There is so much to do in a classroom! I remember seeing a joke that a teacher’s brain was like a browser with 1,000 tabs open all the time. That really resonated with me. There are a million things that flow through my brain all day. I’ve also heard that teachers make more minute by minute decisions than brain surgeons; that doesn’t surprise me at all! Classroom jobs are a total lifesaver for me! I love knowing that small tasks will get taken care of, and I love that kids hold one another accountable for doing their jobs.
I used classroom jobs my first year teaching, and I changed my job system several times. I used to group students and change weekly, having each group do different tasks. I also tried having individual jobs that rotated weekly without choice. I had some students elect to do different jobs. I always had some students willingly take on responsibilities who would essentially become teacher helpers. Classroom jobs were helpful, but not consistent, and honestly – it felt like more work. I didn’t want to reward kids all the time for doing their job which is what I came to my first year teaching. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, nothing was getting done, and I was not above bribery. I felt desperate trying to get random things done and change their popsicle stick jobs every week. I realized, though, that kids love jobs. There’s always someone who wants to do it or will make it happen. So I changed my structure.
Here are the keys I found to successful jobs:
1. Let kids choose their own jobs
I had mine fill out a google form like this. Then, I gave them one of their choices. If a job wasn’t filled, I made that known. Many kids ask for a second job.
2. Give everyone a job (unless they don’t want one)
If they really don’t want a job, don’t bother bugging them. This so rarely happens to me (1-2 kids for 1-2 quarters a year). If kids want a second job, let them have it. Also, I’ll often have a kid who didn’t want a job come back to me later and ask for it. It’s surprisingly often clear to me that the student didn’t think they could be trusted with a job; they didn’t want to let me down.
3. Make expectations of jobs clear
I have labels on desks with the student jobs on it. These are plastic business card size sleeves. You can slip in the paper into the sleeve and then transfer to another kid’s desk when the time comes. If a kid is not doing their job, I will say something like,
“I’ve noticed you didn’t do ____. I’m counting on you to do this for the class. If you can’t remember or don’t want this job, we can give your job to someone else and have you choose a new job. Can you do this job for me, still? Or do we need to come up with a different plan?”
Here are my job cards I used for 6th grade.
Here are my jobs cards I’m drafting for 2nd grade (with COVID).
4. Keep the jobs a long time but switch it up if needed
Keep the jobs for a long time. I had mine change every other month or so. This is not as long as you might think.
Let them change jobs if something isn’t working. You can keep the jobs a long time if they know that they can change them. Usually, kids will just stick with it for a few more weeks. They know it’s not forever. Other kids will pick up the slack if a job isn’t done. Even if you as the teacher have to do it, it won’t feel like such a burden when the other things are all getting done well. More often than not, I have many kids who want to keep their job(s) all year long; I usually switch it up, though, since some jobs are just more desirable or “fun” than others. I also will take “open job positions” and make them anytime jobs, so if someone wants to do something for points from me, I’ll let them choose an anytime job.
5. Reinforce the behavior
Recognize a job well done. Make an effort to notice someone doing their job. In addition to the expectations in plastic sleeves on kids’ desks, I also have a card that says “Ms. Stohs noticed me doing my job 10 times.” If I notice them doing their job well, I’ll put a circle around a number.
When they get to 10, I’ll let them get a little prize. I even have some “better” prizes for if they want to keep their points until they get to 20. You might be wondering why I’m spending money on random prizes. I’m talking about giving a kid a bag of chips every 2 weeks; this is not breaking my bank, but man, will they work hard for that bag of Doritos! This wouldn’t have to be through prizes, either. I have not done prizes for every class I’ve had; sometimes it was a bonus during a winter or spring slump. Sometimes I just added thank you’s to a whole class reward system. Don’t underestimate the power of reinforcing language, either! A quick “I noticed you turned on the projector without me having to ask” or “Thanks for cutting up that lamination I set on your desk” or “I appreciate you getting up right away to help with those papers because you knew it was your job” makes all the difference.
6. Don’t do their job for them!
Some students with the most difficult behaviors are those that embrace jobs the most! I remember so many instances of students enthusiastically collecting calculators saying, “That’s my job!” because someone else had started gathering their table’s. If I ask, “Who’s job is ____?” if something isn’t done, kids are not shy about calling out, “It’s me! I’m here!” I find it simultaneously hilarious and endearing. If you honestly don’t remember whose job it is to do something, ask! If you keep passing out papers and not letting the paper handler do it, they will a) stop trying to do their job at all b) be resentful that they never get to do their job c) feel useless and unwanted. I did this completely by accident, and a kid came to me so upset that I kept doing their job! If someone isn’t doing their job, I’ll offer, “Who will do ____’s job today?” Often, the original kid is leaping up to do their assigned job.
If you need ideas for classroom jobs, here are the cards I used for 6th grade. Here is the list I’m currently working on for my switch to 2nd grade amidst COVID. Below are a few of my favorite jobs:
- Trash Manager – putting trash cans in their spots in the morning and in the hallway for custodians in the afternoon
- Recycling Manager – I make a huge deal of this responsibility to walk to the recycling bin; kids love this job; I even had it as a reward for a behavior plan. Imagine saying in your serious voice, “If you can’t focus and be appropriate in Science, you can’t take out the recycling today.”
- Messenger – Kids love taking things to other rooms and the office.
- Projector – I seriously cannot keep track of my projector remote unless it’s someone else’s job. I love this job.
- Planner Checker – I have someone else check planners for me at the end of the day. I still check those with this accommodation on 504s and IEPs, but to me, it helps it feel more like an “everyone” responsibility.
- Homework, Agenda, Morning Message Writers – If the date didn’t get changed, not my fault! Kids will remind someone else to do it, and I love it. I love that someone will mark the homework for me. It’s usually someone who wants to make it look pretty. Once again, if it’s not updated, I don’t get yelled at. It’s a kid’s job, and everyone knows whose job it is.
- Bouncer – They answer my phone when I’m with a small group and give me a chance to get there without rushing. They answer the door which always has to be locked now. They turn off and on the lights and are thrilled to do it! I also find the name quite satisfying.
- Computer Specialist – This can be adapted to just taking care that computers are all plugged in. You could also have them be a “tech specialist” who helps with any computer issues before they go to the teacher. Before my class was 1-1, I had a couple students do this job and actually unload computers from carts in the hallway and bring them back. It was a big job, but kids loved doing it, and I was always so grateful to not worry about it. They always took the job so seriously.