Teacher Insanity

A Blog for an Insane Teacher to Complain About the Insanity of The Education World Today

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Rational Motivation

The first rule of teaching is positive motivation.
The second rule of teaching is positive motivation.
(See what I did there? I learned that from reading Fight Club...Ha! Like he invented the repetition for emphasis joke!)
So, a lot of teachers want to know, what's the third rule of teaching?
You say you've tried positive motivation.
Then you tried some more positive motivation.
But now you have a kid in trouble and you want to punish them till their head spins.
Is the third rule that it's time to punish?
The third rule is relationship motivation.
So, that's what I'm going to talk about today.
Why is it that we are motivated so much more by a person saying to us, "I'm disappointed in you," then we are when someone says, "I'm going to punish you"? We are of course scared of hearing both things, and sometimes equally so, but the former acts as a much greater deterrent than the latter. Why? And, as a teacher, how do you make use of this if your students don't yet have the concept of disappointment? These are the questions I'm going to settle in the following essay. I'll begin by discussing what the relationship motivation is and why it works for adults. From there I'll transition to why it will work with children, and how to make it work with yours.

We hear all the time that the death penalty is not a deterrent. Some of us might wonder, how the hell can that be so? I know I for sure don't want to end up dead! It would motivate me. In fact, I have never committed a crime that carried with it the death penalty in my life (though you may take this as little evidence since I have never committed a crime in my life, but part of the motivation for that is that I might end up in jail and get into some kind of scuffle where I commit larger offense, and next thing you know, the death penalty. So no crimes for me!) But we hear all the time that the death penalty is not a deterrent, but it is difficult to understand why not since death is certainly a scary thing and no one can think there's ever been a person on death row who didn't regret the crime they committed, provided they committed one, and it was the one they were convicted for. So, why doesn't the death penalty work as a deterrent?

In fact, take it down a degree, why don't punishments in general work as deterrents? We have a society with one of the most ugly and horrifying prison systems in the world. How come criminals still commit crimes? When, as often happens in real life, someone is told that they are headed down a path that will end up with them in a graveyard or a jail, how come that doesn't immediately turn the person around? What's going wrong that so many crimes are committed when the repercussions so obviously should be effective?

There are a few reasons for this that all have to do with the average person's inability to be rational. Just to take a quick and easy point, let's examine our ability to understand statistics. This is an example I heard to prove this very point, but I don't know where. Say you have a 1 in 10,000 chance of being HIV+. So, you go take the test, and you find out that you are positive. Now, let's say that you only have a 1 in 10,000 chance of it being a false positive. So, there you are, with a positive test, what are the odds that it's a false positive? Is this question hard? Does it take some time to think about? Are your chances 1 in 10,000? No. Your chances are 1 in 2. Out of 10,000 tests given, two come out positive: the person with HIV and the false positive. That means you are one of those two people if you turn out positive. So, your chances of being the false positive are one in two. That's how come Tommy Morrison is fine now. It's not because he's speaking to God, but because the odds weren't as against him as most anyone would think. (Notice, no one seems to have recommended to Tommy that he retest right away. Instead, it took 11 years for him to find out the test was wrong. No doctor, no test administrator, no friend seemed to have understood these statistics and explained them to Tommy; or maybe they did and he couldn't understand until God explained them to him.)

What's this have to do with punishment? Well, if a drug dealer is told he has a 12% chance of getting caught on a drug run and he is planning to make 8 drug runs, what are the chances he'll get caught? Well, it's unlikely he's going to know, he's a freakin' drug dealer! Well, let's say for the sake of argument, it is a 96% chance that he'll get caught. Okay, so that means he's getting caught, no? No. Not in his mind. You could tell him this and he'll focus on the 4%. We all do. Or at least, all of us who play the lottery do. If you are told you have a 0.001% chance of winning the lottery, but you know you will play 10,000 times over your life, which will get it up to a 10% chance, should you play? No you big dummy! That's a 90% chance of failure! Why would you spend $10,000 to buy a 90% chance of losing 10,000$? Because you are a moron. Consider a safer bet. In Vegas, you bet on Black ("Always Bet on Black!" -- WS). You have a 47.37 chance of winning. But if you win, you double your money. Now, doesn't that sound like a good bet? No. You have a 52.63% chance of losing. 52.63 > 47.37. You are going to lose more often than you win. Money reduces as you lose. More often your money will reduce. You are being irrational. Smaller dummy, but dummy nonetheless. Gambling is our country's proof that you are irrational.

So, why think you are going to get caught? Aren't you the exception? You are going to be the exception with the lottery, right? After all, you could reason backwards: someone has to win (I've seen the winners and I know it happens to some people); i could be that someone; therefore, I should play. Well, that's really stupid freakin' reasoning, but hey, go ahead and see how much money you can donate to your local school system. But certainly you'll be the exception with punishment avoidance, right? No. You are a big dummy there too. If the odds are against you, you are going to get caught. Just count on it.

Fine, we'll count on it, but do you know how much money we can make right here, right now?

That's the second point. Adults are very bad and comparing delayed pain with current pleasure. Punishment is in the future. The money is here now. Why should you give up your criminal ways if you can live in the moment? Well, you big dummy, because in the future you'll still be in the moment, it will just be an awful moment that will always make you regret your choice of living in the moment. Big Dummy.

But these are just facts. We aren't good at figuring these facts out. So, we all make mistakes where do the wrong thing now in the hopes that we can get away with it, and even if we can be convinced we won't, we still think, so what, I'm living in the now. Morons. But that's what we are....

So, the question in the end is, why do we think children will be better at this? You've got adults gambling on a consistent basis against rationality. You've got adults committing crimes or immoral acts that they'll have to pay for on a consistent basis against rationality. Why do teachers think these people's children are going to be better reasoners? I'm a 7 year old, at PE, wondering whether I should share a jump rope. Well. There's a 15% chance I won't get told on. Wait, I don't even know what a % is yet! Okay, there's a chance I won't get told on. How big is that chance? I don't know, let's go with huge! There's a 24% chance I will get told on, but the yard supervisor will say, "Hey, that's not my problem." Well, I still don't know what a % is, so I can't really add these together. Also, my addition over 20 is a bit suspicious anyway. So, let's put them together, and say, my chance is Super-Huge. Then I have a 5% chance that even if I get told on and the yard supervisor tells my teacher about it, my teacher will still say, "Oh God, I can't deal with all these problems, just go away!" Now, if I could add 3 numbers that went above 20 and I knew what a % was, I would now know my chances were 44% that I would get away this. Since I can't do any of that, I am just going to round that to just over 100%. So, now I'm pretty sure I'm going to get away with it. And I'm also pretty sure that even if I do get caught and punished, that's way off in the future, like tomorrow's recess, which in terms of my life, that's the equivalent of a 12 year wait to you old people, so hey, let's enjoy the moment and not share the jump rope.

How exactly is your punishment supposed to motivate me in light of my brilliant reasoning abilities?

But say you've punished me 12 times in the past and here we are at the 13th time. Have you ever known an adult who lost the lottery 1,200 times and had to decide whether she should play the 1,201st time (on her way to 10,000 remember)? What's she say? Well, she's due to get lucky now! Do you expect her son to think differently? Another flaw in our reasoning with probabilities is that we expect the exceptions because we know they are out there. There's no evidence better than anecdotal evidence of an exception. The young drug dealer knows 15 guys who are dead or in jail. But he knows that one guy who slipped through. Which is he more like? The 15, the big dummy! But which one does he think he's more like? The one. He's a big dummy! So, you got your 7 year old. He's been in trouble 12 times in the past. But he knows about that one time that you never found out about. Which time do you think sticks most vividly in his mind as he deliberates over what to do? That time he got away with it was magical. He played with the jump rope the entire recess and no one did a thing about it. He dreams of repeating that one time. The other 12? Mundane. He wasn't a winner. He just got benched and then the benching was over. Why would he remember those times? The lottery winner once won $100 in her 1,200 plays. Do you think she ever forgets that winning? The big money just around the corner and the 100$ proves it. So, she's gonna remember that each ticket she buys. And her son's not going to share the jump rope as he thinks about the time he got away with it.
"I'm disappointed in you."
That's so bad to hear. No one wants to hear that from someone they respect. Even if you don't understand the concepts of respect and disappointment, you don't want to get this idea put across to you from someone you think is important and special to you. Why? Because you stand in a relationship with that person. They are a special person. They are an important person. And you want more than anything that they validate you. You want them to think you are special and important. Because when someone who is special and important thinks you are special and important, it's true. But, if they are disappointed in you, it's false. The relationship motivation is all about letting children know that when they do something bad, they shouldn't think about possible or even likely consequences. They can't reason that well. Instead, they should understand they are altering their relationship with you. "You're not good like I thought you were," or "I have to think about whether you are the good person I used to believe you were" or "Is this who you really are?" The child should be made to understand that they have to prove themselves all over. In a way, benching is a strange punishment because it ends. I did my time and I'm back to taking the jump rope for myself. But if I have to prove myself. That's days and maybe weeks of me trying to be good to prove it all over again. And next time I think about being bad, I'll think, "No, because I don't want to sever that relationship; I don't want to disappoint anyone."

And that's how you motivate when the positive is running low on power.

But you know what the fourth rule of teaching is?
Positive motivation.
Let them build up that relationship again quickly, and then you continually remark on how they have proven themselves and you are once again "proud" of them. That's the two lines they have to move between and your job is to watch them make the connections and tell them when you are disappointed and when you are proud.

Go be positive!
Go be proud!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Villaraigosa's LAUSD Changes: Follow the Money

Here's a brief history of our school board elections in the past decade or so. Now, this might come off as a biased history, but I'm a teacher, and so I am biased in favor of teachers. Now, a lot of people in these elections have been blasting teacher-unions as being similarly biased in favor of teachers, and that's a problem. Now, I want to begin by addressing this problem. What we should be asking when we talk about a teacher bias is what is it a bias towards? Well, I can tell you. There are two things teachers want: a) they want to have good lives and b) they want the children to learn. Now, don't we all want a)? Yes, teachers prefer to make more money, but don't you? What would happen, you might ask, if teachers got all the money they wanted and made as much as doctors or lawyers? Well, like those professions, there would be a glut of people entering the field and schools would be able to choose the wisest and most qualified people to fill their teaching positions and children would get the best education possible! Oh no! Who could imagine such a horrible thing!

Now, what is not asked enough when the media carries all these fears of teacher bias is: Who is on the other side and what's their bias? For most of our school board elections of recent times in LA (and I bet your district is no different), the other side has been represented by building magnates. Each school board election (or almost each one) has had one person who was backed by teacher unions and one person who was backed by building magnates. The media always gets up in arms about how the person backed by the teaching union is biased...biased in favor of teachers, in favor of education, and (Gasp!) in favor of children learning...

But no one tends to ask what the heck is the bias of the people backed by building magnates?

Well, LAUSD had a perfectly good building just ten years ago, with a decent location. Then we bought a much worse building in a much worse location, where we are no longer allowed to park in the parking lot and things are falling apart everywhere. But we paid a fortune for this "new" building -- a building so new that no one else would buy it.

I wonder what the building magnate candidates are biased towards...

But recently, the union candidates have been winning in LAUSD. This has really frightened the other side. And now, Villaraigosa's new proposal.

And notice, I don't think our unions are without blame. Just last year they tried to turn down a raise to get even more money with the pure greed you'd expect from a union. But what happened? Did you hear about a strike to turn down a 3% raise to get a 5% one? NO! Because although our union can be greedy, we teachers are not interested in losing school days until we really have to. So, the unions back this proposal, but are they asking what it is really about?

There's some provisions in it that are sneaky (The Mayor's council is in charge of the 36 failing schools. Are they in charge of just those 36 schools or any school that's failing? I don't know, but I'd bet the latter. But, if you know anything about NCLB, you know that number is just going to grow exponentially, so Villaraigosa secretly did get complete control like he wanted, he just has to wait...), but there is one way to know what this compromise is really about...Follow the money.

Here's the key provision: the school board loses its power to make decisions that cost LAUSD more than $25,000. I had to read that twice. I thought it might have said less than, but I teach first grade, so I know the difference. Why the heck would we want the power to spend so much money to go from a small group to a single person (the Superintendent, the choice of whom the mayor will now have veto-power)?

Here's an obvious explanation: the union candidates are beginning to take over the school board. That means they'll want to spend more money on (gasp!) education. They might start turning down purchase for much more needed decrepit (gasp!) buildings! They might prioritizing student learning over building-magnate pocket-books (double-gasp!)!

But with one person, and the mayor able to veto anyone he doesn't like, making the decision for spending over $25,000, look-out world, LAUSD is about to over-pay for some more falling-apart and falling-down buildings!

Thank you, Mayor Villaraigosa. For a second there, I was worried about who the building-magnates would rip off if the money started being spent on the children learning...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Another Cutie


Monday, May 29, 2006

sub days

Teachers get sub days for mandatory meetings: professional development. however, these days are often times 3 sub days in a row!!! And the professional development may or may not be applicable to the classroom. 3 days is too long to be away from the structure of the classroom and actually hurts the kids -- behavior and the lesson plan both go out the window when a sub is in charge. sure, some subs are great and do their best, but do you remember your subs in high school? enough said. it worries me to leave the kids...

Sunday, May 28, 2006

My Favorite Dog Picture on the Internet

Here is my favorite dog picture on the internet!

I got him from this website.

Apparently his name is JJ.

And, I also learned from the website that JJ is cute and fluffy!

When I do PowerPoint slides in class, I always begin and end with JJ!

The kids need to see something cute, as do I, and JJ is it!

Friday, May 26, 2006


Please notice that my links have nothing to do with teaching. They are all places I go to get away from the insanity that teaching brings! I may add some that have to do with teaching, but I promise to keep the "safe" ones higher in number.

No Child Left Behind

This blog will mainly be a writhing critique of NCLB and all the evils it portends. But, I will also use it to talk about how my wonderful, cute, adorable, cuddly first graders are driving me insane...absolutely insane! And, of course, I'll tell you a bit about the crazy parents and all that. But, maybe, just maybe, you'll get some insight about what to do about these things. But mostly I'll just be complaining.