I was vacuuming the floor under the dining room table yesterday with the small hand-vac (since that’s the only functional vacuum we currently have), and Linus and Logic were milling around excitedly, as they always do when a vacuum is involved.

Vacuuming Linus’ toes with the hand-vac is entertaining because he makes Chewbacca noises.

Bad Choice of Name…

I am a math tutor. People come to my house, and I try to awaken them to the thrills of mathematics. It doesn’t always work.

This summer, I have a very active tutoring schedule, two days a week. I tutor from 8:30-3:30 Mondays and Thursdays. Some kids are getting caught up in Algebra I, some are trying to get ahead in Geometry or Algebra II, and others are coming for SAT/ACT prep.

It’s the latter that I will talk about today.

A few weeks ago, I met with a girl for the first time, to try to get her ready for that weekend’s SAT II tests. I was explaining to her that most problems on the SAT have more to do with logic and less to do with math than one might expect. So you have to approach each problem with that in mind — watching both the question and the multiple choice answers for clues on how to get the answer that the test creators were looking for. And probably my very best tip to kids is to STOP working the problem when they know that their answer is correct — just because every math teacher and class you have ever had has required that you finish a problem doesn’t mean you have to now. If you KNOW that the last digit of the answer is 5, and there is only ONE choice in the answers that HAS a last digit of five, QUIT. Black in the answer on your answer sheet, and move on to the next question. That is probably the very hardest habit to break for most kids… They have been trained to finish their multiplication and work out each and every problem completely. But the SAT rewards people that quit when they know that their answer is the right one, whether or not they actually finished the math involved.

But I digress.

Anyway, I had just told Tutoring Student #507 that she needed to sharpen her logic skills in order to attack problems of the type that we were working on. She was working through a problem, doing really well, when the dogs decided to bark at a squirrel or something. On impulse, I sharply said, “LOGIC!” and my poor student jumped.

Logic, the dog, skulked away and stopped barking at the happenings outdoors. #507 looked down at her test booklet in horror. I realized how awful that must have seemed almost instantaneously, and said, “Oh, gosh, no, I’m sorry — the dog’s NAME is ‘Logic,’ see, I wasn’t fussing at you at all, you’re doing great! Keep going — you’re on the right track.”

After the initial shock and awkwardness, we had a good laugh and I’m sure she told her mother about THAT one…

And now I’ll remember that I need to preface my discussions about how one must use logic to do these problems with “oh, and by the way, my dog’s name is Logic so if he barks I’m probably going to fuss at him… Don’t think I’m fussing at you…”

Really, it was pretty funny. But I felt really bad because I know I scared #507 with that admonition. Tee hee… “Mommmmmm, the tutor yelllllled at meeeeeeee…..”


When we were first training dogs, one of the things that was said in a puppy class was that you have to “find your dog’s currency and then deal in it.” That currency could be cheese, hot dogs, a tennis ball, positive attention, ear scratches, whatever your dog LOVES. You’ve gotta figure out what motivates the dog before you’ll be able to get the dog to do what you want them to do. The dog has to feel like the inconvenience of performing the command is worth it if they get the reward that they want. Linus’ currency is turkey hot dogs, and Logic needs positive attention with occasional food treats.

I’ve found that this is true for more than just dogs. It’s true for people, too. When I was teaching middle schoolers, homework passes and bonus points were their currency. Kids will SKIP the 5-point problems on a test, run out of time to finish the test, and yet they still will have tried the 3-point bonuses. Makes no sense whatsoever, but it seems to be universal. And you can explain to a kid until you’re blue in the face that the REAL problems are worth more, but if they see the word “bonus” they’re suckers for it.

Helen’s currency is M&Ms and/or ice cream. She will do just about ANYthing for the promise of either of those. If I want her to eat her green beans and she won’t cooperate, I’ll just get out the ice cream and make myself a bowl, and enjoy it just a leeeeeeeeeetle bit too much. And suddenly Helen will inhale the green beans. I don’t do this EVERY time, mind you — I do not plan on having children with weight problems.

My mom found with us that we’d have impeccable table manners if at the beginning of the meal, 5 M&Ms were lined up at each place (including hers and Dad’s). For every manner infraction, one M&M was subtracted from your line (and added to the line of the person who noticed your mistake and voiced it). Occasionally she and Dad would flagrantly mess up on purpose — talking with their mouth full or putting their elbows on the table, just to give us a freebie. But the competition among siblings to keep all five of our M&Ms and NOT let a sib catch us messing up made for some very peaceful dinners:
“Would you please pass the salt, please, dearest brother?”
“Why, yes, my adorable little sister, here is the salt.”
“Thank you ever so very much.”
“You are so very welcome, it was my pleasure.”

Alice’s currency right now seems to be hugs and positive attention, but as she gets more verbal and understands more, it will be interesting to see what really motivates her. She’s a fiend for the M&Ms at the ends of meals now, too, though she doesn’t know why she’s getting them. Mostly, she just gets them for being cute, and for using words instead of grunting when she wants something.

My currency? Do things (particularly around the house) for me and I’ll be your slave. Gary Chapman calls this my Love Language: Acts of Service. I’ll admit it. I’m definitely motivated by that.

Jerry’s Love Language is Quality Time — sometimes all he needs is for me to sit in the same room with him. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we don’t. He just needs me to stop. moving. for. a. minute. and sit down with him. That’s hard for me to do, but when I DO it, the difference in his demeanor is amazing.

What’s your currency, or your Love Language?