She Hated Gum

by Chick Moorman


Barb Benedict is a veteran teacher. But more than that, she is a veteran teacher who hates gum. As gum haters go, this woman is probably in the ninetieth percentile.

Barb’s students loved to chew gum. And because the sight, smell or sound of gum was a constant irritant to her, she tried to prevent her students from engaging in what she interpreted as a nasty habit. This anti-gum-chewing teacher lectured her students, using statistics about germs, tooth decay, and the cost of dental work. The students chewed on. She moralized about manners, respect and simple decency. Still they chewed. She scolded and reprimanded in different tones of voice. The children never wavered. She used threat, punishment, and removal of privileges. The gum chewing continued.

This frustrated professional educator tried every way she knew to convince students to stop chewing gum. Her explanations, opinions, and desires continued to be ignored. So she gave up trying to get through to her students with logic and persuasion. In fact, she stopped talking about it at all and began using her silent voice.

One day a child arrived at school early and found her chipping gum from beneath desks with a putty knife. "What are you doing?" the student asked. "Getting rid of the gum," she replied. "I hate gum and I especially don't like it on the furniture."

After watching the teacher chip gum from the bottom of desks for three mornings in a row, the student asked if he could help. The teacher produced a second putty knife and together they passed the time until school started by slowly and steadily removing gum from desks.

The next day a second child asked to help. The work force grew until ten children were removing gum from furniture. A few days later the room was void of gummed desks and the crew moved to the school library. When the library was cleared of gummed furniture, they moved on to the lunchroom. Within three weeks all the furniture in the entire school had become gum-free.

Children in this classroom stopped chewing gum, and they did it on their own without being threatened, lectured to, or punished. They stopped because they could see gum chewing meant something to their teacher. They could tell that she felt strongly about her conviction because she chose to act and thus lived out her values and beliefs. They could see by her demonstration how important the issue of gum chewing was to her.

This story can be summed up by an anonymous quotation we heard some time ago: "Attitudes are more easily caught than taught." When Barb Benedict tried to teach non-gum-chewing, she was unsuccessful. The children turned her off. When she switched to action and modeled her beliefs, they tuned in and responded accordingly.

We believe children have built in "on" and "off" knobs over which they have complete control. It seems easy for them to turn us off and let our words roll off their backs. Lecturing, moralizing, judging, and criticizing don't get through when children choose not to let it in. Far better to take a lesson from the gum hater and let our actions be our message.

You are a model. And you can never, not model.  Realize you are being watched and know your attitude and your style of speaking is being caught.

Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the coauthors of The Teacher Talk Advantage: Five Voices of Effective Teaching.They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for the newsletters or learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: and


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