The Homework-Hating Teacher

In my previous life, b.c. (before children), I thought nothing of assigning a hefty amount of homework for my third grade class. They need to review! How else will they remember what I taught them today? It’s good for them to have a routine. I really need to have high expectations… I’m a teacher. Giving homework is part of my job, right?

Fast forward fifteen years and I hate giving homework. I give homework because the teachers in my grade give homework and parents talk, but the reality is, I would give little to none. What’s changed? Have I become more sympathetic? Did my students suddenly become busier? Are they doing better in class, and don’t require the additional work?

Nope. The thing that has changed is that I have children now. I go home to homework, and I am living on the other side.

Regardless of in which camp you’re standing, there are reasons defending the long standing practice of homework and reasons to consider abolishing it all together.

Homework properly given is meant to review, reinforce and keep parents in the loop. It should be relevant to what the students are currently studying and it should be brief. By brief, I mean brief. It should feel like it’s over almost as soon as it’s started.  It’s also about responsibility, following directions and learning to be an independent learner. All of the good stuff that we want our kids to be.

Improperly given, homework can be a drain on students and a demotivator. Regardless of how hard they are working, students are generally “working” for 6-7 hours  a day. When you’re a child, it might as well be forty-three years. Our school starts late; our first bell rings at 9:05 am. It’s fantastic for your late sleepers, but my kids don ‘t get off the bus until 4:15; if the bus is late, 4:30. It’s like dog years; in kid time it’s like 9:00 pm by the time they get home. They are cranky, hungry and burned out. They want to play, they want to cry and they want to run around in circles for no reason. They want to be, ironically, kids.

My children (like a majority of children, I’m guessing),  also have after school activities a couple of days a week. We aren’t over achievers; generally I try to keep each kid to an activity/sport per season for my own sanity. Those evenings are the worst. They’ve worked hard all day at school, they’ve worked hard during practice and then they come home and they work more on homework. We are creating a new generations of little tiny workaholics, but instead of a weak whiskey at the end of the day they have organic milk and sugar free ice cream.  The only time I get to spend with them on those days is when I drag them upstairs and read a story to them while they cry/whimper/whine and eventually pass out cold from exhaustion.

Children need unstructured time for play. Their mental, social and emotional development depends on it.  School is important; I won’t disagree with it because it’s my livelihood. However, if pressed, I’d say that developing age appropriate life skills is more important.  Family time is vitally important as well. Our evening time is limited enough already; I spend more time with my students than my children. I would like to enjoy it doing activities of our choosing, not having the cyclical battle of, “Do I have to do my homework?”

Homework cuts into time for that unstructured free time that is so crucial to develop the inventors, scientists, mathematicians, writers, artists and thinkers of this generation of children. How will they ever develop an original idea if we don’t allow them the time to formulate one?

Stress shouldn’t be a word in a child’s vocabulary. Yet if pressed to define how they feel on weeknights, “stressed” is most likely the word that would define their feelings about their day.  If we find ourselves over scheduled, imagine how a child must feel when they are put into the same position.

Work is important; however, the older I get the more I realize that down-time is equally as important. It’s what keeps us energized and balanced. It’s what keeps our tank full instead of empty. Down-time allows students to recharge and come back to us the next day fresh and ready to work hard once again. If we continually zap their energy stores down into the negative digits with overwhelming work loads, they will never reach their full potential.

Teachers are hesitant to let go of homework. For students that are struggling, it provides the extra layer of practice that they need. It provides structure and routine and exposes students to the material again, with the hope that it will stick eventually. Teachers have always given homework; parents expect homework to be given. If you are a teacher that doesn’t give it, the other teachers hate you for making them look mean; the parents will think you’re a slacker and the students won’t take you seriously. Realistic fears if only one teacher jumps the ship; but these fears would dissolve if we all stood on the side of the ship holding hands and jumped together.

If I could choose, I would pitch homework out the window. The neighborhood kids could all come over and we would have one big, homework filled bon-fire and dance around the flames made of pointless worksheets and repetitive drivel. We would celebrate free evenings with a three legged race and ghost stories when the sun goes down. Families would laugh together, because when the children got off of the bus, there wouldn’t be a battle. The homework swords would never have to be drawn. We would put our happy children to bed knowing that in the morning they would be reenergized and ready to learn once more. The evenings could end in a peaceful kumbaya-like setting. It would be bliss.

And if the neighbors protested, I would assign them a 1,000 word essay, single spaced….for homework.

***As always, I am not an expert on any subject, just opinionated on many. I am writing this in the spirit of humor and sarcasm and it is intended to be read with the same spirit in mind. LG