Students were working on an assignment a couple of weeks ago. “Jack” (who faces a lot of challenges at home, and has been having some difficulties at school), however, was not. I went over to him and asked how it was going, and if he had some questions about what he needed to do.

“I’ll work if you give me some candy,” he replied.

I told him that wasn’t going to happen, that he was better than that, and that he needed to get to work. I knew that he didn’t like me “bugging him,” and we had made an arrangement a couple of months ago that when he was in this kind of mood I would leave him alone for a few minutes. Often, after that period of time, he would get focused without needing any additional intervention.

A few minutes later, though, and Jack still wasn’t doing the assignment.

I went over to him to check-in. “I’ll work if you give me some candy,” he repeated.

I asked him to go outside where we could talk privately. I asked him if he felt that eating helped him to concentrate. He said yes, it did.

I said, “Jack, I want you to be successful.   We all have things that help us concentrate — with me, it’s important to be in a quiet place.   You know there’s a class rule against eating in class, and I certainly don’t feel comfortable with your eating candy. But how about if I give you the option of bringing something besides candy to school and, if you’re having a hard time concentrating, as long as it doesn’t happen too often, you can have the option to eat while you’re working? How does that sound?”

He eagerly agreed, we shook hands on the deal, and he went back to class and focused on his work.

He’s been working hard since that time, and has not eaten anything in class since we made our agreement.

But his knowing that he has the option to do so, I believe, has been a key part of the solution.

This is similar to the option I’ve given some students to leave the room when they feel like they’re going to “blow”  — as long as they remain directly outside the door (see When A “Good” Class Goes “Bad” (And Back To “Good” Again!). All of us, particularly students who have family lives which are often out-of-control, function better when we feel we do have a certain level of control over…something.

I have individual “deals” with many students in my class, and everybody knows it (we talk pretty explicitly about everybody being different, having different talents and different needs).  Only very, very ocassionally will students actually exercise the power they have in these deals.   Some might think these kinds of arrangements would prompt charges of unfairness from other students.  Surprisingly enough, in my five years of teaching, that has never occurred.  The students who don’t need these deals to focus understand why some do,  and everybody else understands because they have their own special arrangments with me.

What kinds of individual “deals” have you made with students in your classes?