I have a new student–a prodigiously verbal and overactive six year old boy whose main interests are vacuums, elevators, and an imaginary cattle company. It’s gonna be a wild ride for awhile as we settle this exquisitely square peg into the round hole of public education.
A huge part of the plan: positive reinforcement. One thing I take a rather perverse pride in is my ability to make and implement truly bizarre earning systems, tailored exactly to individual interests and needs. I once gave a 19-year-old man one purple plastic exam glove for every day in which he refrained from clobbering people. The system I used for a Certain Fifth Grader last year involved collecting puzzle pieces on which I’d Mod-Podged pictures of a Monopoly board.
Finn (not his real name) requires an equally creative and personalized reward. Currently, the highest level of behavioral achievement qualifies him to turn the elevator key.
It’s a powerful motivation, and so far, he’s earned it once a day. For the first two days, though, the lights in the elevator weren’t working, so we ended out spending our Elevator Key Time walking upstairs and talking, at length, about the possibility and specifics of an electrical short.
Today, Finn earned Elevator Key Time at what I saw as the perfect moment–just when, o glory, he was able to watch the custodian CHANGING THE LIGHTBULB in the elevator, after first activating the CALL BUTTON by TURNING THE KEY. That was, indeed, a good deal of excitement.
Much to my confusion, however, Finn became very anxious when I pushed the button to close the door and allow for our first, long promised, elevator ride. He scrambled out with a worried look on his face.
“What’s up? I thought you really wanted to ride the elevator. And now the light’s working again.”
He took awhile to verbalize his thoughts. “Well, it’s just that…it’s just that I think it would be better to give the elevator…a rest.”
“Yes, because there’s been a big change for the elevator, and sometimes, a change is hard. Sometimes you need…you need time. I think everyone should give the elevator some time to…to adjust.”
And suddenly, we’re not just talking about the elevator anymore.