Give Pride, Not Prizes

One of the more recent debates in elementary classroom management is about behavior charts and rewarding students.  Is it appropriate to publicly chart students behavior and have them clip up and clip down for good and bad behavior?  What are students working for?  Will they behave for nothing?


This year my school jumped on the Class Dojo bandwagon.  As the new teacher in the building, I was willing to hear out what others had to say about Dojo.  For those who are not familiar, this is an online, interactive classroom management site.  Each student is represented with a character and gains/loses points for different behaviors throughout the day.  Families are able to communicate with you through the website and track their student’s behavior in real time.

Pros for Dojo: Students are made aware of their choices.

It is an easy way to informally communicate with parents on a regular basis. (Something I felt like I didn’t have last year)

The program is designed to be motivating for kids right down to the silly characters that represent each child.

Cons for Dojo: I personally do not love the idea of a visual, public behavior tracker.

I am not a fan of extrinsic rewards.


I voiced my concerns with my mentor who loved the idea of Class Dojo.  I told her that I didn’t want to give extrinsic rewards (stickers, candy, free choice activity, etc.).  I wanted my students to do well because that’s what you’re supposed to do in life.  She said that was great and what all teachers want, but the kids are going to ask, “So, what do I get?”

I took a risk.  I drank the Dojo Kool-Aid but did not go in 100%.  A brief overview of how Classroom Dojo works in my room.  Students are told when the earn and lose points throughout the day (sometimes for everyone to hear and sometimes one-on-one).  My computer makes a sound effect whenever points are changed, which is a perk that keeps kids on their toes.  At the end of the day, students come up to me while they are packing up to get their points and color their calendar according to how many points they’ve earned.  Ideally parents are looking at this calendar or online daily.  And what do the kids gets for earning positive points???  Nothing. Zilch. Nada.

Ok.  I am being a bit dramatic.  Students are getting a lot more than nothing, but what they are earning can’t be kept in the prize box.  When my students have a “blue day” (4 or more Dojo points), they get a high five and verbal praise.  When they have a red day (-2 or more Dojo points), they get a consequence that ties into our school-wide behavior plan.  And the greatest thing is, IT WORKS!  We are officially three-quarters of the way through the year and not a single student has asked what they earned for getting points.  Most frequently kids will tell me, “You’re forgetting something!” as they hold their hand up in front of me.  What have I forgotten?  The high five students earn from having a blue day.  Another gain is students thinking about their own behavior.  One of my students with the most challenging behavior now tells me how many points she thinks she has each day showing me that she’s reflecting on her behavior for the day.

My class is good, real good, but they are far from perfect.  I work in a Title 1 school that has a representation for being that school in the district.  (Flip back to that post about substitutes, of which our school has run off many.)  These kids want (and need) love and positive attention.  They do not need petty prizes for doing what 95% of students would do on their own.  In fact, by constantly offering prizes for meeting expectations, I believe we are teaching kids that they are behaving to earn a prize not to be respectful, responsible learners.  This is not a perfect system and won’t work for every child, but TAKE THE RISK.  The amount of pride you will see on your students’ faces at the end of the day makes it worth the risk.


Give pride, not prizes. 

Love in a Child’s Eyes

If you want to see good in the world, open you eyes a little wider.  If you want to hear the good, listen more and speak less.  If you doubt that we are all good at heart, speak to a child.  The things children say are truly incredible.  Sometimes they cause a belly-aching laughs.  Sometimes they cause an exasperating sigh.  And in the brightest of moments, they will remind you what love truly is. 

For Valentine’s Day, I gave each of my students a paper that said “Love is…”  Students were told to complete this sentence and illustrate their artwork.  While we discussed a few examples of what you could put including thing you enjoy, people you like, and items that are your favorite I tried to give minimal help.  I didn’t want students to be limited by a few “ideal” examples.  The answers I expected and what I got were very different.  The results were pretty special. Sometimes I underestimate their brilliant, compassionate minds.


In the eyes of a 2nd grader, Love Is…

~Having fun with your friends and family!

~Spending time with my dad, me, and my sister.  Don’t get to see him a lot.

~Eating sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving with your grandma.

~Caring about others, your family, and friends.

~Getting to go outside with my mom and dad.

~Watching a scary movie with my family!

~Playing Minecraft with my brother.

~Spending time playing dolls with my mom.

~Playing video games with my dad!

~Caring for each other, trusting each other, and spending time with each other.

~Playing Uno with my family.

~When I treasure Valentines because there is lots and lots of candy.

~When I play Duck, Duck, Goose with my whole entire family.

~World peace.

Dating a Teacher

I have read some recent articles about Why/Why not to date a teacher recently. They are entertaining and quite accurate. It’s had me thinking and I’ve decided to write my own take on it.

The Realities of Dating a Teacher


-My work day goes well beyond 8-4. In actuality, I will get to school early and leave a little before dinner. I will come home and spend another hour or two on work. Weekends are spent with hours of planning for the next week. I will most likely need you to remind me that IT CAN WAIT. However, if you even mention how teachers are so lucky because they have summers off or elementary teachers only color all day, you can show yourself the door.

-I LOVE these kids! Even on their most frustrating days, I still love these little guys. You can’t help it when you are someone who spends so much time and has such a big impact on their lives. Be prepared for student quotes, pictures, and the expectation that you know my kids and their stories when I mention their names.

-Despite all of the love, some kids are pretty unforgettable, for better or worse. Therefore, should we decide to have kids, picking out names will be a difficult process. Many choices have already been eliminated.

-I am a very independent, strong-willed woman. This may or may not be related to teaching. In the classroom, I am the one completely in charge. Most days I go through the day in charge of these 22 little lives with absolutely no interference from anybody else. Our success or failure is dependent on my plans, my mood, and my ability to adapt. Therefore, I do not shy away from being in charge. I need someone who is willing to keep up. I need someone with ambition and goals for the future that match the same caliber as my own. And yet, I need a man to balance me out. Be prepared for me to be independent but know that on the inside I am still a softy and appreciate not always having to take charge. Everyone once in a while it is nice for someone else to put out all of the fires, come to my rescue, and sweep me off my feet.

-You will be asked to cut lamination, color signs, or grade papers at some point during our relationship. Thank you in advance for your help! And yes, all this stuff does take WAY more time than you realized.

-Lastly, teaching is stressful. It is physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. There are days I will want to celebrate the joys and days I need to cry over the frustration. I don’t expect you to understand it all and I definitely am not looking for a solution. I AM looking for someone who is willing to listen to my stories. I need someone who will give me 5-10 minutes when I first get home to get everything off my chest from the day before moving on with my night. I need your support and understanding. We are going through this journey as a team, stand by my side as we go on this ride.

Well, that’s that. My own personal pros and cons of dating a teacher.

Here are the articles that inspired my own post.

15 Reasons to Date a Teacher:
10 Reasons Not to Date a Girl Who Teaches:
Don’t Take a Girl Who Teaches:

Dear Parents ~ A Promise

Dear Parents,

We are now joined in a very special relationship. For 9 months, you and I will be some of the most important people in your child’s life. We will be the ones that spend the most hours with your child. No matter what, we are a team. As a team we can work together, pass the ball back and forth, and take on a shared responsibility. As a team we can also try to claim all of the glory for ourselves and mistrust the other. I hope for the former. We both want what is best for your child. We both can make make this year empowering or belittling. Let’s make a promise…

I am not perfect. There are times I will change the homework I tried to clearly communicate last minute. There are times I will forget to update the calendar. I may even miss your child being picked on by another. I accept my imperfections. I am asking for you to accept them and be willing to forgive my mistakes. As a parent you are imperfect. There are times you might miss a scheduled meeting or forget to put your child’s folder in their backpack at night. I will accept your imperfections and show patience with your mistakes. Let’s promise to accept our imperfections.

Next, let’s both acknowledge that kids say the darnedest things. Some of those things are true and others may not be. I will take 50% of what they say about you at face value, if you take 50% of what they say about me as true. The questionable things kids say are worth listening to. Sometimes they are good just for laughs, sometimes they lead to a truth. Either way let’s have a conversation before you believe every single word your child says is 100% accurate.
Parents let’s remember a child drew this picture….

Will you promise to work with your child at home? I do not expect for you to have a teaching degree and spend hours of your precious time doing worksheets. You were not the one who went to school to be a teacher, but you are the one who chose to have a child. Did you know a child who reads for 20 minutes a night from kindergarten to 6th grade has read over 1.8 MILLION more words than the student who doesn’t read at all at home? 1.8 million words is an incredible amount of knowledge! If you do nothing more, just read with your child. Build a love of books and learning in your child.

Finally, I promise to respect your time and be willing to be flexible and responsive. If you email me, I will respond in 24 hours or less. If I want you to come in for a meeting, I will give you ample notice and many choices of times to come in. I will spend extra time at school to work to meet your needs. In response, will you value my time? Understand that if we have a meeting scheduled, you are expected to show up and be present. Respect that I work well beyond the 8 to 4 o’clock school day to make the best schooling experience for your child. I am investing my blood, sweat, and tears into your child, but I am also a person with my own family and life.


I promise to be the best I can be for your child. I will not be perfect but will do my best to make each day a great experience for your child and to attack each day with passion, patience, and determination. Let’s promise to make this a great year together.

Love and Thanks,
Your Child’s Teacher

parent contct

Who’s in charge here?

Some days I really can’t handle this job. I leave school and despite being home and finished with the workday I just can’t let it go. There’s a constant conversation circling in my head and twisting my insides. It’s an easiness about what we are doing wrong in teaching. It’s the uneasiness of knowing that each and every day we are continuing to allow the problem to persist.

We are ruining school for so many of these kids. School is not like it used to be. Some of my favorite elementary memories were singing songs second grade and reading time on the blow up couches in 4th grade. I loved the projects we got to do like drawing a map of our country or putting together a class joke book. I loved these things, but I do not do any of them in my classroom. I would love to but feel like my hands are tied.

These children are being pushed to digest more and more every minute of every day. As for the so called “fluff” like projects and songs, they are gone. Those projects that were so developmentally appropriate and enjoyable (even when academically-aligned) have gone by the wayside. This is heartbreaking for any kid growing up today, but here’s what’s worse. Imagine being a kid who isn’t good at school.


I have many kids who are well below grade level in math and reading. The reality is their IQ is below average and academics will always be a struggle. The opportunities to find success in school are few and far between for these kids. We can tell them not to worry about it and everyone struggles, but think of it like this…

Situation 1: You have decided to run a 5K. You are not a runner at all but it’s your New Year’s Resolution. Come March you run a 5K. You are the VERY LAST person to finish, even behind the 60+ year old woman. Sure you knew you weren’t a good runner, but you didn’t think you were THAT bad.

Situation 2: Your company is having a summer picnic and you’re playing in the staff volleyball game. It is all in good fun, but every single time the ball come to you you miss it. Not once have you actually touched this ball. Nobody gives you a hard time about missing it, but you can imagine the dialogue going through their heads or feel them coming into your space anytime the ball is near in hopes they can save their team another lost point.

Would you keep playing? Sign up for another 5K? The best of us say yes. We have the intellectual ability to know that it truly doesn’t matter and why not keep going. The majority of us still care how well we do and how well OTHERS THINK we do even if it “doesn’t matter.”


We are the lucky ones. If something isn’t going our way, we can quit. We try something else. That’s how our passions are found. They are the crossroads of ability and enjoyment. Kids don’t get a choice. If they struggle in school they have another 10 years ahead of them. Some are lucky but for many the struggle will only get worse and the social pressure stronger as they grow. The opportunities for those “fluff” activities are gone and we take away a chance for a kid to find a passion to make up for their struggle. A student will never learn how much they love art if the only time they are exposed to it is once every 6 days. This might sound minor but a passion can carry a kid through the shadows and bring them to the light at the end of the tunnel.


I’m not alone in how I feel. This conversation is going on across the US. SO WHY IS NOTHING CHANGING? Who is in charge here? How many kids will we break and leave behind before we go from saying “I wish we could change this” to “I refuse to perpetuate this problem no matter what it takes.”

The Substitute Teacher


I’m convinced you can pick any school across the US and no matter what if the teacher’s away, the kids will play. If a substitute is in, trouble is just around the corner. Even at seven years old the kids know what they can get away with. I have never had the pleasure (misfortune?) of being a substitute and I give them a lot of credit. Trust me, it is the kids who are at fault.


As if one substitute isn’t enough, imagine having 10 substitutes in a building on a given day. Our school has a team that evaluates our school’s performance. It is over half of the teachers in the school and they meet for a full school day a few times a year. I am not a member of this team. Rather I stay behind in the mayhem that is left when multiple substitutes are in.

With so many subs, the hallway is like an international airport. Loud “flights” are always zooming up and down the runway. Someone’s “baby” is crying loudly. A pair next to you is talking way to loud for being in close quarters. Trouble ensued. In a single incident (in the bathroom….where all the best fun takes place), 5 students were given detention. Other students were caught fighting. In general these students left complaints where ever they went and truly made the substitutes earn every sent of their ~$70 that day.

Today I was fortunate enough to have detention with those who earned detention due to their unruly substitute behavior. 8 kids. That’s a lot of kids for elementary detention!! These kids gave me a run for my money. While all generally good kids, it’s not surprise they acted up with a substitute because they tried it with me.

Ridiculous things I had to threaten during detention:
-“The next person that sneezes, real or fake, will make this up during recess tomorrow!”

-“You have 30 seconds to tie your shoe or I will keep it and you will go through the rest of detention without a shoe. And NO! It will not be funny. It will be embarrassing because you can’t even wear a shoe like a big kid.”

Teaching is not a career you break into easily. If you are a person who has to get your foot in the door subbing, stand your ground. The rest of us are grateful you are there when we are home puking with a fever of 102 (because let’s face it, without a good sub it might just be easier to make it through the day teaching with a trashcan attached to your hip). Hang in there. To those of you adults who chuckle when you hear about substitute teachers and how easy it was to get away with things when you were in school with them…shame on you, SHAME ON YOU!

Snack Tiiime….HUH?

Working in a Title 1 school presents its challenges. It also presents students who are just kids and who will share their love day in and day out. Beyond the ups and the downs, it also presents a very special time of the day – SNACK TIME!

Three days a week our class gets a fresh fruit or vegetable snack. You know the Red Robin slogan, right? Red Robin…Yum! Well in my class, snack time also has a slogan. Snack Tiiime…Huh?? Our snacks are unusual and impractical to say the least. More often than not we receive the bag of snack and have no idea what is inside. More than once all of the adults in the room have googled the PLU code of the fruit to figure out 1. What is it? and 2. How in the world do you eat it?

In case you are thinking the snacks can’t be that crazy, here are some real life examples.

1. Blood Oranges
blood oranges
Blood oranges are not the most ridiculous fruit, but asking 2nd graders to peel them on their own without it looking like a murder happened on their desk? That is another story. It is also not possible to eat blood oranges and do writing. Dear students, forget about writing. We will just wrestle with the oranges for the next 30 minutes.

2. Persimmons

This is one fruit that had us googling what it was and how to eat it. I believe you are supposed to break it open and just eat the flesh on the inside. The persimmons were a disaster. Kids were eating the outside peels. Others could break open the likely unripe fruit. I’m still not sure exactly how to describe this interesting fruit.

3. Lettuce – Iceberg, Bok Choy, Italian Blend, all the lettuce!
photo 2

photo 1 (2)

These are the actual pictures of our snack. We just get shredded lettuce in a bag. Kids just get a paper towel and munch on that stuff dry. The craziest part is some of them really seem to enjoy it. (Of course there are those that look at me like I have 3 heads when I offer them shredded lettuce.)

The last and my favorite example of how ridiculous our snacks are is………..


At first, I was questioning if these were your regular lemons. I went ahead and took a suck on one. Definitely a lemon!!

Never a dull moment, friends. Never.