Saturday, March 24, 2007

To Party, Or Not To Party...That Is The Question!

Normally my beau is very supportive of my teaching, offering me foot rubs, a shoulder to cry on and a buddy to drink with when the days are long. However, yesterday morning in our local Rite Aid we had an argument about my students and how I pay out of pocket in order to bribe the kids to succeed on their tests. The row highlighted everything that was wrong with society’s perception of Special Education. I was picking up a 2 liter of Coke for my class, because I give small parties on Friday afternoons if 75% of the class passes their weekly vocabulary test. During this errand my boyfriend stated that he didn’t think it was a good idea to bribe my kids into studying by offering them a party.

It was in that moment that I understood how skewed his view was, as well as most of America is when it comes to kids with emotional disabilities. Special education teachers are the marines of educators, doing more with less, and doing whatever it takes.

Self-efficacy is a buzz word that teaching gurus love to throw around but I can’t help but agree that students will work harder and learn better when they feel they are able to complete a task. My kids are in 9th grade and reading at less than half their grade level; getting students to buy into education is really hard and really important for me. When a student feels in his heart that he can’t do something, trying is a waste of effort and isn’t it easier to not complete an assignment then face the criticism of getting it wrong?

I started the whole party idea about halfway through the school year because I not only had dreadfully low test grades, but half my class wasn’t bothering to even take the weekly quiz. They just didn’t care enough about the grade, because they assumed they would fail anyway.

My beau’s outrage is pretty normal for society, why should kids be bribed to take tests? I could say that no, you don’t bribe general education kids because they either know the intrinsic value of education or care enough about what their family thinks in order to succeed. Coming from general ed you can’t help but think that all schools are like general ed, and I made the same mistake before I set foot in my special ed classroom. Maybe class parties to celebrate passed tests is a desperate move on my part, acknowledging the difficulty in reaching these students and offering tangible rewards like soda and popcorn when praise alone is regarded with suspicion and neutrality. I told my boyfriend that no, I shouldn’t have to bribe these kids to study and do their work, but I will because I want them to do as well as they are able, and even surprise themselves.

P.S. Do you think general education students earn high marks without non-academic incentives? Think for a minute and you’ll realize that plenty of parents bribe their kids; my parents gave me $5 for each A on my report card, some kids got a car for graduating. My students are poor, many don’t live with their parents, and education itself offers more stick and less carrot.


Anonymous Schoolgal said...

Yep! General ed (elementary) bribe too. I won't say we all do it, but I have seen teachers use candy as prizes if the children behave. I myself give out stickers, and the school uses commendation cards. When you get 25 cards, your class gets ice cream.

I don't give out candy because many kids would get a sugar high.
Some teachers use the star system, but that might not work for your class. And you more than the rest of us need to find a way to motivate.

When I went to school a million years ago, this was not necessary.
We knew what responsiblity meant and had to follow through or suffer the consequences both at home and in school.

What gets me is when the PTA or school raises money for a charitable cause, and there is some "prize" attached to the student or class that collects the most. Such collections should be heart-felt, yet we are teaching our students the only reason to help others is because there is something in it for you! This is why we need to bring back the teaching of values.

Sunday, March 25, 2007 2:17:00 PM  
Blogger Ms. C said...

Schoolgal, I used to sell all sorts of junk to family and friends to help out my school. And I did it 100% for the little carnival-grade prizes...You know, like the pencil boxes that had small pianos on them. I don't even really remember the school telling us *why* we were hawkin' crap at all.

Sunday, March 25, 2007 3:38:00 PM  
Blogger Martina said...

Ms C -

I'm a teaching fellow (June 2007 cohort woot!) and I'm in the euphoric stage of pre-teaching. I thought I was going to run in the room and spread my love of the Spanish language to everyone and they would love me for it.

My mother, a 4th grade teacher for God knows how long slapped me down to reality and said that to make the kids pay attention you have to bribe them.

She sugguested a currency system, where they get "tickets" for simply turning in the homework, participating in class, being quiet, COMING to class, and etc. The tickets represent points on their final average.

Seems easy, but the next semester, the anties are up-ed, and they have to turn in the homework with 75% of it correct for a ticket, participate atleast twice every class, and etc.

Sure, it's bribery, but for a bunch of kids who couldn't care less about school, it's effective. The explanation is that you have to show the kids that they can earn something on their own, and then they will strive to acheive so they regain the feeling of accomplishment.

Makes sense to me.

And also, I was raised around teachers. I don't know any teacher who has not come up with money out of pocket for their students on the regular basis. Whether it's buying pencils and paper as reserves, or snacks/prizes for good behavior, all teachers do it.

Bribery has always been around, so tell your beau to spend a day in your class and see how it works. Besides, isn't half of your job keeping yourself sane? If that's what helps you not swim to the bottom of the bottle every night, and your students are performing, so be it!

Another (soon to be) Miss C

Sunday, March 25, 2007 4:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I definitely think it's ok and I definitely understand. You raise some good points sistah girl!! Keep doing what you're doing. You ROCK!!!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007 4:08:00 AM  
Blogger Colleen said...

Hey there, just found you through the Zombie Fights Shark blog. I think what you're doing is really admirable. About 5 years ago, when stuck in the most boring job ever and desperate to feel I was doing something worthwhile (now more than ever in the wake of 9/11 etc.), I applied for and was accepted to the Teaching Fellows program. After much consideration, I turned it down. I can see myself possibly teaching one day, but I don't think the time was right, or maybe I was too much of a wuss, or maybe a little of both. But it seems clear that if you aren't 1000% into doing this, you will go down in flames.
My cool aunt taught retarded children for years in Newark, NJ, and the terrible things she saw while there...but she loved the kids and loved the job. Anyway that's enough out of me for now, please keep it up!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007 9:51:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

The highly respected educaor George Guthridge once justified giving out pop as "bribes" to students who hadn't ever been able to achieve in school at all, by saying that they needed a concrete reward to immediately associate with the success of learning. He said, "Is there reward for learning the joy of learning? In part, yes, but is your sole reward for teaching the joy of teaching? You get a paycheque and, at least at the beginning,give them a paycheque too." Something like that. It was in personal conversation. If the old "joy of learning" doesn't do it for them, then give them the prize. Why not? I invite my troubled students in at 8:00 on Thursday mornings for hot chocolate and discussion about behaviour.

Saturday, April 21, 2007 5:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Emilia said...

Hey there, it seems you don't write your blog anymore, it's a pity, because it's really interesting. I'm an English teacher in primary in Spain and let me just tell you one thing doesn't matter where you teach, we deal with many problems that are exactly the same...!Warm hugs from Spain!

Friday, April 22, 2011 12:10:00 PM  

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