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"Are Rewards the Answer?" PDF Print E-mail
Dear Barbara,

I read your book and I have followed your advice about keeping rewards in my Bag of Tricks. I am concerned about students working and behaving well so that they can get a sticker or a certificate. Shouldn’t children learn to be self motivated?  I’m getting tired of “bribing” students! Is there a better way?

Cherry Hill, NJ

Dear Jamie,

The concept of extrinsic vs. intrinsic rewards is one that has been debated by education experts. Most of us feel that it’s always better when children are self motivated. And for the most part, good students naturally try to do their best. They want to do well for themselves, their teachers, and their parents. But when a sub is in the room, things change. You are not responsible for grading them. You will not be preparing a report card or conducting a parent conference.

Effective teachers know that authentic praise is the best motivation possible. As a sub, you must be sure to acknowledge good behavior, good deeds, and hard work. Students want to please you, and they want recognition for their efforts. A simple “thank you David for your answer to that question” goes a long way. Praise individuals and the whole group.

But when you’re having a hard day, you may need concrete rewards. Younger students love stickers or stamps on their hands. Pencils and erasers are great for intermediate grades. You don’t have to spend money. A wonderful reward is free time at the end of the period. You can give five extra minutes for recess, lunch in the classroom with the teacher, first in line for recess or lunch. If you use small group rewards, the students will police themselves.

When you use rewards effectively, the best reward is a peaceful day for you!


Barbara Pressman is the author of book Substitute Teaching from A to Z (McGraw-Hill, 2008), available in all major bookstores and To find out more, visit:

If you have a question for Barbara, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .