Good grades. A quiet classroom. These are often
what teachers value. But what if students come to class
looking for something else?
Robyn R. Jackson
Cynthia quickly moved through the class- room, collecting the previous evening’s homework assignment. While her back was to the door, Jason hurried in and slid into his seat. Without turning around, Cynthia
said, “I saw that, Jason.”
The class erupted in laughter as Jason blushed. “Take
out your homework, and I’ll be around in a second to
deal with you,” Cynthia instructed.
When Cynthia reached his chair and noticed that Jason
did not have any work out, she moved past and finished
collecting the other papers. She got the class started on a
warm-up exercise and called Jason to her desk.
“Where’s your homework?” she asked.
“I forgot to do it,” Jason muttered.
“So you’re not only late to class, but you also don’t
have your homework? Hmm, this is serious,” Cynthia
said. “Do you know what you owe me?”
“Detention?” Jason guessed.
Cynthia shook her head. “No indeed. You need to
make things right with me. Tomorrow when you come to
class, you need to be here early with your homework—
and a Snickers bar. And it better be fresh!”
Jason looked up, startled, then smiled widely. He went
back to his seat and got to work. The next morning, he
arrived at Cynthia’s class with not one but two Snickers
bars and cheerfully handed in his missing homework
When Cynthia first told me this story, I have to admit
that I was shocked. It seemed that she was letting Jason
off the hook. “Cynthia, please tell me you aren’t shaking
kids down for candy,” I mocked.
She laughed and then explained that too often, we
make too big a deal of it when students make mistakes.
We treat their mistakes as personal affronts and, as a
result, kids are afraid to mess up—afraid that if they do,
there is no road back. Over the years, Jason had adopted
a cavalier attitude because he believed that once he made
a mistake—and he made them all the time—he had
ruined the entire school year. By having him give her a
Snickers bar, Cynthia showed him a pathway to
“It isn’t about the Snickers bar,” she explained. “It’s
about giving kids a tangible way of redeeming themselves
and recovering from their mistakes.”
Cynthia is starting where her students are.