You don’t have to spend a lot of money on incentives; self-made certificates can be more effective than anything else.

Twenty years ago, I when I was an aide at the school I work at now, I used to manage the Writing To Read Computer Lab. I was just 18-years-old and could not afford expensive and fancy incentives for the 130 students that came to my lab, therefore I made certificates on the computer. Every Friday I would give 5 certificates to those students who showed some growth or finished a specific journal. There was a special girl who came from a poor immigrant family who lived across from the school. She was in 1st grade when she came to my lab. Of course, she was one of the certificate receiver (they all were, sooner or later).

Seventeen years later, I was invited to her wedding ceremony, held at her small house. As I walked in the door, I was in awe to see her hall of fame. Between her high school and university degrees, in the biggest frame, was the faded, old Writing To Read certificate! I could not believe my eyes, seventeen years later and she still had the certificate I had given her. (Well, I shouldn’t be shocked, I am currently 38 years old and still have my elementary school certificates.)

Her mother later told me that she treasured that certificate more than any other because that was the one that gave her the confidence and strength to continue with her studies.

At that time, I realized that candy, stickers, and other fancy incentives work well for the moment, but nothing like something written on paper to make a lifetime impact. Plus, let’s face it, on a teacher’s salary, I still can’t afford the expensive, fancy incentives. Nonetheless, nothing could be more rewarding than knowing that you made a difference in at least one student’s life. That is the best pay one could receive.

Keep empowering students!

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