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Virginia Journal of Education

Your Classroom


Cashing My Checks

How I took classroom management to the bank.

By David R. Denny

Who would have ever thought it? A simple stroke of graphite—a check—on a seating chart was all it took. I still can’t believe it, but I have tested it for over a month now with all levels of eighth-grade students and the miracle still holds. My rowdy classes now work in perfect harmony, mostly silent when silence is required and with controlled ebullience when I dictate its necessity.

Let me back up and give you a quick glance at my typical days before I implemented the check system. I had several large classes of 30 students, core and advanced, sitting in small groups of four around movable tables. It was always difficult to get their attention. I rang a little bell but they soon ignored it and I was left standing like a traffic cop waving my arms, calling for attention. I often went home frustrated, knowing that I wasted time, a lot of time, merely quieting them over and over again.

Then one day on a whim, I implemented a few instinctive changes. First, I rearranged my seats back into short straight rows facing each other. (This is a temporary arrangement since I will regroup soon for literary circles). Next, I separated the talkers and their friends, sending them to opposite sides of the room. This created a dreamy state of wonderment and confusion among the students who now had to sit beside someone they didn’t know existed. And, thirdly, and this is where I spread the magic dust, I began the check system.

On a whim, as I stood looking at the students after the great shuffle, I asked a question. My exact words were something like this as I held my seating chart on a clipboard before them: “Class, how many of you hate your new seats and would like to move?”

A thousand point of lights shot into the air. I cringed with delight. “Okay. Here’s how you can move to a place you would rather be. All you have to do is get five checks. It’s that simple. You get checks for doing positive things in class. When you’re polite, you get a check. When you work hard at the class assignment, you get a check, and so on.”

I saw a difference immediately. And from that day through the coming weeks I invented endless ways to give them checks. There were occasional setbacks at times in class comportment. When this happened, I would solemnly stand before the errant one and erase a check, but this was always followed quickly with pleasant exchanges and inspirational goals. 

I made up a check for the first five students to come in quietly and sit down at the beginning of class. I gave a check for passing out books if needed, for saying thank you at times, for offering a positive comment in the midst of a lesson, for genuine compliments, for finishing work on time, etc. 

It wasn’t long before the kids started cashing in their checks. Oh happy day! Kids were excited to win simple privileges:  double candy in the candy bowl, a change for a new seat, the rare opportunity to listen to music with headphones while they worked (good for one day only), or a simple grade boost (which seemed to infuse new vigor into grades in general).

And here’s the kicker. Not once, so far, has a student reverted back to old habits. They seem consumed by checks, recognition and winning. I always maintained a royal sense of humor, smiling through the demerits and the checks, never once showing disgust or anger. I modeled what I expected.

Bottom line:  they cashed their checks, but I went to the bank. And so we all are winners. 

As a postscript, even Aesop gave checks. He called his class to order one day and said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Then he started handing out check marks with a smile.

Denny, PhD, is a member of the Virginia Beach Education Association and an English teacher at Lynnhaven Middle School.


Cutting Health Costs Through Education?

A good education doesn’t only pay off in economic and quality-of-life benefits, it can mean better health over a lifetime, too, and maybe some extra years. There is a growing gap in the health status between Americans with and without an education.

According to a new set of policy briefs from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center on Society and Health, Americans who don’t earn a high school diploma are living sicker, shorter lives than they did in the 1990s. And while spending on programs like Medicare and Medicaid will likely continue to balloon over the next 10 years, VCU’s research examines how that trend can be slowed or reversed by making sound investments in education. Such investments can potentially lower our nation’s health care costs.

Here are some of the Center’s conclusions:

• If the health status of less educated Americans were the same as that of their college educated peers, the improvements in health would save over a $1 trillion annually.

• Diabetes by itself costs Medicare and Medicaid nearly $110 billion every year, and is over three times more prevalent among people with less than a high school education than among those with a bachelor’s degree.

• Halving the number of 20-year-olds who do not complete high school could save up to $45 billion in areas including health, criminal justice and welfare.

• Illness-related productivity losses, which occur more often among workers with less education, cost U.S. employers $323.1 billion in 2013.

Learn more about the VCU Center on Society and Health at


A Look Under the Hood

Once a mechanic learns to work on a car, or a doctor learns how to identify flu symptoms, he or she can apply those lessons almost universally. Teaching, however, is quite different. Because each student is different—in such factors as background knowledge, motivation and support at home—effective teaching requires not just a set of general practices, but also highly specific knowledge of the student. And we ask teachers to work with up to 150 students—a massive number—with class rosters turning over entirely each year.

 --Jack Schneider, assistant professor of education, College of the Holy Cross


Some Finishing Touches to Your School Year

As you prepare to wrap up the year, some things to consider:

•     Any loose ends? Cover everything you needed to cover? Grades and paperwork done? Any repairs needed in your classroom?

•    Checked in with your supervisor? Any outstanding issues to resolve? Any complaints or compliments to deal with?

•    Taken a look at your personnel file? Do you know what’s in there? Anything been added this year? Anything need to be removed?

•    Contract set? Any changes to yours for next year? Anything you don’t understand? Agree with everything?

•    Evaluation in place? Have you seen and discussed yours? You OK with it? Was any “evaluation” done you weren’t aware of?

•    Teaching license up to date? Up for renewal? Keeping up with renewal requirements? Any changes needed?

•    Computer use set? Do you have access to school computer systems during the summer? Can you use your email?

•    Know the scoop for next year? Do you know exactly when you’re expected to report for work again in the fall? Are you aware of your contract days?

If you have any questions about your status or what’s expected of you, don’t hesitate to contact your UniServ Director.

One more very important fact: Be sure to take some time to unwind, relax and recharge this summer!









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