18 Jan

For the past week and a half I have been entrenched in Winter English camp. To say the least, it hasn’t been quite what I expected. True, I only have nine students (a godsend considering I have upwards of 3o in my normal classes) and most of them are fairly high level, but thus far during winter camp I have noticed something that seems to have slipped under my annoyance radar until now.

My winter camp students are extremely obsessed with receiving rewards for every tiny task they perform–almost to the point where I can’t get them to do anything without promising payment in the form of candy, or some type of token that can eventually be redeemed for a prize.

I’m not a complete rube.  I understand very well that for many teachers, offering rewards is an easy way to get students to participate in classroom activities, but when when it gets to the point where students are throwing tantrums  because they didn’t get a Chupa Chups sucker after answering a simple question, the system needs to be re-worked.

Earlier this week I had a student disrupt the entire class because I wouldn’t give him a paper dollar bill (used by my co-teacher and I during games and vocab drills) after he correctly guessed the topic of the day’s lesson.

He stands up, holds his hand out and says “Teacher, give me dollar! I right!” I tell him to have a seat and continue the lesson when he stomps his foot on the ground and again demands payment for his classroom efforts.  I almost slip and tell him “tough shit” before I decide to ignore him. Truthfully, I couldn’t give in to his demands even f I wanted to. I haven’t been teaching with my normal co-teacher this week and don’t have the keys to the stash drawer. Still, I’m not about to explain that to a third-grader. Is “good job” not sufficient enough?

Maybe I’m just bitter.

I remember when the only reward a kid got in school was a lousy gold star on some chart posted in the back of the classroom, a system I still feel is was rigged from the get go. For a full week of homework assignments handed in on time and perfect classroom compliance, you would get half of a star. After accumulating 30 or so stars, you’d get a “prize.”  Now, the prize might be anything from a  fancy eraser cut out in the shape of a heart to extra free time after lunch, but it didn’t matter. The stars could just as easily be taken away for misbehavior, which happened to me on a regular basis.

Here in Korea elementary students get rewards for everything short of breathing. Show up to class? You’ve earned a new pencil. Finished your homework? Have a piece of candy. Good job class. You all remembered to bring your notebooks to school! Ice cream for everyone! I’m beginning to feel like we’re just passing out treats to little puppies who have learned how to sit, lay down and stop pissing on the carpet.

I’m not at all against bestowing prizes when we’re playing classroom games or fostering healthy competition in some other way, but I can’t accept  the feeling that I’m somehow buying my students’ participation with goodies purchased at the local 1,000 Won store. These kids are going home with pockets full of candy and other treasures, speaking whole sentences of perfect English, without a clue of what they’re saying.

Maybe I’m exaggerating. and I’m sure not if all waygook English teachers employ bribe tactics, but it does seem like a popular trend and I remember several lecturers at the EPIK orientation mentioning how useful it is to offer treats to students who participate during lessons. I still have yet to see how this is more useful than encouragement and praise.

The way I see it, “teaching” and “training” are two totally different concepts. If you want to teach put in the effort don’t rely on candy currency. If you want to train, head to your nearest pet store and buy a parrot.


Kimchi Dreadlocks


6 Responses to “Rewards”

  1. Matt P January 18, 2011 at 10:15 PM #

    This is a great article! I have high school students and they always want rewards but I absolutely refuse to fold and give them something. It seems that once you give students something once, its like a drug. They’re hooked and it makes the job even harder.

  2. Steph January 18, 2011 at 10:25 PM #

    Sometimes, my kids get annoyed when I give them candy but it’s not the flavor they wanted 😛 But, for the most part I’ve been able to manage them by actually implementing the gold star technique in regular English classes, so it’s still a reward system but not as frequent. Anyway, good article!

    • Kimchi Dreadlocks January 19, 2011 at 3:37 PM #

      Yeah, I think a star system can work if administered properly, Steph. Unfortunately, I’m stuck with the paper dollars. Old habits die hard at my school.

  3. Blanco January 19, 2011 at 12:28 AM #

    The next generation is set up to fail. The need for rewards and to get their way is getting extreme. I remember when getting an answer correct gave a real sense of pride and accomplishment. Kids these days. Maybe just drop 1k of won on em each time they get a question right puff…

  4. Mezzanine Capital January 19, 2011 at 12:11 PM #

    I used to be a part-time Kinder teacher at a very small Learning Center in our neighborhood. When I started teaching I was advised to give candy or chocolate to my students when they participate, but I found it expensive for a daily normal activity. So what I did, I cut out colored stars and gave it to them once they participated and answered correctly. Until such time, I stopped giving them stars because I think it would be best to have them learned by their own will and interest and not just because of the rewards.


  1. Teaching from the Bottom of the Totem Pole: 6 Months Down (6 More to Go) « Dreadlocks on the Roks - March 3, 2011

    […] –Classroom rewards can be useful to foster participation, but they’re a pain in the ass to manage. I’ve written about this before. […]

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