Dale’s Three-Legged Stool: The Power of Rewards

Frank B. Withrow - The Dawn Patrol

I worked in residential schools in the early part of my career. In addition to my classroom teaching, I taught wood working shop at night and on Saturdays. Every time Dale saw me he asked when he could take shop. You had to be at least nine years old before you could come to shop. Dale was one of the kids that the teachers did not like, and the house parents dreaded having him in their dormitory.

He wasn’t bad. He was just a pest. If you could possibly do something wrong, Dale was able to stumble into it. If you went on a field trip on a city bus and had to transfer, somehow Dale lost his transfer. If you stopped for an ice cream cone, Dale somehow managed to drop his cone before he finished it. Dale also had a misshapen head. It looked like someone stepped on it and left it off center.

line picture (edited photo): an instructor and 2 apprentices in a woodwork worshopThe time finally arrived when he was old enough to come to shop. He was in seventh heaven. I had the young boys that year make three-legged foot stools. They turned the legs on the lathe and made kidney-shaped seats that they covered.

Dale’s stool looked something like his head, but he was very proud of it. Before Christmas vacation, I often had the better things like walnut coffee tables displayed in the school foyer. The kids stood by their work and explained, to teachers and other visitors, how and why they had made them. Dale was in seventh heaven and proud as a peacock to display his stool. Dale was from a wealthy family in Iowa. He was ten or twelve years younger than his other siblings. They were in Ivy League colleges. I telephoned his mother and warned her he was bringing the stool to her as a gift and explained how important it was that she appreciate it. She apparently followed my instructions.

Dale did not become an honor student, but he became a more tolerated kid. He held his head a bit higher and didn’t do so many awkward things. He even developed a friend or two.

Too often, we fail to recognize the accomplishments of our students especially if they are not particularly appealing. Often a pat on the back does wonders for an out-of-pocket learner. We all like to be recognized for what we do. Sometimes that reward will push the learner to greater achievements.

Never be afraid to recognize a learner’s achievements. I recently heard from a former student who is now semi-retired. He said he has the cutting board he made in my wood working shop fifty-five years ago and uses it daily.

Sometimes tangible projects and products are the most lasting lessons we teach.

My classroom teaching experiences were with deaf and or language disabled residential students, that is, children with aphasia or autism. At one time, I was the chief speech pathologist at Washington University in St. Louis Medical School, doing rehab work with people like Congresswoman Giffords.

2 Responses

  1. Is extremely good article

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