It’s back to school time in the US and back to school means back to hitting the books and back to homework. I can hear a collective groan from all of you. Because I know as well as you do, homework isn’t just for the kids. Homework nowadays is an entire family affair. And for many families, that includes kicking and screaming and tears (and that’s just from the parents). The Monday Morning Moms explore the topic of homework in this post. I, for one am quite conflicted in my views about homework, both as a parent and as someone who works in a school with students. What do my fellow Monday Morning Moms think?
Who’s behind the wheel as we negotiate our way along the homework highway? Writing this piece felt a little bit like doing homework – I may have procrastinated and I may be doing it at the last minute and I may have sighed a bit as I sat down to start (Not that I shared that with my teen because I’m an excellent role-model. That’s not true, I’m more of a no-need-to-repeat-my-mistakes model).
Meanwhile I just proofread my daughter’s essay on the Taming of the Shrew (every woman’s most hated Shakespearean play) listened to her read a speech for her Japanese test tomorrow ( and no I don’t know what she said) oh yeah and she’s playing her clarinet pieces in my ear right now and the dog is singing along.
You guessed it – I’m writing this on Sunday night and twilight depression is descending all over the house. The joy of the weekend is evaporating because – homework.
Primary school homework drove me crazy for the sheer mind- numbing monotony of it. The repetitiveness and lack of imagination some of the teachers showed did my head in. If writing your times tables out didn’t help you learn them in year three or four chances are writing them in year five was a big-fat waste of time. That didn’t suit your learning style and it was pointless. And if you already knew them it was a total snooze-fest. At one parent-teacher my daughter suggested to the teacher that there had to be a more fun way to do times tables…nothing changed. (Well actually I taught her in the car and bribed her with a trip to a water-park and she knew them inside out and back to front in under a week and then I let her just copy them without reading from then on.)
And don’t get me started on books – when the kid in your in-class reading group can literally read the books upside down at age seven, more needs to be done for those kids. Just like the kids who struggle all day don’t need to go home and struggle all night.
Still worse than the homework were the projects. I remember as a kid being incensed when my peers got good marks on projects we all knew their mothers had done and fast-forward thirty years and nothing much changed.
My own mother was an infants and primary teacher for over fifty years and never did my projects. She did give me a wonderful insight though when I was incensed again on my own daughter’s behalf.
“Mon, you can always tell if the parent did the project of if the kid did it – if the kid isn’t allowed to carry their own diorama in the door you know it is because the mother (or father or grandma) is worried he’ll drop all her hard work.”
I’ve since sat watching kids carry their work in with great amusement and even shared this tip with several teachers I know who all now do the same.
High school homework is a whole different issue. It’s all about time management and juggling the conflicting needs of a whole bunch of teachers. As a parent you have to be hands-off. Step away from the schedule people because the little Prince or Princess has to work that out for themselves. You can’t stand over a sixteen year old and make them do their homework, or practice their clarinet or get their assignment done early.
Still there are ways you can be supportive and help them get through it. You can ask them what they have coming up? You can remind them that sure that’s not due until next week but they have a music festival, a slumber party, three other projects and grandma’s birthday between now and then. You can listen to them when they read their Japanese speech out or quiz them from their notes (if they’re open to that) but they’ve got to be driving it, not you.
The truth is by high school they’re the driver and you’re the pit crew.
And you can do the practical stuff to help them but they’ve got the wheel – keep them fed on green veggies and protein, encourage sleep and make sure you NEVER run out of printer ink.
What do I know about homework was my first thought when the Monday Morning Mom’s came up with this topic. I don’t have any children; so dealing with the drama associated with it is so far off my radar. And since my life has been so crazy lately I barely remember yesterday, yet alone my school days when I was bombarded with homework myself.
So for weeks I have been wracking my brain obsessing about a subject I thought was a thing of my past. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized while I don’t remember the assignments, the lessons I learned from homework, shaped my present.
I remember being in third grade. I was so jealous of my best friend. Every day her mother would sit with her and they’d do homework together. Well, maybe the together part was an exaggeration. Her mother actually did the majority of the work while my friend sat idly by and reaped the benefits of a freshly filled notebook. After spending a night at her house I whined to my mom, because unlike my friend’s mom, she made me do my own homework. Very seriously she looked at me and said, “Why should I do your homework? It’s yours, not mine. I already did mine when I was in school. Now if you have a question, that’s another story. But you have to do the work.”
I wasn’t happy at the time, but I grabbed my notebook, my pencil, and sat down. I didn’t have any questions. I just worked until I was finished. And as I look back now, I realized the lesson my mom taught me that night was one of the most important I would ever learn. To succeed for yourself you have to do the work yourself!
I’ve pretty much have always been a classic overachiever. I’ve never shied away from working hard, or doing any task that is required at the time. When I mentor recent college graduates I give them the same advice. Work not at the job you have, work as if you have the job you want.
When I was in school, homework was solely for the student to do. MAYBE in the lower grades you occasionally asked your parent or older sibling for help with a math problem or something, but back then, the point of homework was so that you could review the day’s lesson the teacher could see that you learned something that day (or if you needed to go over a concept again). Homework wasn’t meant to take you all night (although with my crippling need for perfection, homework would often take me twice as long as a normal person because I would redo it if I thought my handwriting was sloppy). Other than a few times where I was stumped in math (I still hate math), I do not recall my parents ever helping me with it or even asking me if I had it. It was my responsibility and it’s what made me a responsible adult. But homework back then was simple.
Homework in recent years has gotten a little ridiculous. It’s somehow evolved from a review process to all out “Lets get the whole family involved” process. Why is that? Is it because it’s become too challenging for the students? Are we expecting too much out of them? Homework isn’t just a few sheets of math problems anymore…it’s projects and dioramas and Power Point presentations. And that’s just for elementary school kids.
I stay away from the homework with my kids . I’ll ask them if they have it and get on their case if I go online to their grades and see things missing, but otherwise, I feel it’s their responsibility. While I am very lucky because my kids do their homework without constant reminder and I probably couldn’t help the little smartie pants if I tried, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by my kids that their homework consisted of family “involvement”. For example, one of my son’s English teachers wanted the parents to read their kid’s essays and then edit and critique it. Um, isn’t that what you’re paid for? I already did seventh grade, thank you very much. I’ve had to go to craft stores and spend big bucks on styrafoam balls (who knew they were so expensive?) for science projects. I’ve had to construct bridges out of wood and chain link fences (okay, my husband did that). What happened to kids putting together stuff from around the house?
I get that maybe the teachers do this so that parents know what’s going on in their kid’s scholastic life, but let’s be honest…the parents that are involved are involved and the ones that aren’t, won’t be no matter what the assignment. And besides, that’s not the purpose of homework. Giving ME homework doesn’t help my kid. It’s certainly taking some of the responsibility off of them and putting it on me. And hell, I’ve got enough responsibility. You know, keeping them alive and all that.
So I welcome back the homework for the kids…if it’s fair and has it’s merits. But if it’s just busy work? Well, that’s kind of pointless, isn’t it? That’s like your boss telling you to line up his bottle cap collection in alphabetical order—just to give you something to do. If there’s no reason for homework, don’t just assign it. Or assign what kids don’t complete in class. Oh, and leave me out of it. I don’t do homework anymore.