Chore Chart

When the boys were younger, I knew they should be doing more chores, but I didn’t know how to make them do what I asked.  If I nagged and threatened enough, things would get done, but more often than not Dad would wind up doing them.

I finally called a family meeting (boys and Mom at the table; Dad in the kitchen cleaning and listening in).  I explained that while they were pretty good about doing Saturday chores (that’s another blog), we needed a system to make sure daily chores got done.  I listed for them the tasks that needed to be done on a daily basis:  unloading and loading the dishwasher, setting and clearing the table, and taking care of the kitty’s food and litter box.   We discussed how often they wanted to switch off (every week), and I let them choose which day to switch (Saturday is the first day of the new Chore Week).

Next we discussed consequences for failure to comply.  Grounding from screen time was an obvious choice, but the boys also came up with the idea of a “Chore Slave.”  The Chore Slave would have to be at the beck and call of Mom and Dad for the entire weekend, and Mom and Dad would be sure they worked really hard.   (I only remember enforcing this once.)

The chore chart lived on the refrigerator; I made it by printing out a simple chart and strengthening it with adhesive photo laminate.  I bought some little wood pieces and painted them, then glued them onto strong magnets.  Every Saturday somebody (usually the guy on dishes) switched the magnets.  Later we revised the list:  the table guy also did trash and recycle, and the guy on cat duty also helped with food prep.  After washing his hands, please.

This system has worked so well that it’s still in use.  When the college boys come home, their magnets are put back on the chart and the rotation begins again.

It’s also led to one of those family-bonding inside jokes.  At least once a week Dad will stand right in front of the refrigerator and yell, “Who’s on dishes?!”  And somebody will yell back, “Look on the chore chart!”

The Day After the Last Day

I walk into the classroom at my normal time, flip on the lights as usual – and find myself looking at a bare classroom. Tables pushed aside, chairs neatly stacked, everything extremely – and unusually – CLEAN.

The bell rings at 8:10, but there’s no cacophony of loud conversations from kids streaming into the building. After the flurry of yesterday’s worship and tears and hugging and graduation, the quiet is eerie. How did we get to this day so quickly?

I know what’s coming next, and I brace for it. In a matter of moments I’m hit by a wave of mixed emotions: relief, sadness, regret, guilt, joy, self-doubt, gratitude. . .

They may be surprised to know it, but I miss my students already. We’ve spent so much time together, shared so much of our lives, prayed for, annoyed, encouraged, and rejoiced with one another. I know all summer long I will think of things to tell them tomorrow – only to realize I won’t be seeing them.

I didn’t get it all done; I never do. I still had things for them to learn, ideas for them to chew over, topics to discuss. And I ask myself the inevitable, annual question: Did I do enough? Quickly followed by the others: What did I miss? Where could I have been more patient and loving? Whose needs went unmet? I know this last year was no cosmic accident: God put those kids in my class on purpose. I will trust that I carried out His work to the best of my ability.

And we did have some good times and some amazing moments. They all grew so much – inside AND out! I do believe they’re ready for what lies ahead, whether it’s 9th grade in junior high or freshman year in high school. And they WILL come back to visit; they always do.

Though they will never again be in Mrs. Acuna’s class, they will forever be MY students, MY “kids.”  I know it’s time to let go, but I’m so glad I can keep on praying for them.

For the next couple of days as I finish up in my classroom, I will hear the echoes of their voices, and I will both chuckle and wince over random memories. Then I will take one last look around the room, close the blinds and turn off the lights, and lock the door behind me. I will head down the hallway as usual – only this time it will be a couple of months before I return.

Class of 2010 in Victoria

Clean-Up Crew

This past Friday was Clean-Up Day in the 8th grade, which meant cleaning not only cubbies which held personal stuff, but also scrubbing tables and counters, cleaning the white boards, and straightening and cleaning the bookshelves.

It’s amazing to see the differences in students’ cleaning abilities.  Some of this is due to personality types:  the compulsive kids will scrub at every little spot, aiming for perfection.  The more laid-back will give a swipe and call it good.

Some of it is due to training.  If they’ve had experience with cleaning at home, they know how to wipe in smaller and smaller circles until they’re down to the last spot.  If they’ve had no experience, they won’t even notice the dust gathered in the corners.

The trickiest part is to keep them focused.  It’s not unusual to find a rag left in the middle of a half-cleaned table.   When I call out, “Who was working here?”  someone will invariably say, “Oh, I was!  I forgot!”  This is usually because someone across the room was doing something hilarious – or at least worth witnessing.

But when it’s all done – and the Picky Mrs. Acuna has given her final approval, there’s a group sense of satisfaction as they look around the room and remark, “Wow!  It’s never been this clean before!”  The students take pride in what they’ve accomplished together, and in a job well done.

Sadly, for some students this is a new feeling, because they’ve not been given the opportunity to do housekeeping chores at home.  Or else their efforts have been so criticized that they’ve only experienced a sense of failure.  Not only do chores create a sense of accomplishment, but some studies show that students who do chores at home are more successful in school.

It can be a major hassle for parents to get teens to help out around the house, and it’s a hard battle to fight after a long day at work.  But there are some tips and tricks that can help, and we’ll discuss those on Wednesday.

(By the way, those same students who felt such a sense of accomplishment in the morning dribbled orange soda on the table tops and left empty cups and plates on the counters later in the day.  One small step at a time. . .)

What’s On Your Face?

We were finishing the video The End of the Spear, watching a scene where a young man learns the difficult truth about his father’s death.  As the camera zoomed in on the young man’s face, I saw his shock, dismay, renewed grief, and difficulty processing what he’d just heard.  From the back of the classroom one of the girls commented, “He looks evil,” and someone else responded, “No, he’s mad.”

Brain science shows that teens don’t read facial expressions the same way adults do.  They can interpret fear as anger, or concern as anger, or surprise as anger. . .you get the picture.  This might explain your teen’s surprising question, “What are you getting so mad about?” when you aren’t mad, just curious.  (Of course, the way in which that question is asked can lead to defensiveness on your part, and the whole situation deteriorating into another heated exchange.)

Once you realize that there’s a possibility your face may not be read correctly, you can be more conscious of your expression.  In my classroom I’ve learned to deliberately smile to indicate I’m teasing.  I also exaggerate confusion, sympathy, or surprise, just to make sure I’m understood.

Try this experiment:  when you’re watching a movie with your teens, ask them what expressions they see on the actors’ faces, especially in dramatic moments.  You should get some interesting results!

(Want to see how well you do with reading facial expressions?  Take a test here:

MyFace and SpaceBook

“Spacebook” is what my husband used to call Facebook before he knew what it was.  Before he got addicted to it.

But he had a good reason for signing on:  he felt so left out when I’d tell him what this son or that son had said, or when the boys and I would laugh together over a video somebody had posted.  He finally got his own account – and then spent six months learning how to use it.

If you still don’t know what social networking is, you’re late for the party.  Facebook and MySpace are here to stay, and most teens have pages on one or both. 

I’ve found Facebook to be a really handy place for keeping in touch with both students and their parents.  On a typical night I might tutor an algebra student, play scrabble with another (or two), advise a parent on how to handle a moody teen, and post a status with a funny comment made in class (“Oo!  Is that Caddleberry chocolate?”).

Aside from school connections, Facebook has provided a way for me to keep in touch with former students (from all the way back to 1982), college buddies, my kids, my friends, and my kids’ friends, among others.  I can strike up a conversation with a friend in New Orleans, or just check out the photos of my high school buddy’s newest grandchild.

For teens, chatting with friends is one of their lowest priorities.  They’re busy posting videos and music, and checking out what their friends have posted.  They love to join – or just “like” – groups with names like Mom/Dad, we’re in public…don’t….don’t do that….,  Why are you sleeping in class? maybe because i wake up at 6 AM to come here, and  Parents call it “Back Talk” we call it “explaining why their wrong”. 

Some of them play games like “Bejeweled Blitz” and try to beat each other’s scores, while others prefer more involved games like “Mafia Wars” or “Farmville” where you try to get other people involved and accomplish specific tasks so you can advance.  (Many adults play these games, too.)

Facebook is also a place to keep track of who’s going out with whom, or who’s just recently broken up.  You can also find out which friends are having birthdays and leave greetings on their “walls.”   It’s pure bliss to sign on when it’s your own birthday and see greetings from friends in far-off places who would never have bothered to send you a card (if they’d even known it was your birthday). 

Myspace is a little like the darker cousin of Facebook.  Because they know fewer adults have accounts, teens feel freer to use language and/or post pictures that might be considered inappropriate.  Myspace also has a grittier, more urban feel (“graffiti-ish” is how one teen described it to me).  When I’ve been asked to deal with drama from online chats gone bad, it’s more often on Myspace than on Facebook.

My point is that if your kids are hanging out via social networking, you should have at least some idea of what they’re doing.  And the best way to do that is to get your own account.  You don’t have to spend hours online; just check in once in awhile to see what’s going on.  Become familiar with how it works, see who your teen’s friends are, have a peek at the photos posted there.  If you discover your teen is engaging in behavior that doesn’t fit with your family’s standards, have a discussion about what’s inappropriate and take steps to correct it.  You do have the ultimate say regarding what your teens do on the internet.

Oh – and if you want to see my Facebook page, just click here: (but you’ll have to sign up for your own account)!