The Nightly Hell That Is Homework

by Rita Templeton
Originally Published: 
homework hell
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Recently, a letter from a second-grade teacher went massively viral, and for good reason. “There will be no formally assigned homework this year,” she wrote to the parents. “Rather, I ask you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success. Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside, and get your child to bed early.”

Personally, I think she’s onto something. You know what else (probably) correlates with student success? Having parents who are less stressed out. And you know what would make me less stressed? Not having to deal with THE HELLISH NIGHTLY STRUGGLEFEST THAT IS HOMEWORK.

Let me say this: I’m not hating on teachers. Do you hear me, teachers? Bless every one of your saintly souls for doing what you do every day because I can’t even get a handle on it during the evenings. And I’m positive that you’re not sitting in your classrooms plotting to chip away at my sanity one take-home assignment at a time.

It’s just that homework is one more item tossed onto the already overwhelming pile of crap I need to supervise in the span of about four jam-packed weeknight hours. Between 4 o’clock, when my kids get off the bus, and 8 o’clock, when I start attempting to herd them off to bed, there are backpacks to be rifled through, papers to sort and sign, and dinner to be made and eaten and cleaned up after. Then there’s bath time and teeth brushing. Somewhere in there, I like to give my kids a little bit of play time. And all that is on a night when there are no extracurricular activities; throw a team practice or karate class or something in there, and the time crunch is even more evident. Let’s not forget about the fact that kids are freaking slow.

Now then. Add homework into the evening equation. When I say, as cheerfully as I possibly can, “Homework time!” my kids do not exactly drop everything and rush enthusiastically to retrieve their math books and worksheets. No. My call is met with inevitable whining and excessive foot-dragging, slouching apathetically toward the backpacks like an extra from The Walking Dead. Then there’s the complaining that they can’t find a pencil – and when they finally do, it isn’t properly sharpened, which of course warrants another extended search, this time for the pencil sharpener.

But that’s just the preparation, the pre-game. The actual homework process is even more painful. Even if the homework is the easiest, most ridiculously simple task ever (“Color this cat yellow!”), my children act as though they’ve been assigned a college-level dissertation on the olfactory behavior of fruit flies. They slump over the paper like melting candles, writing approximately one word every two minutes in between lamentations such as, “I caaaaan’t,” and “It’s haaaaard,” whether it really is or not. And if they half-ass an answer, I make them do it again — which prompts another, more vehement protest.

It would be nice if I could just say, “Do your homework!” and then walk away. But that works about as well as getting out the ingredients for a meal and then telling it to cook itself. Homework takes assistance, guidance, and redirection. And I really should be doing laundry or something else, but instead, I’m standing over my kids while they complain.

You’d think they’d learn since they’re apparently in such agony, but they never seem to pick up on the fact that it would be much easier for everyone involved if they’d just.get.the.shit.done. Grit your teeth, buckle down, and do it right the first time. Cut out the whining, cut out the procrastination, and you’d be done in half— no, a quarter! — of the time. But try as I might, I just can’t get them to process that. They’d rather turn it into a torturous, hour(s)-long affair.

What’s even worse is when they bring home something that actually is difficult, and then ask for help with it. I literally could not be any more horrible at math if someone paid me to be horrible at math, so when my sixth-grader presents me with some sort of equation that he’s got to break down (and show each step of his work, because of course), I go all glassy-eyed. And trust me, nothing makes you feel more idiotic than being completely stumped by an upper elementary-level question. So we sit there for extended periods of time, both of us uncomfortably struggling, while our reserves of patience dwindle to the very last dregs.

Unless I make some sort of motivational speech that causes a monumental shift in my kids’ attitudes (heh), homework will continue to be the black cloud looming over our evenings. We do it because we have to, but I can’t blame the kids for not wanting to…because neither do I.

It doesn’t matter if it’s easy — it just matters that homework is one more obligation to meet, one more necessary thing to squeeze into the end of the day when, frankly, we’re all kinda tired of squeezing in necessary things.

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