Don’t Reward Clock Watchers

All, Teaching Tips

This week I got a letter from my employer congratulating me on my 15 years of service and urging me to attend the public recognition ceremony. This letter angered me on several levels. First, there is the continual use of the “Ms” honorific rather than the “Dr” that I have earned. I don’t insist on the “Dr” from my church or my son’s school, but sheesh shouldn’t my employer recognize it? Second, I teach in Kentucky where the constant messaging that education and teachers are not valued is just a drain on my soul. A handshake, a photograph, and a gift card are not going to make up for this painful erosion of my self-worth. Third, and perhaps more important, while the letter gives a nod to my service and contributions to my employer I am equally sure that the goldbricks and clock watchers hired the same year received the same nod of approval which makes it devoid of all meaning. Never mind that I have brought in grant money that benefits university students, regional students, and regional teachers. No recognition of the many programs I started and continue to run that also benefit those same constituent groups. No awareness of the ways I continue to grow as a classroom teacher. No acknowledgement of the fact that I am grossly underpaid for both my education and the work that I do. {Deep breathing to lower blood pressure}

My response to this “recognition” served as an important reminder as we near the end of our school years and semesters. Empty recognition of “time served” can be harmful to morale for the reasons mentioned above even though many managers and administrators believe it can be a boost to morale. While this idea can have negative consequences for employee morale, it can be equally problematic in the classroom. We hope our students develop intrinsic motivation, but let’s be honest – humans also need extrinsic motivation. My reasons for developing programs and writing grants (as well as my ongoing quest to be the best teacher I can be) are because I care about this work and believe it is important – but that does not lessen my desire to see it recognized and or feel less resentful when it is ignored. I know I have often made the mistake of rewarding clock watching and task completion in my classes, but this experience has brought home to me why I need to do better in the future. I want to reward the journey and growth more than the final product, but it can be a tricky balance that can run aground on the same rocks as my employers service recognition program.

We need to think more about the ways we celebrate and recognize students who do more than punch the clock in our classroom – and in the process hopefully inspire the clock watchers to be more like these contributors. So much of our education system fosters the belief that seat time is all that matters. So what do you do in your class to foster student engagement and support intrinsic motivation and how do you avoid rewarding clock watching and task completion? One of my favorite ways to make sure the student efforts are rewarded is my use of merit badges awarded by their classmates. Quite simply: Badges help me, help us, celebrate what is going right in our classroom.

As I contemplate whether or not to RSVP to my service award ceremony, I will definitely put far more time and effort into thinking about the ways this experience can inspire me to be a better teacher. How do you foster student engagement and support intrinsic motivation? How do you avoid rewarding clock watching and task completion?

Artwork by the Trophy Depot.

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