Sticker Theory


Stickers are a joy. I’d long forgotten their simple charm but upon accepting a job working with children, stickers have once again permeated my world.

I absolutely love buying stickers. The stationery and gift store near my apartment has racks and racks of them marching along the walls, offering a bewildering variety of shapes and textures, the likes of which my eyes have never seen. These are stickers I almost want for myself. There are glitter stickers, puffy stickers, fuzzy felt stickers, flat holographic stickers, stickers that are both glittery and puffy and stickers that are both puffy and holographic. Sea life, jungle animals, domestic animals, the ABCs, hiragana, mythological creatures, snacks, flowers, dress up sets, fruit, vegetables, sushi, kimono, vehicles, cartoon characters, pink hearts, blue stars, purple horseshoes, green clovers … sticker shopping is a dizzying experience. I’ve tried to figure out why these stickers are so unbearably exquisite to me and have narrowed it down to two possibilities; either these gorgeous stickers are products of the detail-obsessed culture they came from or sticker technology has simply advanced far beyond the scratch-n-sniff of my 80s childhood. Regardless, stickers rock and I’m sorry I ever forgot.

You might ask yourself – why stickers? After all, how could my misbehaving students possibly deserve such glorious gifts? It will hardly come as a surprise to you that my stickers aren’t a gift, but a bribe to serve as my disciplinary bargaining chip. Observe:

At the beginning of class, I draw 3 smiley faces on the board, with the goal of removing them at any time if the children displease me or if I’m having a bad day and indiscriminately doling out justice. The presence of all three smiley faces represent a potential congratulatory sticker at the end of class. One false move and the sticker is gone. Still feeling lucky? 2 faces gone will put you in the corner. Death wish? 3 smiley faces gone means you’ve got yourself a temporary boot out of the classroom.

Well, that’s the idea, anyway. The truth is that I’m actually quite lax when it comes to removing smiley faces. The children talk over me while I’m teaching and instead of swiping my eraser across a face, I shout, using the voice of my mother. Or I make students move seats. Or I shout so much that I emerge from the classroom with my eye makeup smeared, like a member of KISS. And still the children get stickers – stickers for not annoying me too much and even stickers for completing their homework with, I must add, no penalty for wrong answers.

I can’t help it. They’re funny and sometimes they’re even cute. I’m weak. I might be fantastic at imitating cats and drawing cartoons on the board, but my shoddiness at doling out discipline is a flaw that runs through my psyche like a hairline crack in a vase. So it’s stickers for the little stinkers, even when they don’t really deserve them.

You might also wonder where these stickers come from. Yes, we already covered that they were bought in a store but who buys the stickers? That person is me. I buy the stickers. And when you apply fancy math like I do, you can figure that a 210 yen 80-count sheet of stickers averages out to about 2.63 yen per sticker.

2 stickers a day = 5.25 yen a day per kid.

29 students a week = 58 stickers a week.

So you see, for only about 5.25 yen per day, I can possibly maximize a child’s interest in behaving during class. But those yen add up which means I’ll be buying sticker packs 3 to 4 times a month. That’s 630-840 yen I could be spending on train tickets, Pocky Sticks or soumen instead of undeserving students.

Of course, I have students who really do deserve their stickers each class. If I want to continue rewarding them, naturally, I’ll have to get tougher on the discipline to stretch out my sticker supply. And maybe, if it’s an especially tight month, even tougher on the kids who actually listen in class.

It’s just evolutionary science. For some to succeed, others will have to fail.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Me says:

    This “adult” love Hello Kitty stickers. But to kids they are gold!

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