As a former educator, I am almost always on board with what my kids’ teachers ask of them, and of me, as their parent. I know that today’s teachers are bogged down with standardized test scores, constant budget cuts, and face challenges that teachers of generations before didn’t. And regarding the great homework debate, I don’t mind that my kids have it. In fact, I completely understand why they have it, and fully support their teachers by making sure it gets done.
This past winter break, however, was different. For the first time since becoming a parent, when I saw my 3rd grader’s reading assignment, instead of my usual “Sure! Okay. Got it!” my response this time was “WTF?” and “Hell no.”
This is why.
Winter break is exactly 10 days long in our school district. For my kids, 8 1/2 of those days were spent either traveling to visit family or hosting our own family, some of whom we only see a couple times a year. I understand that my children’s teachers should not revolve their assignments around the fact that we may have a busier break than others. I expected them to have homework—a bit of math, some light reading, maybe a creative project, some research—whatever it was, we’d get it done.
But when I saw that my 3rd grader was assigned 180 minutes of reading to be done over the course of 10 days, I didn’t respond with positivity. Or a sense of cooperation.
Not only was this his assignment, but if he and his classmates didn’t honor it, they were told they’d lose privileges upon their return to school. Oh, and the kicker—at the top of the assignment were the words “Let’s celebrate our love for reading over break!”
What exactly is the message here? How exactly is this encouraging kids to “celebrate their love for reading”? During the regular school year, the average nightly reading assignment for 3rd graders is 20 minutes. 180 minutes means they were granted one night off over the 10-day break if they kept to the 20 minutes per day schedule. If they doubled up (or even tripled), they’d get more days off.
For some kids, like my 5th grader, who gets lost in a book no matter where she is and would read Harry Potter through a tornado, reading this many minutes in 10 days is a breeze. And for some kids who have a lazy 10-day break full of vegging out in front of the TV or iPad for hours on end, maybe fitting an assignment of this magnitude is more feasible.
But for my 3rd grader who isn’t a natural book lover and who needs to be prodded to sit with a book, and for our busy family who hit the ground running on day one of break and pretty much never stopped, this was going to be no small feat.
So guess what?
We didn’t do it.
I mean, we didn’t do all of it.
Did my kids read over break? Of course. They all received new books under the tree. My book nerd disappeared periodically and probably read an hour a day, despite our cross-country travels and hosting out of town guests. My youngest practiced his letters and numbers and sight words here and there. And we all did bedtime stories every few nights.
But other nights, we didn’t. Other nights we all fell asleep on the couch after a movie marathon of Elf and The Grinch. Some days were chock full of sledding and baking cookies, playing with race cars and playing hockey, and crafting and dress-up. And on those busy days, I’ll tell you what I didn’t stress about—those 20 minutes of reading.
I understand the mindset behind homework, even homework over a break. When I was in the classroom, I usually assigned my students something to keep their minds active over those days. Maybe it was to finish the book or math unit we hadn’t quite completed. Sometimes it was just review to ensure we could jump ahead as soon as we got back, as time was ticking.
I get it, teachers. I do.
But even though I’m a former teacher, I’m a mom first—a mom to a bunch of kids who needed a break as much as the adults in their lives did. We spent our 10 days enjoying new toys from Santa, playing family board games, laughing, singing, and staying up late and sleeping in. I promise you those days included reading. A lot of reading. But no, my kid didn’t read 180 minutes, even though his reading log said he did.
Did I tell my child that I lied to his teacher? Nope. Because I don’t want to set that example. I respect our teachers and value the tremendous work they put in to my children’s education. I decided, instead, to “fudge” the clock a bit. For example, if he sat down to read 20 minutes, I let him quit after 10. He didn’t glance at the clock as he tossed his book aside to go grab a baseball glove or video game controller, so he was none the wiser as I filled out his form. Because the truth is, my child would have completed the entire assignment. It was my choice to let it slide. He didn’t deserve a consequence come January 2, and I wasn’t about to let him face one when he did nothing wrong.
My 8-year-old thinks he completed his entire reading assignment, which is a good thing. But most importantly, he had the winter break he needed and deserved (we all did).
And I’m pretty sure his teacher knows a lot of us “fudged” our kids’ winter break reading logs. After all, she was on break too. And I hope she slept in, enjoyed her gifts from Santa, baked cookies, and watched Christmas movies too. Because she sure deserved it.