Way back in November I received an email from a teacher named Paul in which he defended (to a degree) the use of junk food classroom rewards. I wanted to share his email with you right after Thanksgiving, but then I took my month-long mental health break from blogging and Paul’s email got lost in the shuffle. Now, though, I’m glad for the long delay since Paul’s email offers a perfect counterpoint to the discussion we’ve been having this week (both here — “The Junk Food Deluge: Is It As Simple as ‘Just Say No?‘” — and on TLT’s Facebook page) about third parties giving our kids junk food without our permission.
So here’s Paul’s letter:
I enjoyed the topic of junk food as a reward, and feel it makes a great talking point. That being said, I have some counterpoints I would like to make. Before I make my argument realize that my point of view comes from that of a childless former teacher.
The basic mindset behind giving kids junk food as a reward is they like it, and it’s cheap. Kids like junk food. The idea of a reward is to give them something they will enjoy. Also, all of the food rewards I have given my students came out of my pocket. Would I prefer to give them a low sugar granola bar? Of course. Part of being a teacher is modeling good behavior. But, I get more bang for my buck with junk food. If Whole Foods would offer me the same prices I would have given my students healthier rewards.
I completely agree with your point that students should not be rewarded for every accomplishment. It teaches students that they should only engage in something that offers an intrinsic reward and diminishes the value of what they are doing. A former coworker was asked by one of his students if they got a grade for taking notes. My coworker responded, “Do you get an allowance for putting on underwear?” Kids should not expect a reward for going through the motions of life.
However, I think students should be rewarded for major accomplishments. It would be hypocritical not to reward them. As a teacher I preached that hard work can equal success. And look at how adults measure success. We use objects: cars, boats, houses, clothes, etc. To expect kids to not see the world the same way would be a double standard. Also, kids cannot see big picture. They need a quicker turn around. To show them that you worked hard for 2.5 months, earned an A, and now you get a prize reinforces the good habits.
I was purposely vague with the use of the word “prize”. I empathize with parents when they want to limit junk food. And parents should hold the ultimate decision on what their children eat. And it must be horrible for your child to earn a reward that you need to take away.
But, give teachers another option. Junk food companies are the only ones giving away their product. And they make it easy. They drop off coupons, I hand out coupons. It comes at no dollar/time/effort cost to the teacher.
OK, TLT’ers. What do you think? If you want to share your thoughts below, I know you’ll keep in mind Paul’s thoughtful and civil tone and you’ll word your own comments accordingly. Also, if you want Paul to see your comment, it’s probably best to leave it here and not on TLT’s Facebook page.
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