Thom Gibson is two-time Teacher of the Year, and has experimented with student jobs and classroom economies for 7 years, primarily in 5th-8th grade classrooms. We gave Thom your most frequently asked questions about student jobs, and he shared his best practices to implement and manage your classroom system. Watch the full video below, and check out his free course -“Essential Student Jobs for the Middle School Classroom of Tomorrow” - to learn more!
Having student jobs empowers students. It gives them a role in the classroom, it gives them an opportunity to actually be of service to the greater community outside of themselves. The more you can give them jobs that they want to do, the better, and the more empowered they will be. The more that your jobs are actually things that need to be done in the classroom, actual tasks that take something off of your plate as a teacher, all the better.
There is a book called the Checklist Manifesto by a neurosurgeon named Atul Gawande. The whole premise of the book is that if you want to diminish errors during surgery, you need to go through checklists. So if neurosurgeons need checklists, then our students need checklists as well!
I have one job that oversees all the jobs- the Teacher Assistant job. They have a big checklist of who does what job when. Every class begins and ends with the Teacher Assistant going through those jobs.
I think that jobs that require a lot more responsibility and a lot more things that the student has to do should be paid higher than jobs that maybe are not as time intensive or not necessarily needing as much responsibility.
I try to have a wide range of jobs, so I’ve even had one where someone’s job was to come in and open the blinds. It was something that needed to be done, but it was a pretty low-lift job for maybe a student that wasn’t as interested in all the other jobs. That job would pay lower than the other jobs in my classroom.
That was one that I implemented later in my teaching career. It actually started with remote teaching, but I continued it even after remote teaching when we were full in-person. It was the job of one student or a couple of students to create a three-minute podcast that sort of served as the classroom newsletter for that month. One of the Podcasters ended up writing their own intro and outro music in GarageBand. They came up with their own segments like Mathematician of the Month, or Math Riddle of the Month. One of them wanted to interview other math teachers at the school about what kind of math they loved the most. I like that one a lot because I had some classes where it was the students who you kind of expected to apply for that job because they were the gregarious, class-clown types who really liked attention. But I also had some of my most introverted students apply and do a really great job on the podcast. It was a way of getting their voices in the classroom as well.
I would say make a list of all the things that you have to do as a teacher. Regardless of how much you think a student could do this, just list all the things you have to do. Well when I come in, I have to plug my computer in, and pull up the class website. I have to communicate with parents every week or every month about what we are doing in the class. I have to meet with students. I have to answer teacher emails. I have to update my grade book. I have to create graphics for the learning management system. Whatever it is.
Once you’ve made a huge list, I want you think through, rate those tasks from 1 star meaning only a teacher could do this task, all the way to 5 stars where it would be so easy for a student to do this task. And so your first task in making classroom jobs less daunting and less of another thing to do is try to look at those 5 star, those 4 star, and maybe even some of those 3 and 2 star jobs, and think through how could I delegate this to a student? The more that your class jobs are actual teacher tasks that are delegated to your students, the less it becomes about another thing for you to do but now things are actually being taken off of your plate. And having those checklists ensure that your students actually are doing it to the standards that you want them to do.
The challenge in coming up with a classroom jobs when you are a Middle School or High School teacher is that you have so many more students. In the Student Jobs course I walk through how you can systemize that, and have students apply to their top jobs while making sure that the jobs you really need someone to have in your classroom will be the top priority ones that you hire out for. But the biggest thing is that our students are capable of more responsibility, more complex tasks, so we should be giving them more responsibility and more complex tasks when it comes to taking ownership of their classroom.
The class job list that I share in my course is not like Line Leader, or things like that that you would typically see in an Elementary School, but has been adapted for more modern and more useful jobs than maybe more of the traditional classroom jobs.
Have those systems built where one student has that checklist. Then if that student is absent, I can easily go through and I don’t have to remember who does what job when, but it says Monday beginning of class, this person does their job. Monday, after class, this person does their job, or something like that. I think having those systems in place is the best way of monitoring it.
In my classroom, I had a fine that students had to pay if they did not do their job to the appropriate level of what I expected of them, or if they just completely forgot to do their job. How much of a fine you want to do is up to you, but that is kind of a negative reinforcement for them to not not do their job.
I would start with classroom jobs before you get into a classroom economy just because finding the best way to get the jobs done and have students buy into it I think is an easier step into the world of classroom economies. I did classroom jobs for several years before I implemented a classroom economy portion to it where students actually got paid in classroom money for their jobs. Then they could do stuff like buy things in a class store, participate in a classroom auction, or pay fines or rent for the desk with their money.
Once you incorporate the money thing, it can become a lot bigger to manage, so start with the jobs and then when you’re ready to incorporate things like the actual salaries and a classroom economy then a tool like ClassEquity is going to be able to help you manage all of those things. It gives students a very real interface of an online checking account so they can see their money and their balances, deposits and withdraws, and things like that.