

    So true! Crushes my soul!

  3. Christine says:

    Karen this touched my heart because I was one of those kids in just about every situation u wrote about I only wish that I would of had a teacher like u.

    • Karen Sargent says:

      You are definitely a hero, Christine! My heart breaks for your past…but look at you in the present…and the future you are building for your family. That is gold medal stuff, sister! <3

  4. Kayile Dinkins says:

    I am in tears, and can’t really find the words! I haven’t taught as long as you but in my short 9 years I have sure seen and dealt with far too many of these same situations with students. You have truly nailed it with this post. I feel most of my students should get a gold medal….Love Love Love this post!!!

    • Karen Sargent says:

      You get it because you are one of those teachers, Kaylie. Our kids are blessed to have you on their side.

    • diane hayes says:

      Omg, just reading this because I’d typed in Google my little boy never wins prizes.
      Last night he said he sits at school with his fingers crossed all day hoping he will be chosen for the little prize the teacher gives out at the end of each day.
      He said everyone’s had one but him, he’s really quiet and won’t put his hands up because he doesn’t like talking out loud, he struggles leaving me everyday but he battles on, I was so moved when I read this post because I know how it feels to feel invisible, I just wish they were more teachers like yourself, a real angel.
      Thankyou, I feel comforted just by reading this post.
      Hopefully my little boy might get his prize soon because he’s a kind gentle sensitive little boy and I hate to think each day he feels such dissapointment.

      • Karen Sargent says:

        Diane, my heart hurts for you and your son. My daughter was the quiet, invisible child too. I know the ache. My heart is also blessed that you found some comfort in this post. What more could a writer want than to hear her words offered meaning or hope? Thank you for sharing! I’d like to add my quiet, invisible daughter is about to graduate from college, and though she is still an introvert, she has found herself and her place in this world. I pray your son receives the recognition ALL our babies deserve.

  5. Julie says:

    Karen I wish we had more teachers like you. Ones who truly understand and love our kids. You are truly a blessing!

  6. Linda Maynard says:

    On the beginning day of teacher workshop at my first school, the principal said every teacher should ride the bus
    routes to see from where their students come. This could help understand many things long ago, especially
    in rural schools. It might still be an eye-opener.

    • Karen Sargent says:

      That would make quite an impression. During my first year of teaching, I drove 35 miles to work on curvy, country roads. I often got caught behind a bus and saw some of the homes where my students lived. Perspective…

  7. DeShae says:

    There is so much truth in your words. Several years ago I had a student who told me before first block if his phone rang he had to answer it. I told him we would devise a plan so he could exit the room to answer and followed up by asking what was going on. His response, “Oh, my mom was arrested this morning, and I am waiting to see if I have to go bail her out.” I had no words, and I remember thinking no one prepared me to deal with that. On a more positive note, I have many first generation college students who deserve a medal!

  8. Lisa Crocker says:

    I am not a teacher, but I recall an upper elementary class my daughter was in. I remember asking her if she had homework every night. It struck me very odd that she seemed to never have any if very much at all. She said her teacher said they would try very hard to get everything done during class if possible.

    My daughter said one day that her friend liked not getting homework because they didn’t have electricity at their house and it was hard for the child to do homework when it got dark early. I’m convinced that teacher knew the situation. I don’t believe there was running water either, and this situation was within the last 10 years.

    The child graduated from High School very high in the class. The child had many barriers during his lifetime, but he conquered each one by his determination. I believe he entered the military later. I always wished that child could be recognized, so thanks for the opportunity.

    • Karen Sargent says:

      I’ve seen this story so many times over the years. Heartbreaking but it sounds like this guy found a happy ending maybe? Thanks for sharing, Lisa!

  9. Sharon Bickel says:

    Beautifully written! Thank you!

  10. Sandy Slusher says:

    Wow!This is so true. It would be so wonderful to be able to let kids know how valuable they are and that all there efforts are noticed and should be rewarded.
    I remember days like these myself as a kid.

  11. Marlene says:

    I have been teaching for 18 years and I guess when I first started I was very naive. I did not realize how many seniors did not live at home with their parents. My eyes were opened to all the problems high school students face every day. All most all the things you wrote about I have experienced with my students. It is hard to finish you homework when you don’t have a place to sleep at night or are not able to have clean clothes.

    • Karen Sargent says:

      Me, too! My first couple years were such a shock and heartbreak.

    • Ann says:

      Very well said, thank you! And it is the same for the younger grades, too…coming to school hungry or exhausted from late nights, or in the same clothes day after day…I’ve had some burst into tears when the bell rings to go home…they all need us to be aware and caring. Before I taught PreK I taught a year in Head Start. We were required to make home visits…it was a real eye opener and really helped to have a better understanding of their family life and where they were coming from

      • Karen Sargent says:

        Ann, thank you for sharing from the early childhood perspective. Those innocent little babies…

  12. Sally Poyzer says:

    Breaks your heart…O God, please give us an awareness and compassion for those who are struggling xxx

  13. Vicki Brunk says:

    Ironically, I was in a classroom (subbing) when I read this post and was fighting tears. After last year’s retirement from teaching for 23 years and daily spending 11 of them working with our at risk students it touched my heart very deeply and brought up a plethora of memories of which I will share but one. I attended graduation for a young man who was living on his own throughout high school, worked in town at a gas station to support himself, struggled to stay awake in class, but with help made it through his senior year. No family members were coming to his graduation so I chose to be there and take pictures, etc. It was such a privilege to share in lives of many unsung heroes and thanks for speaking about this often neglected topic.

    • Ashley Twomey- Duncan says:

      Mrs. Brunk,

      I feel as though you should know that you made a difference every single day. Whether it was teaching me art in the 6th grade or teaching me Spanish in High School, your love along with Mrs. Sargent’s, was felt every single day. I will always be proud to say that I grew up and went to one of the most humble schools around. I’m forever grateful for teachers like you both!

      • Karen Sargent says:

        Aw, Ashley. You just blessed two hearts in a very big way. Thank you, sweet girl. I’m sure Mrs. Brunk will be happy that I’m sending love from both of us!

  14. Laurin B says:

    Karen, I love that you are a teacher & that you recognize this SUCESS! in your students. I love that you haven’t grown numb to this & you still see their successes for what they are-amazing! I love too that you are in this Valley and am hoping that one day my own kiddos get the blessing of having you! 😍
    PS the SPED teacher in me (it’s been awhile since that part of me has come out since I’ve been raising my own babies at home for 10 years now…) just about couldn’t contain the “Amen!”s as I read this…Carry on! You are awesome!

  15. Susan says:

    It certainly isn’t as tragic as some of those stories, but watch the student who works as hard as the valedictorian year after year, always coming in third or fourth behind the superstars of that class. Watch the disappointment grow, year after year, until they tell you they always feel like they are “never quite good enough.” Watch their faces when they tell you they think they have a chance at the English Award this year because they have a 98 average, only to see the other student win again this year, because he has a 99 average. Watch that disappointment when the top student in the class gets multiple merit based scholarship offers from prestigious schools, while the A- student gets offers for partial scholarships from state schools only. These “not quite good enough” students often turn to risky behaviors in high school because they fly under the at-risk radar. These are the students who were always high achievers until their adolescent insecurities led them to give up because, “What’s the point? I’ll never be as good as (top student or two).”

    • Karen Sargent says:

      Susan, I had goosebumps as I read this. You are right. It is so, so difficult for the student who is in every way a success but is always in the shadow. Thank you for sharing this insight and for giving the “gold medal” to these kiddos, too!

      • Linda Simeon says:

        It would be great if we could get the kids to understand that they should never measure themselves based on someone else. They should be proud to be the best ME that they can be !!!

        • Karen Sargent says:

          I agree! Thanks for reading, Linda!

        • Nicole says:


          I stressed that with my son all the time. He knew we were proud, and he was proud, but that recognition from his teacher and school were what he craved.

          • Karen Sargent says:

            I know exactly what you’re saying, Linda. Something about that outside recognition is more validating to them. As my daughter always says, “You’re my mom. Of course you think that.”

    • Nicole says:

      This could describe my son at his old elementary school. Awards were very few and far between, and despite being an excellent student, and the only 3rd grader to be selected for his school’s gifted program, these awards remained elusive. It really demoralized him, even at 8-9 years old, as the same few children were recognized year after year. He was so down on himself, on school, and had already figured out that no matter what he did, it wouldn’t be enough.

      We now live in another state, he’s headed to 6th grade, and he’s so happy to get his efforts recognized through things like the honor roll list (which they didn’t have at the old school). It’s renewed his desire to remain a high-achieving student, even if he isn’t the top student.

      Recognizing the high achievers, even if they aren’t the top achievers, can make a world of difference in how a child approaches school.

      • Karen Sargent says:

        Nicole, what a blessing that your son is in a situation where his self-esteem is being built back up!

  16. Currguru says:

    Hello (Margaret) <3

    Reading through all the comments, it makes me think that whereas it is indeed heartbreaking to look and see the despair on the faces of all the unsung heroes; perhaps, we need to concentrate more on helping all students to accurately self-assess. Guiding students (and parents) to believe there is only one yardstick to measure achievement is counterproductive to self-acceptance, satisfaction, and ultimately growth.

  17. Alana says:

    Very powerful piece of work… Any teacher who has lived a life loving their students has had their heart broken many times. When it stops touching your heart, it’s probably time to go. Thank you for sharing this!!

  18. Beatriz says:

    Beautiful! Thank you.

  19. Jamie says:

    Thank you! Thank You!! Thank You!!! Yesterday my heart was broken for my daughter who struggled all year with ADHD and medications and still managed to bring Fs up to Cs and almost Bs and nothing. While all the other children received their awards I was holding back tears. What must go on in their little heads when they work so hard and then nothing from their teachers or school. Well I made sure she knew how beyond proud of her I was and that she was a super hero to me!!!

    • Karen Sargent says:

      Jamie, thank you SO much for sharing this! My heart is celebrating your daughter’s success! You both get the gold medal! <3

  20. Christy says:

    My daughter saw this first and gave it to me with the comment of “these are the reasons why I want to be a teacher”… Thank you to all of our teachers that make time for their students

    • Karen Sargent says:

      Your daughter will be a life-changing teacher! Thank you for reading, Christy! (And to your daughter for sharing!)

  21. Stephanie says:

    I am a clinic nurse and see so much of what you say. I have worked with grade levels 3-8. Their stories are so sad. They need caring adults from teaches to nurses to custodians, kitchen staff, secretaries to principals. They need awards for just surviving the school year.

    • Karen Sargent says:

      Stephanie, I’m sure you see it on a different level than a classroom teacher even. You’re right. It takes everyone in a school to love on these kids! Thanks for reading and sharing!

  22. Brittany says:

    Wow! I couldn’t have said it better myself. I love all of my “kids” and as an 8th great teacher, I could almost assign a name to each scenario you presented. No one knows what our “babies” go through, but I’m so glad you wrote this. There is so much more to being a teacher than teaching content, and you clearly see that. Thank you for sharing.

  23. Rhonda says:

    I have watched my daughter come in second her whole Elementary, Middle and High School career. At the senior awards assembly she sat with dignity as those who had cheated off of her for years received awards and she was .1 GPA point away from the same success because she had never cheated. This is where it is my job, as a parent, to encourage her, to build her up. She is now the youngest member of her college class, hoping to be in medical school in the next few years. She has no love for her high school and will likely never return there – but she is forward facing and heading to great things. While I don’t disagree with awards by any means I think we have to put them into perspective. They are not the only thing that measures the worth of our students.

    • Karen Sargent says:

      Rhonda, I have watched this scenario play out over and over my last 23 years teaching honors seniors. Hallelujah high school is behind her and she can look forward to continued success as she chases big dreams! She not only has the ability to be successful, but she has the integrity as well…and that is the true reward!

  24. Lisa says:

    I wish more teachers were like you. My daughter works very hard and never gets any awards her feelings get hurt because she doesn’t get anything. Your students are blessed to have you. Have a blessed day

    • Karen Sargent says:

      This breaks my heart! I don’t know if this helps, but one thing I’ve tried to teach my daughters is…don’t compare yourself to the best others can do; compare yourself to the best you can do. That’s hard sometimes when others are recognized… 🙁 Thanks for reading and sharing, Lisa.

  25. Stacey Morton says:

    Thank you for writing this. I am a mom of 7 (ages 21 to 9) and they are all incredibly different and wonderfully unique. Some excel academically, others are academically average, and one has ADD and struggles immensely. I have had to work really hard to instill in them a sense of value and worth that does not come from their personal successes but rather comes from the understanding that they were made fearfully and wonderfully with unique talents and gifts. They are each like no other and that is a gift and a blessing because the world would be boring if we were all the same. The article struck me as a former educator, in the private sector and at the collegiate level, before I left the work force to raise and home educate my kids until they were high school aged. I am thankful for your words of wisdom and understanding. Education for the educator has become so much more than teaching subject matter. I became an educator because I was the child of an abusive addict and alcoholic mother, with no dad in my home. My teachers saved my life literally. My second grade teacher (back in the 1970s) recognized the abuse I was receiving and was so brave to get the authorities involved. The abuse did not end but her willingness to risk her career back in a time when people were told to turn a blind eye instilled in me a sense of value and worth that I had not understood before her intercession in my life. I had many teachers along the way that listened and displayed compassion. Thank you for being that teacher and for shedding a light on situations students go through that many never can imagine as being their reality.

    • Karen Sargent says:

      Stacey, I’m going to try to respond through blurry eyes here! Your comment is so full of amazing…from your wonderful kids and how you’ve encouraged and loved them to your own childhood tragedy and how teachers reached out…and then you becoming a teacher. There’s something full-circle about this story. Thank you so much for sharing and for your kind words!

      • Stacey Morton says:

        Thank you for your writing and loving your students well! Keep up the amazing work! Your students are so blessed to have you as their teachers, and your daughters as their mother!

  26. Florence Kushner says:

    Thank you for sharing and caring. It is real, it is sad,
    Heart breaking, WHAT CAN WE DO. We see it every
    day, I am at a loss for words, I am a fixer, I am also
    A grandmother, How can we help. A million thanks
    To you and all who know and care and keep fighting
    The good fight

    • Karen Sargent says:

      Thanks so much for reading and sharing, Florence. My former principal used to encourage us to S.O.S.–save one student. He encouraged teachers to choose one student to build into and encourage and be “that adult” who made the difference. I think his advice can go beyond the classroom. I’m a fixer, too. Unfortunately, some of the causes of our students’ problems are so beyond our reach. 🙁 But maybe our actions and words can help lessen the effects they feel…even if only for a little while.

  27. Sharon says:

    Oh, how true…year after year I sit through these award nights aching and hurting because neither of my grandchildren are recognized for their hard work and support as they clap and congratulate the many high achievers who get award after award with sometimes a minimal amount of effort…while knowing my grands are ignored because their test scores don’t show the effort behind their achievement…but, it’s all been said, so I now acknowledge those who don’t receive awards,,,,they are the winners in my world, the ones who will serve their country and fellowmen in the years to come. Love you Nate and Kenzie!,

    • Karen Sargent says:

      Thank you, Sharon. Another thing about high school that your comment made me think of…the academic environment recognizes so few of the many, many gifts different children are blessed with. I enjoy finding out what my students do outside of school and seeing where they excel…concert pianist, barrel racer, Eagle Scout, etc. So often their peers (and teachers) never realize how brightly they shine in other areas.

  28. Anne says:

    This is sad…but great all at the same time. My son has ADHD, anxiety, seizures and he tries so hard to meet certain goals in school. When he doesn’t make them he gets upset and when he does make them he says the teacher doesn’t say anything. It is very hard for him tl sit still in school. They need to give some kids recognition for the things that they do good. I always hated award day myself.

    • Karen Sargent says:

      Anne, thank you for sharing. I can relate to this as a mom and as a teacher. I remember when I did my student teaching, the supervising teacher had two teens. She told me, “Being a mom makes you a better teacher.” I didn’t understand it then because I didn’t have children yet, but I think about her words often. My daughter also has a diagnosis, and I appreciate the teachers who recognize the effects and patiently encourage her. Today, your son gets the gold medal. 🙂

  29. Lisa says:

    I want to give a shout out to the kids with dyslexia and other learning differences, who work harder than anyone knows and deserve the 110% effort award.

    I was one of those kids who won all the awards seemingly effortlessly through elementary and jr high (and then maddeningly, came in second forever afterward). But I have a very vivid memory of an award ceremony where the school suddenly (for the first and last time) decided to hand out trophies for the top student in every grade in every subject, and then a larger, overall “general proficiency” award by grade as well. About the third or fourth time I got called back up to the stage (out of about 6-8), I wanted to crawl in a hole and hide. I knew there were kids who worked SO hard and gave it their ALL and it all just felt so unfair. At the time I wouldn’t have dared to question the adults, but now I sure would speak up in such a situation. And that’s not to say don’t award skill and achievement and quality anymore, but recognize that there are many kinds of achievement and celebrate other kinds as well.

    I always found myself helping to reframe the teachers’ words and concepts for classmates who weren’t getting things, and occasionally did informal reading tutoring after school. Now I work in a school exclusively for students with dyslexia, where their strengths are celebrated while working on their weaknesses. Their creativity is astonishing. I love seeing their whole demeanors change after being with us a few weeks, sometimes even in the first day or two. “They teach the way I learn!” is a common quote reported back to us by surprised and relieved parents. Most of our students eventually go on to graduate high school and often college, something some of them couldn’t have done without the tools they learned with us, including non-academic life skills like advocating for themselves to get the accommodations they need.

    I’m so glad these kinds of schools exist… and these kinds of brains. Google famous dyslexics some time for some real inspiration!

    • Karen Sargent says:

      I love this, Lisa, both your perspective as a student achiever and the insight into the job you do! How amazing and rewarding that must be! I agree…people with dyslexia who have gone on to have great success are such inspirations…and what a source of hope for students struggling through dyslexia. Debbie Macomber is a prolific inspirational fiction author and dyslexic. She tells a story about an exit interview with the principal her senior year. When the principal asked what her plans were, Debbie said she wanted to be an author. The principal told her she should get a different plan. Wow. I wonder if that principal knew when Debbie’s first book was published and what she’d think today if she walked into a bookstore and saw multiple books that have sold millions of copies! By the way, I like your phrase “learning differences” instead of “learning disabilities.”

  30. Paige Givens says:

    I love, love, LOVE this one! I watched faces swing back and forth today at my fourth grader’s awards Day. They were waiting for their names to be called. And many deserve survival awards. You are right on point here. ❤️

    • Karen Sargent says:

      I love that you’re here, Paige! <3 Thanks for reading. And isn't it something that you speak from the beginning (kindergarten) and I speak from the end (seniors), yet our perspectives are similar. I love reading your blog My Story, My Song because kids are kids, little or big, and so much of your wisdom applies to my big kiddos, too.

  31. Jenn says:

    I started teaching the same year, i have so many similiar experiences that it is scary. I have faces of so many students i have taught over the years.
    I had a principal one year that had us read “How Can You Teach Me If You Don’t Know Me? Should be required reading for every teacher. We now do home visits at the beginning of every school year to introduce ourselves and invite them to meet the teacher, such an eye opener!

  32. Tina says:

    I knew a girl 23 had a 3 yr old in college single.was trying to get a better life for herself and child when went to leave a abusive boyfriend he murdered her in front of her son and stuffed her in a closet the left the child alone in the apartment with the body and left town. I don’t know how this child will be affected but I know it will surely affect his life.

    • Karen Sargent says:

      How horrific! I hope somebody makes sure the little boy receives counseling and any other kind of help he will need to cope. I cannot imagine the horror of this!

  33. Tracy says:

    As I lay wide awake at 4 am reading this it brings back so many emotions. 1.) Because I was the girl who felt invisible, endured bullying and suffered through depression & anxiety in school. And 2.) because somehow I failed to break the cycle with my high school aged daughter who has such bad social phobia & anxiety that she cannot fully participate in class when the teacher assigns a presentation or any activity that would put the spotlight on her. She has suffered too much disappointment in her 15 years of life. She finished the year with all A’s & B’s but didn’t receive any recognition because she missed a total of 10 days all year due to her paralyzing anxiety and depression.

    I wish that more educators would focus on the kids that are persevering through the crap that life has handed them…through no fault of their own. My daughter won’t even consider college and that scares me. I went to college, got a BA in Sociology and finished 2 years of post-grad schooling. Had I finished the post-grad study I would be one of the teachers who has to work everyday with kids just like my daughter…but life handed me a curveball and left me a single mother who had to make the choice to give up on her dreams. I don’t want that for my child or any other child.

    • Karen Sargent says:

      You’re a good role model for your daughter because you overcame the same struggles and still persevere through hardships. I teach evening classes for a local junior college and have many moms who return to college and achieve dreams they had given up on, too. Maybe your dream to finish grad school isn’t over, just delayed. As for your sweet daughter, it’s so hard watching our babies struggle. So many colleges offer online options now. Maybe that could work for her???

  34. Sonya Daniel says:

    Thank you, as I sit here and cry uncontrollable tears, have 2 older boys that are honor students and now a 10 year little boy that came home this past week and says Mom I didn’t get a letter to go to awards, he is that little boy that if he gets a C it might be his best work, to see him try so hard and just stand beside him and tell him we will get that Spelling test next week, my heart breaks for him, so thank you from the bottom of my heart!!

    • Karen Sargent says:

      My heart is broken for your little guy! It’s especially difficult because he surely compares himself to his brothers. The situation has been similar in our home, one sibling comparing herself to the other…focused on her sister’s gifts (who is an extrovert) and completely discounting her own gifts (who is an introvert). I tried to find things to highlight her strengths. She’s gifted at art and loves animals, so we celebrated her art achievements, found a few art opportunities for her outside of school, let her get adopt a rescue pet and take him to dog obedience school (luckily the local junior college offered most of this for minimal cost). Still, even at 18, she struggles to recognize her unique gifts…but she is better at it. I hope you find a whatever your little guy is great at and that there are opportunities to showcase that somehow. My heart is with you…truly.

  35. Suzanne says:

    As a career educator and parent of three teens, I could not agree more. I have reblogged here:

  36. Kinyatta Taylor says:

    Wow. Karen. Thank you for understanding. You get it. I am a 1st year school counselor and I see situations teachers don’t see. I form special groups just for the shy students, unnasertive students involve angry students, and create a safe space for students to openly talk about their family woes. You get it. I love you for posting these situations that are real. It let’s me know I have a job to do. A gold medal is exactly what these students need. A gold medal just for making it through life.

    • Karen Sargent says:

      Kinyatta, you have a special job and your students are so blessed to have you. It’s obvious just in the few words you wrote that you are a life changer!

  37. Mary says:

    I had teachers like you, they did what they could without making my life any harder than it already was. Later in life I went back and thanked them. Each one gave my tools I used to cope with life the way it was. Thank you for understanding, had a teacher giving an award it the time, it would have my life a living hell!

    • Karen Sargent says:

      Mary, my heart breaks for you and for every kid who shares an untold story like yours. I know it’s a teacher’s job to educate, but sometimes the “tools” you mentioned are what a child needs most. Kudos to the teachers who understood what you needed most. Thank you for sharing.

  38. […] Source: For the Kid Who Doesn’t Get the Award – Karen Sargent, Author […]

  39. Jennifer says:

    I have one of these children. She cries after awards day every year. But her accomplishments go way beyond the grade book or state testing. She is adopted and has some heavy luggage to carry. She suffers from PTSD, anxiety, and a form of agoraphobia. She wasn’t able to go to school for two years due to the overwhelming fear and anxiety gripping her every morning. I am very proud that she has been in school for two years now. We have good days and bad days but she pushes through. No one know what goes on at our house to get her prepared to go starting the night before. No one knows the shame and disappointment as he feels when she doesn’t make good grades. She tries hard and has made great improvements. But that isn’t recognised at school. At home we have a celebration. It breaks my heart for her.

    • Karen Sargent says:

      She is so blessed to have such a supportive mom! My heart hurts for you both. I know your job is constant, every minute, as you support and encourage her and protect her heart.

  40. Annette says:

    My 17 year old, with Autism who has struggled most everyday to be understood and to fit in. I sm do proud of him and yes he dies deserve a gold medal. Thank you for your article, i was teary eyed the whole read.

    • Karen Sargent says:

      Thank you for reading and for sharing, Annette. Your son (and his momma!) both deserve the gold medal!

  41. […] A good author friend who’s also a high school teacher wrote a post about teens who don’t get an award. I love her perspective and her heart, and you can find her post here. […]

  42. Paula says:

    Karen, I couldnt agree more, thank you for your insight and for being a teacher that makes a difference. I appreciate our fabulous teachers, counselors, etc. Teaching and encouraging our kids. I think every parent should participate in JA for a day so they can spend a day in the life of a teacher. Elementary- This was an eye opener for me with 30+ kids, some that cant sit still, others that shout out in class while the hand raisers get ignored. Keeping track of bathroom breaks and short lunches. Kids that didnt have a lunch or snack. Teachers that give $$$ out of pockets and buy items to enhace their classroom and provide snacks for some students. The list is endless. The 4th grade class next to mine had one student pull a knife on another student, Safety is a whole other issue. The thank you letters I received from the kids were rewarding, I still have them. I know teachers that give awards in their classroom, for most improved, leadership, compassion, respect, etc. for multiple students. Each Student also had a day to be Teacher’s Helper. Habits are formed prior to High School, from what I hear many of the kids are up half the night playing video games vs doing homework, then falling asleep in class. It is important to encourage and acknowledge special talents throughout the year, outside the formal awards. Sometimes It takes a Village. In the STL area Little Bit Foundation is a great organization that helps kids in lower income districts, by providing school supplies, backpacks, clothes, etc.

    • Karen Sargent says:

      Paula, you’ve given a good description of what goes on in a classroom that most people don’t realize. Thank you so much for reading and for sharing!

  43. Joan B. says:

    A Gold Medal to my granddaughter who was told she would not be able to graduate from high school when she was 11 years old. She’s 18 now and just graduated with a 3.87 average. She also made the honor roll this year and made all A’s the last nine weeks. And to all the others who have been told they’ll never make it but do.

    • Karen Sargent says:

      Wow. This is amazing, Joan! YAY for your granddaughter! I feel your pride! <3 Thank you for sharing!

  44. And all the children who are differently abled whose parents are there but will never take standardized tests but have perfect attendance and hearts that love all and smiles as big as the horizon. Who work so hard at daily tasks and are bullied and teased.

  45. Carolyn Yost says:

    All students should be valued and taught that everyone has strength in different areas and you must find those. We have done a disservice to everyone by acting as if everyone deserves the same reward, no matter the ability. Sometimes participation doesn’t equal achievement. All students should feel valued, but sometimes it isn’t in the same way.

  46. Amy says:

    As many of your readers commented, I also cried as I read this. Our school secretary sent this to all the teachers last week, on the last day of school, but I am just getting around to reading it now. I teach kindergarten, so often, I am just planting seeds and am not far enough along in my teaching career to see any of my students graduate yet but I can already get an idea of which students pick up things quickly and which ones don’t. Just as importantly, I can see which children receive love and support at home, and which ones don’t. This article touches me also as a mother. My middle child barely passed the “Third Grade Reading Guarantee” this past school year. After he was given additional opportunities, he eventually passed. I was fortunate that the school he was in provided tutoring and support but I also felt sad for my son because in the school’s eyes, or at least the state of Ohio’s, his name was consistently attached to a score that determined he was not “intelligent enough” to go on to the 4th grade. Not surprisingly, he struggled in first and second grade as well. I’m afraid this pattern will continue into each school year. I hope sooner than later, it will eventually “click” for him and school will become easier for him, but my fear is that he will become one of these students that you have just written about. It is my hope that he encounters a teacher who loves him just as much as I do and can inspire him and make him feel valuable, even if he doesn’t receive an award for it. Thank you for pouring your heart into your students and your writing. It’s very inspiring.

    • Karen Sargent says:

      Amy, thank you for sharing your story–from a teacher perspective as well as from a mom perspective. My heart breaks for your son’s struggle and for you as you do everything you can to support him and help him find this strengths! (Thank you to the school secretary for passing this on!).

  47. Steve Wiley says:

    As I read your article I can put faces that I know of children who have lived these circumstances. I also see my own children here as they are not accepted and even bullied by teachers in the classroom and the school cover it up. It is easier for them to deny a problem than to fix it. My heart aches for kids like you describe above. No one knows what some of these poor children must endure at home behind closed doors.

    • Karen Sargent says:

      It’s a lot of heartbreak, isn’t it, Steve? And I’m so sorry to hear your school district is not effectively addressing bullying. I teach in a great school district, but I will say I was so glad when my youngest graduated in 2017. Thanks for reading and sharing.

  48. Pam says:

    My daughter who works hard every year but misses the straight A award by just a couple of points. As a teacher myself, I appreciate recognizing these students. My daughter will always be my greatest accomplishment as she still works hard each year despite always falling 1 or 2 Bs short. It’s her best and I am so proud. She doesn’t need an award to know she is smart (but it would be nice).

  49. Stephanie says:

    I’m graduating high school this June, and I’ve always struggled with learning due to previously undiagnosed learning disabilities and a difficult home life.

    This year my grades have improved drastically to the point where I have straight A’s, and yet I’m still out of the running for any awards. I really appreciate this because despite how hard I’ve worked on myself, I stil have nothing to show for it. I know that it may seem a bit much but I really took this post to heart. I feel appreciated for the first time in a few years. :)Thank you!

    • Karen Sargent says:

      Stephanie, this really blesses my heart. Congrats on overcoming the undiagnosed learning disability and for earning all those A’s! Wow. I am celebrating YOU! I love the pride and confidence I can hear in your comment. Keep believing in YOU.

  50. Kelly Medley says:

    Love you forever Mrs. Sargent!
    Even on the darkest of days, your classroom was the light at the end of the tunnel! You had the toughest subject and I know, some days, I showed very little interest in what you were teaching, because my mind was elsewhere. But I ALWAYS knew, even if I never achieved greatness in your grade book, I would still always find love in your classroom!!! ❤️

  51. Catherine says:

    I googled kids that don’t get awards, because I’m having a really hard time with my teenagers just now.
    They are great kids, but never won awards because they never wanted to be the best they just wanted to get through the day.
    I did find some things they could enter with not many entries so they could experience winning. Like when their pet won the champion of the show.
    I think of their friends that have rooms full of ribbons, medals and trophies. How do they feel when the see them? Or never get chosen.
    I loved reading this because every child deserves an award and recognition in my eyes. Thank you for confirming what I needed to read today.

  52. Nathaniel Lim says:

    I was the invisible, quiet, well-behaved, B-average student. I never ran for student government, played first chair in band, or played in any after school sports. I was envious of the over-achieving kids, the star athletes, and even the troublemakers with poor grades, because the teachers and administrators paid them more attention. As a result, I never received any academic or athletic awards or won any popularity contests.
    Fortunately, I received encouragement and recognition through other youth organizations outside school. As an adult, I found who I was and was able to excel in my profession and received awards and recognition from my professional organization.

  53. Nathaniel Lim says:

    Thank you for these kind words.
    I was the invisible, quiet, well-behaved, B-average student. I never ran for student government, played first chair in band, or played in any after school sports. I was envious of the over-achieving kids, the star athletes, and even the troublemakers with poor grades, because the teachers and administrators paid them more attention. As a result, I never received any academic or athletic awards or won any popularity contests.
    Fortunately, I received encouragement and recognition through other youth organizations outside school. As an adult, I found who I was and was able to excel in my profession and received awards and recognition from my professional organization.

  54. Anne says:

    My nephew was overweight and Doctors said if obesity was not addressed he will have serious consequences. My brother encouraged him to join the school’s Sports & even going to those practice was so challenging as my brother was on remission from Cancer & my nephew dreaded Sports due to severe shyness. Slowly with the families encouragement he excelled in the school Sports yet, did not Te recognition
    I realized how down he was and said what’s the use I’m not good at anything Schools Require yo Stop this Madness
    I finally understand The Bullying Starts there with Certain favoritism an adult can ignore but kids can’t ! Please let’s start a petition on Enough is Enough
    Even the Janitor deserves an Award if it’s for effort!
    Lots of students are suffering there hearts are shattered Please let’s care !

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