Dear Kid Whisperer,
I have a kind of silly question. Your followers who are not teachers will probably think it’s really dumb. I teach 2nd Grade and every year I take a lot of time to get nice nametags and neatly adhere the nametags to their desks with clear contact paper. Invariably, three weeks into the school year, most of the nametags have been ripped up or picked at so much that it just looks terrible. In the past, I have replaced them, but that becomes time consuming. Plus, I know I don’t want the students to think they can ruin things and that I will clean up after them. Is there anything that I can do to stop them from destroying their nametags?
-DJ, Kansas City, Missouri
It’s so funny that you ask this question because I had this exact problem for the first 11 years of my career in education. I finally came up with an awesome solution just last year.
Yes, it is SO annoying to have those pretty nametags looking just so and then having your students rip them up. Just like you, my students always tear them apart in the first month or so. You can’t really blame them. It’s almost like a tic that a lot of kids have at that age. There’s that little line where the tape or contact paper ends. Oh, how satisfying it must be to use your fingernail to explore the stickiness of that tape! And how tempting it is to draw on the tape with a nice, sharp pencil…
…but I digress. Anywhoo, I actually get a yardstick and measure nametags to the millimeter so that they are perfectly centered on the desks. Therapy may be in order.
So after all of this OCD work, I always had kids destroying all of my, uh, diligent work. Yes, let’s use the word “diligent”. So here is how I permanently fixed the problem last year with one great consequence.
As kids don’t learn from warnings or lectures, I avoided them as I watched most of the students slowly tearing up their nametags. I never even told them not to tear them up. I was OK with it because I knew I had an ace in the hole. I had a perfect plan. Because of my perfect plan, I got excited when I watched them ravaging my perfectly measured nametags.
After three weeks, it was time to strike. After school one day, I took the time to replace fourteen injured nametags. By each new nametag, I put a small piece of paper. The paper looked like this:
When they came in the next day, they had a lot of questions:
Kid #1: What’s an invoice?
Kid Whisperer:It’s a bill that a person gets when another person does something for them. It shows how much money they owe.
Kid: #2: Why do some of us have invoices?
Kid Whisperer: Why do you think?
Kid #3: Because you fixed our nametags.
Kid Whisperer: Do we start sentences with “because”?
Kid #3:You gave us invoices because you fixed our nametags.
Kid Whisperer: Why do you suppose I did that?
Kid #5: You didn’t replace all of them. Only people who messed up their nametags got new ones. Mine is still perfect, and I didn’t get an invoice.
Kid Whisperer: So you guys are saying that if you ruin something that isn’t yours, you have to pay for it?
Kid Whisperer: Fair enough. Sounds good. Just know that I will be more than happy to replace any of my nametags, for a fee. You don’t even have to tell me that you messed it up, I’ll check all of them before I go home each night. Anyway, if everyone with an invoice could come up here with your four dollars, we can get this taken care of and move on with class.
Kid #6: (looking around at the other students) We.. don’t have four dollars.
Kid Whisperer: (surprised) Oh… really? Awkward. What are you guys going to do?
Kid Whisperer: We’ll have to come up with an arrangement later… try not to worry about it.
Later that day at recess I invite all of the kids with invoices to come sit at their desks.
Kid Whisperer: Good news, friends. I figured out what you can do since you don’t have the four dollars. I have a ton of stuff that needs to be cleaned around here. Frankly I just don’t have the time to do it, so I’m going to pay you guys to do it. I’ll pay you eight dollars per hour. You’ll ‘work off” what you owe. How long will you have to work to earn three dollars?
Kid #7: A half hour.
Kid Whisperer: Do we use sentences or sentence fragments?
Kid #7: (huge eye-roll) We have to work for a half hour to earn three dollars.
Kid Whisperer: All right. No time like the present! Let’s start with picking up pieces of trash and dirt from the floor…
After that half hour they shake my hand as I thank them for a job well done.
I only had one child destroy his nametag the rest of the year. He was quite lonely at recess working by himself.
DJ, I hope this helps. It’s not a silly question, and I’m glad you asked it!
-The Kid Whisperer