Saturday, May 12, 2012

Let's Take the "Home" Out of Homework

Let me start with a warning.  If you are easily threatened when the status quo is challenged, best you stop reading now.  Go check out the Everyday Math website for parent help with homework.  If you are a teacher who swears by homework, stop reading. Please.  I'm sure you are a wonderful teacher; we'll just need to agree to disagree.

Now, here's a shocking revelation.  I HATE homework.  I don't like assigning it, grading it or doing it with my bio-kids at home.  It hasn't always been this way.  When I started teaching second grade almost twenty years ago I assigned weekly spelling homework, because that's just what we did.  I tried to provide choice and make it "fun," but let's call a spade a spade, when you "assign" something, it's work. Plain and simple.

Parents would challenge me once in a while and I stood my ground, homework was assigned Monday and due Friday, they had ALL WEEK to do it.  I couldn't understand the fuss.  Then I had kids.

I now go to school, teach fourth grade all day.  Do all the e-mailing of parents and prep required for the next day and rush home to my own kids.  We eat a snack and then sit at the counter to do MORE fourth grade work.  Then we rush off to dance, or baseball, soccer, whatever happens to be on the docket (and trust me, I limit the docket). As I was helping my oldest son with his latest unclear homework assignment, that irritated feeling struck me again.  Who the heck are teachers to dictate how families spend their precious home time with their children?  

I know teaching is an exception, but how many hourly employees go to work all day and then come home to continue their hourly work?  We teachers bemoan how kids come to school without imagination, unable to think for themselves, their parents aren't having rich conversations with them.  Perhaps it's because these families are too busy completing worksheet after worksheet.

As a mom it's my job to love my kids, to teach them right from wrong, to nurture their interests and develop their little spirits.  As a teacher it's my job to teach my students how to read, write, compute, think, and present their ideas.  I'm not saying that these two jobs should never cross, but I am getting a little tired of the lines crossing too much.  

Great cognitive development happens through unstructured outside play.  As I sit inside on the first sunny day we've had all week working on this infernal famous person report I feel that both the teacher and I are doing a disservice to my son by denying him the opportunity to let home be home.  It is insulting to families to assume that without a teacher's directive they are incapable of raising their students.  What if the reverse were true?  What if I sent to the teacher the list of what my son should be doing at school?

If a parent would like suggestions of how to enhance the work of the school at home I am happy to provide direction.  In fact, next year I think my "homework" will consist of a monthly letter of "cool stuff to try with your kid at home." In other words, here's a list of things I don't have the money or time to do with all the kids, but it's pretty neat.  I will not collect homework, unless mandated to do so by administration (I sure hope they aren't reading this).  

It comes down to this:  I trust parents to do what they feel is best for their kids at home, and I hope to earn their trust that I do what I feel is best for their kids at school.  Now go play with your kid.    


  1. Yes! Yes! Yes! I HATE spending the last few hours of daylight trying to explain why homework must be done, when I don't even think we should be sitting at the table doing homework.

    1. Amen Raina.
      Let me tutor your kids. I promise I won't send homework!

  2. I agree 100%!! I began homeschooling my kids, in part, because of the ridiculous load of work put on my 4th grader every night. She would come home at 3:30, eat a snack and get to work on her homework. The average night included 20-30 minutes of reading, math assignments, history/geography assignment(s), studying of spelling words, and writing a paper. After getting up at 6:00am, being at school all day, and then coming home to yet more work she was becoming very discouraged and frustrated. Half way through her homework she was exhausted and in tears. At that point (and way before it, if you ask me) she was done learning (in that way anyways- we are always learning). She had had enough. Many nights she was up at 11:00pm trying to finish- only to get up 6-7 hrs later and repeat the process. I could see her love of learning being sucked out of her by the day. Something had to be done! After a teacher tore up a paper that she was trying to finish in class, because she was too tired to finish the night before, I was done! To make matters worse the teacher lied when she was confronted in a conference consisting of my husband and I. We couldn't understand why you would punish (at least so severely) a child who was TRYING to do her work! There are lots of kids out there that get away every day with doing little to nothing, day after day! Anyways, thank you for your blog post! I wish more teachers thought like you!

    1. Early on in my teaching career I had a mother of a first grade student call me at 9:00pm incensed because her child was in tears over "homework" I had assigned. The case was the kids were really jazzed about retelling the story of the Three Little Pigs. I told them if they wanted to finish it at home they could. IF. The poor kiddo interpreted that as a mandate to finish the work at home. I felt horrible when her mom called and assured the mom and the kid that she would have time to work on the story at school.

      I think as my own children grew to be school aged I realized how precious my time at home was with them. I didn't want school interfering with our games of chess and monopoly or our snowshoeing outside following animal tracks. It is time to respect the work parents do with their kids at home and perhaps trust that they too might have an idea of how to teach their children beyond the curriculum mandated by the state.

      Thanks for responding. I love the opportunity to think more about this. I wish more teachers would read narratives like yours. Maybe it could help everyone gain some perspective.

  3. The problem with the premise is that you lump all homework together. Couldn't it be possible that some homework is worthwhile while some is not? Practicing multiplication seems like something that would benefit some kids. What about reading? Or what about kids who need a little more time to complete their work? If they cannot get it done that day, does that mean they just fail? These are all left unanswered, and starting out by saying we should just agree to disagree is a cop out.

    1. Kyle,
      I agree that all homework is not created equal. Some work is actually pertinent to the standards set before teachers. If parents (or older students) have the time, ability and inclination to continue their studies at home I'm all for supporting that interest. I'd be happy to make suggestions of how to get the most bang for your buck regarding time spent studying. However, I do not believe it is my place to dictate how a family spends their time at home. I certainly find it offensive to police this time by requiring parents sign a paper documenting the minutes they have spent reading with their child. I trust parents want to do what's best for their children to the best of their ability.
      I also know that having a teacher's schedule makes me far more capable of spending time working with my kids at home than somebody working far more hours for far less money.

      As for kids who need more time to finish their work, I challenge teachers to modify assignments so that all kids can finish their work during the confines of the school day. If a mechanic hasn't solved the problem of a blown transmission at the end of the day, she doesn't take the motor home with her to work on before dinner. Kids shouldn't fail because they don't finish work within a school day if they are giving an earnest effort. If they are giving an earnest effort all day, why should we punish them by making them continue struggling after the day is over? It's like telling a person with bad eyesight to just keep looking harder.

      You and I teach at different grade levels. I might feel differently if I taught middle school. But at the primary level I don't like homework as a teacher or a parent. As for agreeing to disagree, I stand by the comment. Part of being an adult is the ability to realize you won't be on the same page with every person all the time, yet you can still respect their thoughts. As I do yours. Thanks for your feedback Kyle. I appreciate the discourse.

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  5. Word. I think you should be appointed education commissioner. You know, after that nutjob is out of office.

    It took almost a year of my first kid crying over kindergarten homework for me to figure that out (and then I found out it was OPTIONAL!). Now if we're too tired or cranky or it's just too nice out, the homework doesn't happen (for the first-graders--the fifth-grader is another story, but getting home from a baseball game at 9 p.m. and then sweating through an hour of homework for a kid that needs a solid 11 hours of sleep a night is akin to torture).