Teacher gives 3rd grader a Catastrophe Award in front of class

Teacher called it a joke, but parent said her daughter was humiliated

CREATED May 24, 2012

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  • Catastrophe award given to 3rd grade student

  • Christina Valdez, Cassandra's mother, said her daughter was humiliated when the teacher presented her with the award in front of the entire class.

  • 8-year-old Cassandra Garcia shows her completed homework

Reporter: Valerie Cavazos

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) -- Every parent beams when they find out their child is singled out for a special award. But in the case of one 3rd grader at Desert Springs Academy -- her mother was far from thrilled when she came home with her award.

8-year-old Cassandra Garcia proudly showed us all her completed homework in her labeled folder. So it confused her mother, Christina Valdez, when her daughter came home with this end of the year award.

It is a "Catastrophe" award for most excuses for not having homework -- followed by a smiley face and the teacher's signature, Mrs. Plowman.
   
Not only confused, Valdez was upset because she said her daughter felt humiliated. She said the teacher announced the award in front of the whole class and all the children laughed at her daughter.

Valdez contacted the principal to complain about the award. "And she blew me off. She said it was a joke that was played and that the teachers joke around with the children," said Valdez.

KGUN9 reporter Valerie Cavazos headed to Cassandra's school, Desert Springs Academy, for an explanation.The principal said she wouldn't comment. Cavazos asked the principal if she thought it was okay for teachers to hand out "catastrophe" awards. She simply shrugged her shoulders and then she blew off the reporter.

Cavazos asked Valdez: "As a parent what do you think about that award?"
Valdez: "I think it's cruel and no child should be given an award like this. It's disturbing."
Cavazos: "You don't see this as a joke?"
Valdez: "No."

And neither do experts. "That isn't an award. It doesn't fit the criteria," said psychologist Sheri Bauman at the University of Arizona College of Education. She says any negative award -- joke or not -- is inappropriate -- especially at that grade level. "They feel less than, they feel fearful of authority of what might happen if they make a mistake."  She said being humiliated after making mistakes is counterproductive to learning.

Former teacher and current UA education psychology graduate, Marlon Jones, agrees. He said educators should always strive to empower kids. Jones said, "Make them feel better about learning. I don't think a catastrophe award is doing that. It's just not. We have to set a better example, I think."