Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Consequences of Rewards for "Good Behavior" in the Classroom

Every teacher has had this student... likely more than once.  The student who, for whatever reason, cannot follow directions, cannot stop being disruptive, cannot do their homework, and/or cannot meet the expectations of the classroom.  I have one of those right now and I will admit my patience level regarding him is pretty much maxed out.  I approached some colleagues for some suggestions in how to handle him, because in the 7 quarters I have had him as a student, nothing has worked.. and I've tried just about everything.  One of the responses I got was to reward him for a day or multiple days of cutting out his negative behaviors.  While I totally see how this can appeal to many teachers, I absolutely refuse to employ tactics like this.

It may sound harsh, but hear me out.

Every year, students get more and more lazy.  More and more entitled.  More and more disruptive.  As teachers, we are faced with the brunt of it and see the repercussions of it in our classrooms which makes for a very difficult learning environment.  It's easy to see the appeal of rewarding students for staying on task, doing their homework, and generally making our lives a little more peaceful.

But why should we reward expected behavior?  When we give them rewards for doing these things, one of two things are happening.  Either we have lowered our expectations so much that we no longer expect students to be respectful and hard working or we are training students (especially the irresponsible ones) to expect a gold star at the end of every day that they meet expectations.  Possibly it's a combination of both at this point.  Can you imagine a student going into the work force after graduation and expecting praise every time they show up to work on time and complete their job tasks?  Just because a student has bad behavior doesn't mean we should reward them on days that they do what is expected of every other student around them.  We are creating a generation of students who expect praise for every little thing and it is going to come back and bite us some day.  It really lowers the bar of excellence and makes someone unwilling to do what is expected of them if they aren't going to be rewarded for it.

Some may argue that just functioning for class is above and beyond expected behavior for some students.  Maybe that is true.  But when we reward specific/troubled students for behavior we expect out of any other students, we start going down a slippery slope and setting a bad example.  It shows students that if they are normally difficult to handle, then they can get rewards every so often for just cooperating.  I've noticed in our current system, the students with habitual negative behaviors get rewarded more often than students who aren't any trouble.  How twisted is that?  It's a classic case of squeaky wheel gets the grease, right? 

If we don't want any more "squeaky wheels", we need to stop rewarding them every time they metaphorically put a little oil on and don't make noise for a few hours.  We are doing students with behavioral issues a MAJOR disservice when we continue to reward them for something they should be doing to begin with.  If a student repeatedly falls short of your expectations, then raise your expectations.  Maybe then they will raise up to a level that is acceptable.

1 comment:

  1. Yes! This. Every word of this. The more I read your blog, the more I think that we are kindred teacher spirits.

    I used to think that I needed to provide a prize every time we played a game in class. Then I realized the game is prize enough. So, I tried playing a game one time and didn't have a prize. And you know what? Not one student complained! Not one! They enjoyed the game for the game's sake.