“Don’t Smile Until Christmas”

“Mean Teacher” by Jennifer Cruté

When I started teaching, I was definitely given this advice by many well-intentioned teachers. This seems like good advice but the problem is this: students are actually really stinkin’ funny. Seriously, even on my WORST days some kid will say/do something hilarious and I will laugh – maybe not audibly but certainly in my head.

Do you want kids to really listen to you and respect you? In my experience the quick way to get there is to be all smiles, super funny, self-deprecating and generally enthusiastic all of the time – except when you need to “mean business” (in the words of Fred Jones who’s book Tools for Teaching is a goldmine if you are struggling with behavior issues in your classroom). In those moments I become straight-faced, still and silent; then, when I have everyone’s attention, I essentially whisper what I want to have happen. My credibility as the leader of the classroom goes up when all I have to do is be still and speak softly to command attention and give directions. Add to this some behavior narration and a solid consequences/rewards system and you’re in business.

My rewards system is based around Opportunities (click on the link for a ready-to-print document). I give these out for any type of behavior I want to encourage in my classroom: participation, excellent academic performance, improved academic performance, strong peer collaboration, etc. Students write their names on the Opportunities and then put them in a basket. At the end of every week, and sometimes randomly in the middle of a lesson when I want to reward the whole class, I do an Opportunity drawing. The student whose name gets randomly drawn wins either a prize (pen, highlighter, mini-notebook, glitter pen, post-it pad, whatever the dollar store has that’s cool) or a privilege (I pick this before I draw a winner and its usually the privilege of selecting his/her own seat, extra bathroom pass, 5 points extra credit on something, etc.)

I have found this system to work from 8th to 12th grade. Even though it’s effective I still feel a little angst because I read Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards (read it or save yourself 3 – 5 hours and laugh as you watch this NBC’s Office-themed video). What are y’alls thoughts on smiling and teaching? What about rewards?


4 thoughts on ““Don’t Smile Until Christmas”

  1. Miranda Marty says:

    While we loved to laugh with you, your “mean business” method definitely worked! -Miranda M. 🙂

  2. Melissa says:

    Ah! You ARE thinking about Alfie Kohn! Loved seeing this video just now after talking to you. Such good stuff. And, I love me some classroom economies regardless of what he says.

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