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The Treasure Box is for Losers August 19, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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I found the coolest stuff for my class Treasure Box at Target.  When I told my friend, Christine, who’s also a teacher, she informed me, “The Treasure Box is for losers.” Ouch! I thought this was because Christine believes students should “be good for goodness’ sake” like in the song Santa Claus is Coming to Town.  But, she put it even more bluntly, dare I say biblically – virtue is its own reward. That’s true, but…and it’s a BIG but, at least for me.

The reason for having a Treasure Box (or student store or whatever else teachers call it) is to reward those students who are “on task.” That’s teacher-talk for students who are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. We don’t have “good” students, but students who are “on task.” Unlike those students who are “off task.”  We never say they are “bad.”  Instead of saying that “B” word, we say the other “B” word – benched.

In keeping with this logic, a student’s reward for being “on task” is recess. Since I was never a particularly physically active child, the gift of recess doesn’t wet my whistle.  I would have been happy to warm a bench reading a book. Of course, since I was always good, I mean on task, I can only speculate.

This year the morning recess at my school will be shortened from 25 to 15 minutes, so it’s basically a long bathroom break. Even kids who are benched are allowed to use the bathroom, so being able to go to recess is a baby carrot on a very short stick.

As I begin my fifth year of teaching as a fully credentialed and “highly qualified” teacher, I’m rethinking some things I’ve always done. Some of my class procedures were picked up from master teachers during student teaching and others from colleagues. Teachers do what works for them, and the Treasure Box has worked for me. It’s simple, If your card on the “How’s My Day Going?” chart is on green at the end of the day, you receive a sticker. (You can stay on green by not sticking a pencil in your neighbor’s ear, reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid inside your desk, when you’re supposed to be listening, or annoying me or anything else that moves within a 20-foot radius).

I put the stickers in the pockets of the chart at the end of the day, as handing them out takes too much time. (I feel like I’m running behind, the minute I set foot in the classroom.) Ten stickers earns you a trip to the Treasure Box, but for the second trip, I up the ante to 15 stickers. Last year I had such a great group of students, I increased the cost of admission to 20 stickers. I used the excuse that the rising cost of gas made it more expensive for me to drive to the 99 Cent store.

I spend maybe $60 on “treasures” each year, and also receive donations from parents and friends. Though I draw the line at 99 cents an item, I don’t have anything cheesy in my Treasure Box. Students can pick from books, workbooks, journals, maps, rubber dinosaurs, the occasional Hot Wheels car, and come Halloween, flocked tarantulas and rubber bats and rats. I even make special trips to Burmincos in Monrovia to pick out way cool rocks. (Who would have thought the price of rocks would double in the last year?)

Yeah, I offer other incentives too – special privileges, time with me (that would keep my husband on task), and the chance to sit at my messy desk. But the hot ticket item, when you’re 8 or 9 years old, is usually something aka stuff. Maybe it’s the hunter-gatherer in all of us. I went to a week-long training several years ago, where the presenter told participants that for each day we returned from lunch on time, we would receive a ticket. The ticket went toward a drawing at the end of the week, so we had a chance to win – stuff. And what were these coveted prizes? The package of cheetah print bulletin board borders, perfect for that second-grade “Camouflage” unit, had teachers salivating. There we were – professionals, myself included -checking our cellphones at lunch to make sure we wouldn’t be late. All this for the chance to win those borders, or maybe, just maybe, a $5 gift certificate for the local educational supply store. Teachers, you gotta love ’em.

My “Teacher’s Helper” does all the paperwork for the Treasure Box. They stand there with a clipboard looking very official, while those who’ve earned a trip paw through the merchandise. The Teacher’s Helper then records the date, the student’s name, and the item they chose. Sometimes I handpick items for particular students, as I know what they like or need. I’m proud to say that no item has ever been stolen. This is serious business. I only wish I could put the Teacher’s Helper in charge of ALL my paperwork, which is why I have a messy desk in the first place. I thought about eliminating the Treasure Box this year and trying out this radical concept of virtue being its own reward. But I have to admit, I’m skeptical. Besides, I’ve still got some inventory to move from last year. Yeah, I’m a loser, baby, but the Treasure Box works for me.


1. amayala - August 20, 2008

As a student, I was always well-behaved. However, it would always frustrate me that, despite my best intentions to keep all the rules, I would accidentally mess up something due to confusion or a lack of understanding of the finer points of the school policy, etc. It always bothered me because I was rarely given the benefit of the doubt, despite my good record. Instead, I felt as though my teachers were really quick to jump on my errors. I understand your teacher friends’ point of view in that you don’t want students to be dependent on external motivations so that they are unable to make right choices without having immediate benefit to themselves. However, rewarding is not necessarily a completely bad idea, especially since kids receive so much negative feedback on a weekly basis for not being perfect students. I have read that rewards, however, should be sporadic and unexpected in purpose and form so that students don’t end up having this dependence on immediate benefit, etc.

Amayala (what a cool name!) –
Once teachers stop giving students the benefit of the doubt, they might as well pack it in. This is a concept I teach to students, as kids can also be quick to point fingers.

Some kids I’ve taught haven’t had positive role models in their life so they actually have to be “taught” to do the right thing. Once they get in the habit of doing the right thing, and it’s been reinforced (with a reward – verbal or material), doing the right thing becomes a reward in itself. I always tell my students that good habits are as hard to break as bad ones. Jan


2. moxey - August 20, 2008

Ah, the Treasure Box.

Last year when my child was struggling so much with the concept of First Grade, the Treasure Box was an elusive goal. My child saw many classmates go to the Box again and again, but could never manage to get there. It was disheartening for the kid.

Skip ahead a year, to Second Grade. Now that we have an official diagnosis of ADHD (and other issues) the teacher is cutting the kid some slack. School has been in session for going on three weeks and twice my child has come home with something from the Treasure Box. Self-esteem and maturity has gone way, way up.

It’s a little thing but it has made a world of difference in how much my child enjoys school.

moxley –
First, I too struggle with the concept of first grade. I swear it’s the most difficult grade to teach. First grade is not a job, it’s a calling. My hat’s off to all first grader teachers, as they are truly manning the front lines! When students are so young, it’s hard for teachers to know if a child’s behavior problems stem from immaturity or a real learning disorder.

I sit down and talk with some students about what it means to do their “personal best,” as their best effort may look very different from that of the person sitting next to them. I’m so glad to hear your son (and you too) are now experiencing success at school. It’s often two steps forward, one step backwards, but the important thing is that, ultimately, you’re moving in the right direction!

Liked by 1 person

3. Deb Estep - August 26, 2008

My hat is off to you Jan and ALL teachers.!!!

As the Mom of a 26 (Nicole, 24 (Vince) and 12(Kevin) year old, I have vast experience in having encountered some
exceptional teachers, and some who had no doubt burned out.
I have a precious step dtr Kerri who is 29, but I had no
hand in her school age years.

Many moons ago, I recall one of Vince’s teachers employing the recycle technique to fill the ‘treasure box’. The teacher sent home a note saying please send in gently used small toys. I recall my son having a great thrill going through his stuff to recycle at the treasure box. He even engaged his older sister to contribute. Then there was the secondary thrill of seeing some other child pick out their toy. LOL So and so picked my race car today.

This teacher passed out tickets towards
the treasure chest. I prefer your idea of the teacher lining up
the stickers. Invariably I ended up washing his tickets to shreds.

I LOVED the idea of the treasure chest as it encouraged my son
to pay attention to his behavior.


4. Jane - July 21, 2012

As a teacher (retired at 34 years) and a park softball coach, I used “treasures” with both. I taught special education on the high school level. Our treasures were cookies, or cupcakes or sometimes I would go to local businesses and get free bowling, drinks, meal, ice cream, movie passes. I would do flash card drills and use something to keep track of how many right answers they would get. They responded well and very competive. They would work hard to learn what ever I was asking them to learn. For the softball, my first year, given the worst team and added my daughter. Okay. We ended up in first place. Used a treasure box. If you at least tried to hit the ball or field a ball you got to get something out of the treasure box. Lost our first game. Started treasure box at a practice… never lost another and soon we didn’t need treasures, just had fun.
So keep up your practice. The students will remember those good things.

My hat’s off to anyone who taught for 34 years. I earned my teaching credential with a woman who ultimately became a close friend. The only job available in her district was teaching elementary special ed. I never could have imagined her doing this (she even had to then go back to school for another two years to get her special ed credential), but she has blossomed and celebrates each small step along the way with “her kids.” What’s funny, is that by the end of third grade, many students don’t “need” the Treasure Box, but for many it is just one more motivator to do what they need to do.
I went to a seminar once and the presenter offered a chance to win some school supplies to those who returned from lunch on time. You should have seen those teachers running back to their seats – all for something they could have purchased for $2! You’re never too old to appreciate a reward for good behavior. 🙂
In these economic times, we don’t have merchants giving out any freebies. But I have a neighbor who works in publishing and provides boxes of blank books/journals made from beautiful paper that the kids use as sketchbooks or to write their own books. I’ve had some pretty picky customers, but I can’t seem to keep the glittery bouncy ball in stock. 🙂 And yes, the students from my first year who graduated middle school last year, often return and ask, “Do you still read Wayside School?” “Do you still have Friday Club?” and finally, “Do you still have the Treasure Box?” Jan


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