Shelf life - FamilyEducation

Shelf life

November 04,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

My students have been working on a debate project these past two weeks--preparing and writing opening statements, and presenting these in the formal setting of an actual in-class debate. It hasn't been all smooth, I have to say. I've done this project three semesters now, and every semester I learn something new; I tweak the assignment accordingly for the next time I use it, then I learn something more and tweak again, and so on. This time around has been particularly challenging, though, as the assignment worked as expected for one class, was a little disastrous for another, and produced some unexpected results for the third. I felt a little frustrated that the exact same assignment had produced such different results, and I felt tired just thinking about how I could fix it all for the second round next week. I've faced lots of similar challenges this semester. Three days a week I teach three back-to-back sections of the same composition class. Same book, same material, same syllabus, but mind-bendingly different approaches/results each time. Still, if there's one thing you learn as a teacher it's that very little you do once in a classroom will work flawlessly the second time around, or the third time, even. Kind of like those parenting tricks, we pull out, really. **************** We're trying a new motivational chart system at our house these days, in the hopes that we can encourage L. to show more independence initiating the end-of-the-day and morning routines--the two most challenging, most exhausting parts of our day. As usually happens, this new motivational chart was borne from an obsessive itch L. has had for the past couple of weeks over getting some funds for "station cash" for a Star Wars online game he's been playing. $5 worth of station cash would, apparently, allow him to buy some souped-up Clone Trooper armor for his virtual Clone Trooper. The past few night's bedtime and morning routines had been particularly excrutiating, so I jumped on L.'s pleading request for $5. I made a quick, impromptu chart, and told L. he needed to earn 12 stars that week, in certain categories, in order to earn $5 on the weekend for his station cash. I felt really pleased with it all. As happens whenever we hit upon a motivational technique that actually works with our impossible-to-motivate-son, I felt successful and positive and confident as a parent. All week long L. dutifully headed into the bathroom at night for his shower after only one or two reminders. He brushed his teeth with minimal nagging from us. He turned off his main light at 9:30, and kept it off. In the morning he was up out of bed after only a couple of reminders. He asked his "connecting question" at mealtimes and by the end of the week he had 12 stars, just like he needed. I felt so good about it all that when we stopped into Office Max for graph paper I bought a package of responsibility charts and put another one up for L., and one for T. Now, five days into the new charts, T.'s is filled up with stars and L.'s...isn't. Not a one. "Don't you want more station cash?" I asked him in frustration last night, when it took the two of us over thirty minutes to get him to leave his room and head into the bathroom, and another thirty to get him to brush his teeth. "I don't need any station cash now," he said, simply. "But what about the CHART?" I asked him, pointing desperately to where it was hanging, right outside the bathroom door. He sighed. "Look Mama," he said. "Just because it worked LAST week, doesn't mean it will work this week."