Contests Will Eventually Break Your Heart

Scholastic broadcast contests are so common now.  STN, NSPA, JEA, all the initials out there run video/broadcast journalism contests.  Here in ASB-land we even host one of our own every spring.

Some colleagues I respect a lot shy away from contests.  They do not see the value, or do not think the effort is worth the payoff.  I get that.

Some colleagues I respect a lot enter every contest they can, giving their students numerous chances to earn recognition.  I get that.

What I do not get is the teachers who make the contest, and the pursuit of awards, the focus of their program. 

The Horror Stories

I once knew a teacher who uploaded over a dozen entries for the RFK Award, and some had nothing to do with the guidelines of that contest, or its purpose (social journalism).

I once knew a teacher who repeatedly talked about how “awards are not the most important thing,” but was the first to contact the school district and local media with over-hyped press releases about their latest honors, often within just a couple of hours of the award being handed out.  

I once knew a teacher who publicized an on-site convention award as meaning “we are the best in the NATION.”  An on-site award.  Think about it.  You had to be there to even participate. 

I once saw a teacher march out of an awards ceremony with his students in tow, obviously angry about not winning the big show award, even though they were up for other awards that had not been announced yet.  As soon as they heard they lost the “big one,” they walked.  In front of everyone.  

I once saw a teacher railing at convention runners because her school tried to turn in an entry five minutes after the contest deadline.  It was a broadcast journalism contest.  Deadlines matter in that area, right?


There Are Lessons We Can All Learn

Regarding the teachers who shy away from competition, as long as you are honest with your students about the contests—what they are about, how you enter, and what happens if you actually win or place—I support your staff never entering.  But the students are the ones who have the biggest stake in this.  So maybe have the conversation and let them decide?  They might surprise you. 

To the contest junkies, the teachers who deny caring about awards but show with every submission that they really do care, you just need to keep it in perspective.  One way is by not mentioning contests every other day.  Stop focusing on them.  Enter all you want, but you have to know you will lose more than you win.   

To the teachers who put so much focus on contests, then start judge-blaming as soon as they lose, you are setting a horrible example for your students.  Broadcast contests are subjective, and have to be judged.  And on this day, maybe this judge or panel just didn’t love your kids’ work as much as you think they should.  It happens, and when you share the results with your staff, YOU become the lesson.  Stop judge-shaming and judge-blaming.  I have been guilty of both, so I am not sitting on high moral ground when I say this.  It took me a while to gain perspective.  But the glory is in the story, not the contest.

And speaking of perspective, can we all stop using the phrase “BEST IN THE NATION” once and for all?  Just stop.  Nobody gets to claim this.  Ever.

"Best in the nation" when 3/4 of the schools out there have not even heard of the organization or the contest you are talking about?  Seriously?  We have won national awards for stories in the past that did not even win an award at our own media banquet in May.  It is all relative.

Until all the initials come together, agree on the exact same standards, and run ONE contest a year to name the best this or that, we can not even come close to using the phrase “BEST IN THE NATION.”  

Better to say, “We just received the so-and-so contest award, and we are excited to celebrate this.”

Yes, celebrate awards and honors that come your way.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Would a basketball team win the state title and simply head to the showers, letting the team manager collect the trophy at mid-court?  CELEBRATE.  Eat cake.  Share the news.  Enjoy the moment.

But always remember the title of this blog:  Contests will eventually break your heart.