Punishment and Rewards in the Classroom

So often as teachers, we find ourselves being upset by the behaviors and actions of our students. It’s not academic behaviors and actions I speak of here, but social ones. We could have the most academically gifted student in the world, and still have a skewed opinion of him or her because of the personality that they express. It’s amazing how poor social behavior can so negatively affect our opinions of a student. Of course we are not alone in feeling this way, the student’s peers see it too. Through exemplary behavior, we can help these socially defunct students learn new, more suitable behaviors.

As teachers, a large part of what makes our job difficult is motivating our students to perform. Whether we are encouraging them to exhibit appropriate social and classroom behavior or strong academic skills, it’s an enormous task that is nowhere near as simple as it may sound. It draws many aspects of the child’s life, personality, and home environment under the microscope for examination to discover what the child will respond to. It is important to identify the demographic of our students and the families to which they belong. It requires skill and knowledge on the part of the teacher to not just do what is effective, but what is best for the child. Personally, I wish for my students to not only be able to function, but excel at what they do both socially and academically. The difficulty comes into play when attempting to construct a plan to do so. As teachers responsible for an operational classroom management policy, it is worthwhile to us to analyze and implement the strategies that work to assist our students in functioning on a social level.

It’s a difficult process making our students function well in a social setting. Since school is basically the place to see and be seen for most students, school serves as a microcosm for the world as kids know it. The dramas, traumas, and socializing that occur in school will often set the pace for student behaviors outside of school, and possibly for the rest of their lives. Although many parents try very hard to set the standards for behavior for their children, these guidelines put in place can be undone in just one 7-hour school day. Children’s friends serve as a built in rewards system for poor behavior if they mimic their peers with similar behavior, and do not encourage each other to behave appropriately. To attempt to refocus these students and put set them off in the right direction, I try to instead focus on rewarding the positive behavior I see by encouraging commentary and support.

Along with understanding the structures of peer groups in our schools, it is also important to understand the demographic of our students and their families. Many of my students come from wealthy families where the parents work constantly and intensely to afford the comfort they live in. Many of these children receive tangible items from their parents, but not the encouragement and attention they need to balance out their lives. I believe that giving the type of reward that I do is successful with the majority of my students. Of course there are exceptions to this, as there are in classrooms across America. There are of always those students who have no use for praise and complements because they are embarrassed by it, already get a healthy dose of it at home, or simply cannot emotionally engage themselves with another person to care enough about what is thought of them. These are the students that I try to work with to instill a sense of self-pride and motivation. This of course is also an arduous task; perhaps the most difficult of all. I try my best to do this by modeling the behavior I wish for them to exhibit. Occasionally, I will sit with that difficult student’s table in class and actually be a functioning member of their group.

The student who is lacking in motivation will come to life for the most part, and begin contributing. They do this not to impress me, but to avoid punishment for not pulling their weight in the group. Oddly enough, that student still cooperates with the group even after I’ve moved on to help the next one. Sometimes just by having the teacher sit there and do the work will motivate the lacking student to participate.

I think that as teachers, we have a front row seat to watching the social trends of America march by, taking our students with them. I feel that our profession holds us more responsible to the members of our communities, and the world, than other professions do. Our job, besides educating children, is to aid in assisting our students in becoming socially adept, contributing members of society. A tall order to fill! I believe the best way to do this is through modeling appropriate behavior for our students; they may not be getting it anywhere else.

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