I've taught many grades. I've had a lot of students. I've had my share of challenging students. As different as they all are, I've found one thing in common. They all want something.
Some children only want to be noticed. Luckily, there are many students who want to do the right thing. Some want to have fun. Some want to do nothing. Some want to antagonize their teacher. In many ways teaching is all about finding that thing they want. It's about finding that thing that will motivate them. It's about finding the carrot to dangle.
I really learned this lesson many years ago when I was a young teacher who would do anything for some work experience to get me closer to a real job. Although most of my training and experience was in the early childhood years, I took a job teaching Language Arts in a summer school program with 8th graders. I was so very much out of my league, but it didn't take me long to figure out what these kids wanted. They wanted to pass my class so they could move onto High School.
It was a shock for the boys. (Yes, it was a group of 8 boys.) Everyone was taller than I was, and they were certainly tough kids. They thought all they had to do was show up for the class. They were quite shocked to find out that they actually had to do work and participate in class! But I frequently reminded them that they were expected to do the work I gave them, and reluctantly, they did it. After a while they softened a little and almost started to enjoy themselves.
The second graders I've had these past few years have been somewhat easier to please. The thing that works for most of them: beanie babies! I have a huge collection of them, and if someone does something well, they get to keep a beanie on their desk for the rest of the day.
It all started a few years back in a moment of desperation. I had several beanies around the room as decorations. The class was restless that day, and I was searching for someone who was doing things right and a way to reward that student. Finally I found a kid who was focused and working, so I grabbed one of the beanies and plopped it on the student's desk. That child was so thrilled, that I managed to find a few others who "got the hint" and started to work, so I put beanies on their desks, too. It was such a hit that I kept it going and it still goes on today.
Sure, the kids want to play with the beanies. I often remind them, if they play with it, they lose it. ("It's not a toy, it's a tool to remind you to be good.") And I have to take them every so often to the laundromat for their "bath". But it's been a hit.
Who wouldn't want an adorable little beanie on their desk to keep them company?