The Power of Please

3 Feb

We have a student who some might describe as “defiant.”

He refuses to follow directions. He won’t come to the carpet. He won’t complete his worksheets. He won’t do his homework. When told to do anything, he refuses, about half the time.

Friday, I was fed up with him. He was doing his math homework, with a pen, during independent reading time. I took a deep breath, and said, “Scotty, can you please put that away and get out a book?”

He looked at me, blinked, and put away his math, got out a book, and said “sorry.”

All because I said please? Maybe not, but I am nearly positive he would have ignored me had I given him another order to follow directions and get out a book.

Saying “Please” and “Thank You” is something we insist on teaching our children from an early age. However, teachers don’t do it. We give orders. Is it too much work to say “please” and “thank you?”

It’s so easy to to get in the mindset of “I am in charge, do what I say.”

“Line up.”

“Use a pencil.”

“Get a book.”

“Sit down.”

“Don’t talk.”

What does this teach our students? It teaches them that they have no power. It teaches them that they have no say in their own lives, no free will. It teaches them that we, the teachers, are in charge, and they are not. It teaches them that the person in charge can give orders. Can make demands. Doesn’t have to be polite.

When we, the teachers, enforce these ideas of unequal power, we prevent the creation of a democratic classroom.

What about when the teacher is white and the students are not? When we are educated and the parents are not? When we speak Standard English and our students do not?

It’s easy to say please and thank you. It’s easy and it’s powerful.


6 Responses to “The Power of Please”

  1. teacherpostscript February 4, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    I LOVE this blog entry! It’s so true. But right from the start at my school I heard someone say at a staff meeting, “Don’t say please and thank you’s for the kids doing stuff they’re already supposed to be doing.” Something about power struggles.. And wasn’t there something about not saying please in “How to Talk to Kids”?

    I just want to act like a decent human being in front of the kids and be a good role model! Demands don’t really fit into that…

    • teacherbecoming2013 February 4, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

      I think there is probably a lot of discussion about whether or not we should say please. However, I think it’s important. Yes, kids should be doing these things anyway, but why do we have to give them orders? They aren’t in the military, they’re 8 (or 6, or 12, or 14…). Why can’t we demonstrate a little kindness, while expecting the same from them?
      I also really think it’s an important thing to think about when we are a different color or culture than our students. What are we telling them when we give them orders all day and expect them to obey? I don’t like the feeling that thought gives me.

    • RLT March 15, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

      I am glad I read this post. I remember this comment about not saying please or thank you when you ask students to do something that is expected of them, and it seemed reasonable at the time (and I immediately tried it on with my interactions in the classroom). Yet I have questioned it a bit more over the past few months…. Is there a way to give directions without saying “please” that isn’t demanding? Is it really that bad to say “please”? Are there certain kids who respond well to “please” and others for whom the strategy of not saying “please” is beneficial?

  2. lotsirb February 5, 2013 at 9:25 pm #

    Hmm..I see what you’re saying here, but I think I side with the “don’t say please for what they’re supposed to do anyway” camp. I think it’s important to talk to the students with politeness and respect, but I don’t want to set up an environment in which I’m pleading with them for appropriate behavior. Now, if a student does any little thing out of the ordinary (turn off/on the light, grab a fallen pencil, push in someone else’s chair, etc.) I think it’s important to demonstrate appropriate recognition with a thank you, and a please when asking for anything above and beyond the expected. I’ve read this theory in Love and Logic, and Positive Discipline texts, and the teacher the “first commenter” mentioned took her view on this from something called “high trust psychology.” There certainly is some logical argument behind not doling out please’s and thank you’s for everything.

    I think the key in working with children with this theory is always being respectful, and avoiding the drill-sergeant mentality. I think you can expect good behavior without pleading or it, and still show friendliness and respect.

    That said, I love that your aptly timed “please” surprised and motivated this student. That’s lovely. I think it’s also a reminder to make sure that we know our kids, our classroom context, and make sure we do what best fits the circumstance.

  3. dl5pgh February 10, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    I think there might be two kinds of please and yes, one of them should be used. Using please as a last resort, “….won’t you please finish your assignment (before I pull my hair out)…” isn’t the right one. However, “Please, take out your reading journals” would be a good use of please. When we show respect to our students they will in turn show respect to us. We can’t expect them to use please and thank you if we don’t. We are modeling after all. I’m all for the Power of Please.


  1. Ohmigoshicantbelievethequarterisover!!!!! | Getting my edu-macation in edu-macation… - March 10, 2013

    […] As far as my own contributions go, I feel that I have been mostly supportive to my colleagues. I think that is important, but might not necessarily further the conversation. I think the one instance in which I  pushed the thinking was when I gave an alternate view of classroom management in which I argued that I don’t think we need to ask please of our students for behavior that is expected, although I agreed we should always be respectful. linked here […]

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