(15) Bribes and Consequences

After the first few challenging days with my students, things settled down quickly, especially after three students, all boys, were placed on extended suspensions pending expulsion hearings at the district office. I'll post more on them in weeks to come.

Now I was left with thirty fifth grade students (ages 10-11), and while they all had their own issues, we were off and running as a class. That said, they seemed to have their own collective agenda - to test my patience and strength on a minute by minute basis. They did this by constantly talking out of turn, cursing, leaving the classroom without permission to go to the restroom, breaking pencil points on purpose, and chewing gum loudly and incessantly. While I did have firm rules and consequences which I enforced, to be quite honest, my students weren't phased by them at all. They had lived through much harsher situations out in the world like witnessing drug deals and shootings, so by giving them my textbook punishment, I was really instead rewarding them with the one-on-one attention which they craved.

So, how did I get my students to buy into MY education agenda? I did it the old fashioned way, by bribing them with the things that meant the most to them. Starting with bubble gum. For most teachers, the no gum chewing rule is a sacred tenet, usually because gum smacking is disturbing to others and students tend to leave a mess under their desks or seats. I decided to work with their likes and did what I'm sure accelerated my nomination straight into the bad teacher hall of shame, I did allow my students to chew gum in class.

When I first proposed the idea, they were a little thrown (This is good. Always keep your students on their toes). We had a talk about why we should chew quietly and why the trash can was the only sensible receptacle to discard old gum. Another concession made (this was their idea) was that they were allowed to get up from their seat without permission to throw away gum. I let them know that if these conditions weren't met, we'd go back to the no gum chewing policy and the whole thing would be ruined for everyone. All I asked in return, was for their undivided attention while I was teaching.

I was pleasantly surprised by how well my students, for the most part, abided by our social contract and there were some added benefits. While I'm not a dentist, I've read studies where gum chewing (sugarfree) is in some cases encouraged for good oral health. Another benefit, is that the repetitive motion of chewing can be soothing (think of baseball players as an example), and finally, it's hard to chew and talk at the same time.

I'll share more unusual strategies in posts to follow and would like to hear what you've succumbed to with your students or with your own children for the sake of furthering your personal agenda.


  1. My wife, a high school english teacher at an urban voc, used candy bars when she first started. They nicknamed her "Dangerous Minds."

  2. I'm not going to lie, I have used this technique many times with my students and even as a nanny. I prefer to think of it as bartering, not bribery. Bartering is giving something of value to the people I'm working with in exchange for something of greater value to me. I see it as a teachable moment, endoctrinating kids into the economic system our country thrives on. I do try to use things that are of some greater benefit to my students. For instance with my third graders, I taught them a couple of team games (one indoor and one outdoor) The deal was made that if they met all of my expectations for the whole week (its important to keep things nice and vague so you have wiggle room hehe!) we could play one of the games. This solved two birds with one stone. I was required to instruct an extra 30 minutes of PE each week (our time playing the game) and the kids thought they were earning a prize that wasn't "school related." With my older students, who weren't as easily fooled. I used the radio as my bartering chip. I scheduled work time at the end of each Friday(the only opportunity or access to supplies some of my students had to work on homework or long term projects)I kept a points system (me vs the class) everytime I had to wait on them, I got a point, everytime they were on task or working quietly, they got a point. If they had scored more points than me by the end of the week, I allowed the radio to be on (to a mutually agreed upon station or CD.) They got some free entertainment during worktime while I got more focused students for the rest of the week.

  3. I remember our teacher letting us chew gum in sixth grade. She told us if we behaved she would let us chew gum during an exam. Supposedly the chewing stimulated more brain neurons and it would improve our test scores. It was a win-win situation.

  4. @Homemaker man: Please say hello to Michelle Pfeiffer for me.

    @Nicole: Thank you for sharing those great ideas. I like bartering much better than bribing.

    @Anon: I suppose than makes sense, especially with peppermint gum which can perk you up.

  5. I have a similar deal with my sophomores. They are allowed to listen to music on headphones while working, IF they are actually working. If not, they have to do it without music. They work, which is what I want, and they get to listen to music, which is what they want.

    I also will sometimes have them work alone and silently for 15 minutes, then let them work together for 15 minutes. By that time most of them have settled in and gotten to work and a lot of times they end up working alone the entire time anyway.

  6. @Christy That's awesome. I know a few adults who say they can't concentrate without music, I'm sure that's probably even more the case with teens.