Monday, February 25, 2008

The politics of award-winning

Well, the Oscars have come and gone. I missed a large part of the ceremony because I had other social commitments, but when I heard that Julie Christie hadn't won Best Actress and that it had gone to Marion Cotillard, my heart broke into small pieces. I had been hoping they would give it to Julie Christie for her heart-wrenching performance in Away from Her, but the Academy didn't.

Not to say that Cotillard's performance wasn't good, because that'd be a lie. But I really believe Christie's work was much more worthy. This event made me reflect on the politics of award-winning, both in glamorous Hollywood and in my own professional life.

I'm a competitor, have always been. Ever since I was a little kid, my parents groomed me and my brothers to succeed. Don't be confused though. Mom and Dad never demanded me to be a straight 'A' student; the only thing they ever demanded was that I gave my very best, that I tried as hard as I could. If my best effort won me a "B+", then so be it, but at least I gave it my all. That has been my philosophy always, to live to the fullest and to try as hard as I can.

Of course, in the trials, you have to face other people and you have to try and win. That's why I said I had always been a competitor. I've been faced with lots of competition, academically, in sports, in art, and in everything I have done. I don't hate losing in and of itself, I hate losing AND knowing I could have tried harder. But when I try hard and I'm competent enough in an area, success has frequently translated into winning awards and trophies.

One of the areas where I have always been frustrated with the politics of award-winning is teaching. A few years back, I was teaching at a high-end, upper-class high school and (as I usually do) I gave my students my very best. I tried so hard to help them in and outside of the classroom, not because I wanted a 'Best Professor' award, but because I felt that I should give my best.

Soon enough, a competition for 'Best Professor' ensued and, while I was nominated, I didn't win. The shock for me wasn't that I hadn't won, but that the professor who won was 'the sweetest one'. I thought "What the heck?!?!? Am I not sweet enough? Am I not dedicated enough?". I was devastated.

The Monday following the awards ceremony, three quarters of my classroom's seats were empty. My beloved students, the ones who totally swore for me, the ones who thought I was 'simply the greatest ever', were absent. Why was that? I wondered if they felt that they couldn't face me after having voted for someone else and not for me.

I couldn't let this go for a long while, so one day I actually attended a lecture given by the winner. I was quite unimpressed, but I could now clearly see why I hadn't won: I was too demanding. Yeah, I was sweet and always available to my students, but I pushed them hard. But this professor was so laid-back and care-free that his students liked him a lot. So much they wanted him to win. So he didn't win for being the most competent teacher nor the most skillful. He won because he was popular.

In more recent years, my teaching experience has been actually quite the opposite from previous stints. My students have loved me not only because I care for them but because I have pushed them hard. I have cared for their personal growth and their development, but I haven't made it easy on them. And I have been handsomely rewarded. My former students (the very recent ones) often write to me to ask for advice, ask for a letter of reference, let me know what they've been up to, or just inquire how I am doing and what I'm up to. Knowing that my former students respect me and understand that I pushed them to be better because I saw potential in them, and because I cared, is the best award I could ever win.

1 comment:

Jennifer Stoddart said...

Though I thought that Cotillard was delightful at the awards show last night...I don't disagree that it was a bit of a travesty that Julie Christie didn't win. She was magnificent in that role and is certainly a brilliant actress.