I saw an ad in today’s paper that enticed students to write an essay so they could win a pair of tickets to “The Lion King.” It reminded me of all the times as a classroom teacher I found some reward the kids got excited about to “encourage” them to do their best. Now I know there are many people out there that think children should do their best as a natural course, a sign of good character, their only reward the good feeling they would get from a sense of accomplishment. As the academic dean of a large middle school, however, I saw the results in more work completed and higher grades for the students whose teachers understood that children work harder for a reward other than a grade. It didn’t even have to be a particularly good reward. It could be extra time on the computer, longer recess, a movie at the end of the grading period. In my classroom, it was the rubber stamp.
When I was a student teacher in a third grade classroom, my supervising teacher gave me a set of rubber stamps and some ink pads as a present for completion of my student teaching. When I was hired as a middle school teacher, I didn’t think I would be able to use them. Obviously, I reasoned, middle school students wouldn’t care about getting some cute little cartoon stamped on their papers. They would probably laugh and call it babyish. But I loved those little stamps and couldn’t help myself from trying them, just once. The kids loved them! They worked hard to get the one that said “purr-fect,” and if I ever forgot to stamp their papers, they would complain vociferously.
Of course, we all grow up and mature, and those extrinsic rewards are not as important anymore. Yes, we do work hard, but our reward is more about self-esteem and recognition than it is about some turkey our boss may give out at Christmas. And no, we are not rewarded with a paycheck; we earned that compensation. I’d like to stay and discuss this further with you, but I’ve got to get to the Y. Anybody who works out three times a week for the next six weeks wins a T-shirt. I’m out of here!