School was once all competition. As I grew up in Lahore I only knew 3 things: School, friends, and cricket. I took family for granted so I never really thought about them when I was away in any of the other three domains of my life. Today my list is very different of course but I write this piece to reflect on my middle school years and my perception of the world, my world, in that period as it pertained to academics.
In each of the three strands of my middle school life there is one thing in common: competition. I was always in competition at school, I was always in competition with my friends, and cricket like all the rest is a competitive sport. Competition drove me back then like it was the reason to live: win or lose but compete. Whether competition is good or bad is a debate I don’t care to have at this point. But I am wondering how I can use competition (“healthy” competition for all those education enthusiasts who like to police our morals) in my teaching to hook students in.
I look at a majority of my students and they either demonstrate no desire to compete with others academically, including their friends and foes, or they compete in a bullish manner with only those whom they feel they are somehow superior to. They are all very smart, generally very competitive, but when it comes to academic achievement they don’t care to compete. I don’t see joy on the faces of many kids when they hear they got an A in a subject. I, the teacher, probably have a lot to do with this: whatever “this” is. But it bothers me. So, as I think about next year, I am considering organizing of several academic competitions. I think competition can ignite interest in education and provide an answer to many of my students who think academic excellence is no thing of honor to pride yourself in and therefore, there is no need to strive for high achievement.
Competitions may be one way of getting kids to want to achieve more. Ideally, I’d like each competitive event to be a differentiated competition, which, essentially is a competition that, like our elections, is free and fair with equal opportunity for all individuals who strive to be on grade level. Also, because “grade level” is an important distinction, ideally the competition will be academic in nature which includes gym but excludes natural talents such as singing or dancing or being good at math ( just kidding about the last).
Now, I’m not thinking small here as in classroom-level. I’m thinking large as in school level. These would be competitive events of the top quality. These are events that would be talked about in the same way as we talk and get excited about the super bowl, FIFA world cup, he olympics, and the triwizard tournament (some of us that is big). And even better, they’d be ranked in the same league as the student vs staff game, the international food day, and the talent show! The prizes will be BIG! Like HUMONGOUS big, funded by the Peynado Foundation. Here are some ideas:
Competition 1: UNMS Spelling Bees (Castle invited at the second spelling bee event) Judges – Humanities Team.
Competition 2: UNMS Creative Arts Rage (gym and art competitions). Judges – gym and art teachers.
Competition 3: WORDS are my WEAPONS: poetry (including song) and speech competition. Judges – Humanities team & AP Chianese.
Competition 4: Math games Tourny
Judges – math team
Competition 5: Inventions: the science fair. Judges – science team & Ms. Peynado.
Competition 6: TBD
A minimum of SIX school-wide competitions would help promote academic achievement in the community. I am hoping that these events will shine the spotlight on those students who receive it the least, if any, during the school year. It is like saying to the kids that “you are smart, you are learning,and we’re freaking proud of you and you should be too! Today, it’s all about you; so, let’s celebrate!” I don’t say something like that to my kids enough. These competitions will be even more powerful if the winners receive things like free tickets to cool places and concerts, all day trips with their favorite ( we can replace the word “favorite” with something else) teacher, opportunity to be a teacher for a day alongside their “favorite” subject teacher, etc. Options are endless!
When I was a kid, I won trophies, not in sports but in academics. Sports are important (I did win one trophy in a track event and some money playing cricket), but so are academics. I am simply suggesting that sports are great due to the element of competition and academics could use a bit more if this element..