I hate homework.
There, I said it.
As a teacher, and as a mom of four, I truly and honestly hate homework. Aside from the fact that there is no research that proves that there are any benefits to homework at the elementary level, and that it directly affects my sanity, and the sanity of my family (trust me, we have enough fighting going on in this house – we don’t need to add homework to the list, but we do), homework has traumatized me as a child and it took away my love of learning for a long, long time.
I was that kid in school. The one who struggled and needed extra support. The one who was pulled out of class to practice counting to 100. And then to practice reading and writing. I was the kid who actually hated reading and writing, because despite my best efforts, I always fell short. Always. And you know what that meant? More practice at home. More homework. More hours doing worksheets and memorizing French and English Spelling Test words, only to forget them seconds after I wrote the test. More tears. More stress. I always felt like a failure.
My parents were patient and supported me the best they knew how. They relied on what the teachers told them would be helpful and would spend hours and hours working with me. My mom did the languages, while my dad took over the math and sciences. All of that effort taught me to work hard, but did very little for my academic success which completely squashed my confidence. To this day, I fear having to read in front of others, and don’t even talk to me about having to write something on chart paper in group work during a workshop. I. Will. Not. Do. It.
I knew the day would come where my own children would be assigned homework. Up until now, I’ve been able to meet with teachers, explain my point of view and reasoning, and they’ve been open to making changes, at least for my children. But, my older boys are now in grades 4 and 2 and my twins are starting kindergarten. These conversations are becoming more challenging and uncomfortable to have with each passing year.
Navigating my children’s teachers’ beliefs, philosophies, policies, and pedagogical priorities are creating a slippery slope as I balance my roles as educator and parent.
I don’t know how to do this. I am struggling. So I write, trying to make sense of the mess that is in my head. And I know I’m not alone.
Here is what I know: I wholeheartedly believe that teachers are doing the best that we can with what we know. I don’t think that we are intentionally doing certain things because we are out to harm kids. We want what is best for kids, and we do what we think is best, but sometimes we fall in the trap of doing something because it’s always been done that way.
For example, my nine year old is expected to complete homework every night which includes French and English spelling words to study and at least 20 minutes of reading (those minutes are part of a reward system, which could be a whole other blog all on its own… but at least the reward is a Slurpee, and I love Slurpees, so there’s that). So, reading and spelling words. Not too bad, right? But he also has to complete worksheets each week and prepare an oral presentation each month.
He has worked hard all day at school and comes home tired. Is the extra effort he’s putting into doing his homework going to give him something worthwhile in return?
Is he gaining “responsibility” through this experience? Not really. Rather, he is frustrated by having me nag at him for not doing his homework independently and I’m frustrated because my limited quality time with him is spent arguing about assignments instead of strengthening our bond as parent and child.
Does it increase a student’s love of learning?
Does it significantly increase learning?
Does it stimulate students’ interest in the subject and make them want to delve deeper?
Are students able to complete the assignment without help?
Is it differentiated ability or interest?
If the students didn’t have to do it, would they want to do it anyway?
Is it fair to all students, especially those from poorer families and less-educated households?
Does it avoid causing fights, parents/child division, and lack of harmony in the home?
So, here I am, once again, at a crossroads. I want what is best for my kids. I am their advocate… if I don’t stick up for them, then what? And I realize that I am in the minority as a parent and teacher who understands twenty first century pedagogy, but I don’t want to be that parent. I feel stuck and don’t know what would be the best way to proceed.
Sure, I can try to explain to my son that I’d rather he continues to read for pleasure instead of for Slurpees, but if Slurpees were on the line, even I wouldn’t easily be convinced (you feel me Mike?).
We could choose not to study for the spelling tests, and I could explain to him how this won’t affect his learning, but what happens if he does poorly on the tests, because he has to take them, and then begins to believe that he’s not succeeding?
We could agree not to complete the worksheets, which would mean he would probably lose points, and I’m not sure what that would mean for his grades and report card.
We could play by the rules and do what is asked, and I will try my best to hold it together.
I could bend the rules, and do the homework for him (because we all know that is a thing!)
I could set up a meeting with the teachers and explain my perspective like I have in the past, and then take it from there. I will keep fighting the good fight, and who knows, maybe they will ask for more information, and I could gift them Matt and Alice’s book, like my son suggested.
How do you handle homework challenges with your own kids? I would love to learn and grow from your suggestions. Surely I can’t be alone.