Sincerely, Stasia

Living and learning on a teacher's salary.

Do I Bribe My Kids? Mais Bien Sûr. March 23, 2012

I’ve long been aware of the power of the smelly sticker. I was under the impression they were the end-all-be-all of stickers. There’s not much my students won’t do if there’s a promise of a smelly sticker at the end of their task or as a reward for their behavior. Am I above bribing my kids? Nope, not even a little. If a sticker that smells like peppermint is enough to get my kids to study for their tests, then that’s good enough for me.

One day I ran out of smelly stickers (panic!) and found a set of monkey stickers in my desk. I had to pass these off to the kids as the coolest thing ever so they would hold some kind of value. I played them up (because all teachers are actors and actresses when it comes down to it) and the kids ate it up. All of the sudden they would do anything for a monkey sticker. Score!

Then I realized something… If I’m going to bribe my kids, why not give them something they can learn? I took 9 years of French: 4 in high school and 5 in college where I minored in it. I used to be fluent, but now I’m a linguistic disaster. Use it or lose it… I mostly lost it. But, I still remember some of it, however rusty it may be. The middle school where I teach requires students learn two languages on top of English: Spanish and Chinese. Many students are also native Spanish speakers.

I started by telling one of my classes that for every day they were well-behaved, I would teach them a word in French and that we could use these words in and out of the classroom. This was very quickly my most well-behaved block. Before long, there were entire conversations going on in the classroom and in the hallway. They would normally sound like this: (me) “Bonjour! Comment  ça va?” (student) “Bonjour! ça va mal!” (me) “Pourquoi?” (student) “Because I feel sick.” They loved it!

Well. Before long my other classes heard I was teaching one of my blocks French and wanted to know why I hadn’t taught them. I told them their behavior hadn’t been acceptable, and they could not learn any French until it improved. I never thought threatening a noisy class by saying I wasn’t going to teach them how to say “you’re welcome” in French would make them work hard or quietly, but it now happens in an instant. And it’s sustained!

Right now all three of my classes are able to say the following: ça va? (how’s it going?); ça va bien/mal/comme ci, comme ça (it’s going good/bad/so-so); bonjour (hello/good morning); au revoir (good bye); pourquoi? (why?); s’il vous plaît (please); merci beaucoup (thank you very much); de rien (you’re welcome). I keep signs up in the room with pronunciations for students to refer to, but now they rarely need them. They absolutely adore being able to chat with me in French, especially when it’s in front of other teachers, administrators, or students who don’t know what we’re saying.

Straight to the point: As far as I’m concerned, bribing your students to get them to display behaviors that are beneficial to them in school is fine, as long as it’s teaching them something: how to behave appropriately, safety, responsibility, the importance of studying, being a good friend, etc. Kids will accept a bribe in any form as long as you make it seem exciting, exclusive, or interesting… Even if it means they’re learning something!

Sincerely (or should I say Cordialement?), Stasia

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