Decontamination: Gratuitous Extension

Alright, this is a freebie from last time.

See, as in my sleep life, decontamination plays a huge part in my discipline. I keep a running list on the whiteboard of students who’ve committed minor infractions and owe some time after class. Thing is, I keep it on the far end of the board, far away from anywhere I teach.

Our intuitive readers already see the wisdom in this. If I talk sternly to my students anywhere I want, write names up on the board anywhere I want, then, subconsciously, my students will always be on edge. It’s purely subconscious but check the difference:

When I keep the frowns, the booming voice, the unhappy eyebrows, and the detention lists to a small portion of the classroom, the rest becomes the happy place. The learning place. And then the happy place becomes the learning place. We’re happy and we’re learning. It’s an extremely positive association, one that you’ll ignore at your own peril.

Inversely, consider the implication of restricting all my negative vibin’ to a two-square-foot area of the classroom. The class hates to see me walk to this cordoned-off part of their home.

Watch this:

The class is noisy. I need it quiet. I put on a frown. I start walking towards the unhappy place.

The class gets quiet immediately.

They fear the unhappy place. It stays quiet while I glance around briefly. I step out of the unhappy place and immediately, like walking through a waterfall, I put on a smile.

“So didja guys catch the mistake I made in number 47.”

[Update: A gratuitous photo to illustrate this gratuitous extension.]

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. It’s such a satisfying way to do business. Even if your students don’t immediately catch onto the zoning, I guarantee you’ll feel great keeping the ugly necessities of your job locked in a small box.

  2. I did this my first year of teaching. I abandoned it though when I did not get positive results. I kept my students after class not after school though, and I think that may be the substitution I need. However, I now use my office hours after school for remediation and tutoring though, so I am conflicted about “contaminating” what should be positive (tutoring and help) with something negative (detention). Any thoughts? Do you keep the two separate?