being a teacher, classroom management, discipline, punishment

Red Cup, Green Cup, I Even Had a Blue Cup – Why I Threw Out My Sticks in A Cup

image from icanread

I remember the first time I displayed my classroom management cups; I was so proud.  Although the idea was not my own, far from it, I felt that here was something I could embrace, here was something I could stand behind and really make my own.  My old system of putting names on the board had proven to be too complicated, I had given up on it and so had searched for something new.  Inspiration struck in another classroom and I too had gone to Target and purchased my cups; big fancy tropical drink cups.

The system was so easy; a stick with your name on it starts out in green, when you misbehave you move it to yellow – warning! – and then when you disobey again you move into red.  But that wasn’t enough, oh no, I needed another level of bad, another level of punishment; enter the blue cup!  The blue cup was an immediate phone call home to parents.  It didn’t matter what we were doing,  blue infractions meant stop the class and make that phone call in front of all of the class to tell your parents just why you were calling home.  Proponents of in-class embarrassment can clap their hands with glee here.  It was great!  Not only did I get to call students out in front of their classmates to move their stick,  I also got to have the cloud of warning hanging over them all day, and that stick of theirs could never move backwards in a day, only forward so the whole class knew exactly who had been bad that day with absolutely no chance to redeem themselves, power to the teacher!

With some kids the system was great, they misbehaved so often I didn’t even have to speak the words, we had a hand motion and a certain look that told them exactly what they needed to do.  Move that stick or else!  Or else… or else I publicly humiliate you in front of your peers, or else I make sure that if your day didn’t start out poor it is now guaranteed to be.  Or else I call you out for any little thing because I am so focused on you now with that stick in the yellow cup.  Those cups were central to the power in the room.  Their placement was at the front of the class right by the white board where everybody could see them.  No slinking to the back to move your stick, oh no, get up here and do it.

So what were these stick moving infractions because they must have been bad, right?  Well, to the teacher I was then, where it all had to do with keeping the control, they were definite deal breakers.  They were kids speaking out of turn, blurting out, or not paying attention.  Kids coming in late from recess or not having their supplies ready after they had been asked.  How about leaving your homework at home and then forgetting to come in during recess to do it.  Or if I was in a bad mood it might be a snarky comment or the attempt at a joke; move your stick!  You see, there was no rhyme or reason, some days it was easy to move your stick, other days I let things slide because I was in a better mood.  And yes, some kids moved their sticks more than others because they just couldn’t sit still, because they just couldn’t get it together, because they were that kid that just keeps getting in trouble because we are so focused on them and their misbehavior.  Poor kids.

So  I stopped when I realized, too late, how much damage this system had created.  Students had relinquished the power to me, sure, but it was because of fear not out of  respect.  They knew I was the boss because I made sure they were at the edge of their seats hoping to not be called to the front.  I had created the type of classroom I swore I would never teach in and it had all been so easy.  I knew I had to change when I saw their self-esteem suffer.  I knew I had to change when it was the same kid day in and day out moving that stick.  I knew I had to change when those parents didn’t answer the phone call because they knew it was not good news.  I knew I had to change when I couldn’t recognize the teacher I saw in the mirror.  So I threw out the cups, threw out the sticks, took a deep breath and swore off all systems.  No more sticks, no more calling out, no more cups.  And guess what…the kids behaved.  The kids started to have more fun, to show respect, to pay attention.  Was it perfect?  Of course not, this is real life not a movie.  But by throwing out the cups we shifted the power to be more balanced.  The room became theirs again and I got to fulfill the role as teacher, not just punisher.  I got to show the kids that I loved my job and more importantly that I loved having them in my life and that will always be more important that a cup and a stick.   I have never looked back.

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