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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Local Teacher Overloaded With Laudatory Language

Mrs. Hickens Exhausts Enriching Expressions For Good Grades

Reprinted with permission from the New Brunswick Chronicle ©.
NEW JERSEY­— Verner Elementary School fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Sheila Hickens, claims to have run out of optimistic words to write on her students’ papers when they perform well on a quiz, test, paper or various assignment. With a career spanning 37 years, Mrs. Hickens fears she only has a limited lexis of laudatory language left. She always tried her best to write an assortment of encouraging and congratulatory language on her pupils’ papers to commend a good grade, but feels the years have turned her terrific terms trite. “At this point in my career, I just don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to exaggeratedly scribble ‘WOW’ or ‘Great Job’ in bright red ink on some pointless paper,” Sheila states emphatically. 

Having taught every elementary school grade level at multiple school districts across the great state of New Jersey, Mrs. Hickens was accustomed to writing a wide-range of uplifting words and even the occasional doodle. “Kindergarteners were the easiest to write praise for; most of the time I just drew smiley faces, check or plus marks, and stars.” Hickens learned early on that the utilization of gleaming star stickers garnered the greatest reactions from the children. “In 1977 I was teaching first grade in Hoboken, and really started getting into drawing stars on papers when one day I happened upon some shiny star stickers, in I believe…some craft mail order catalog, so I used the star stickers in class one day and the kids absolutely loved it,” recalls Mrs. Hickens.

The star stickers changed Sheila’s entire ethos of extolment. Running through nearly every possible variant of color, design and size for star stickers, Mrs. Hickens moved on to use every possible smiley face adaptation over the years. Mrs. Hickens says, “I could have stuck with the same set of stickers and praiseworthy words, but that is the quickest way to lose your sanity in this job, it’s something simple like using the identical smiley face sticker every day for ten years, then suddenly you snap.”

“To tell you the truth, most of the time I wrote on kids’ papers it was empty commendations, you can’t mean it every time you say ‘Excellent’ on the same spelling test you’ve given for 20 years,” Sheila bluntly declares. It’s evident that all the acclaim takes its toll on teachers. Even for someone like Sheila who takes great pride in her praisings. “I don’t think once, any student ever came up to me to say I did a ‘Fabulous’ or ‘Marvelous’ job teaching the class how to read…I taught these kids how to read and the admiration I receive is the seldom apple placed on my desk from some kid who picks his nose all day in class!” exclaims Mrs. Hickens,

Last year, Mrs. Hickens heard some dreadful news about a former star student. “I taught Timothy Willis in third grade and he was an excellent student, star-studded papers, and I happened to hear from his mother that he withdrew from a class in college; this just broke my heart,” Sheila continues, “it's hard to believe that all of my stars, smileys, and 'Super's' were all for naught.” Mrs. Hickens began to question her applauding-word-filled career, now feeling that she has run her capability to commend dry. Mrs. Hickens adds, “With Timothy, I even wrote out his name and sometimes a small note on his tests, like: ‘Super Good Job Timothy, Keep up the good work!’ And to know he is not applying himself in college after all of my encouragement just pangs me.”

“I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to write the same thing or the variation or combination of all the same words over and over again,” says Sheila. After having written countless commendations and placed a myriad of shiny stickers on papers for decades, Mrs. Hickens feels that “enough is enough” and after years of wanting to escape, cannot wait to leave teaching and retire to a life where “Great Job” is not, as she puts it, “tossed around like crayons in a Kindergarten class.”

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