Welcome Back To Homework

by Kate Fries
Originally Published: 

My kids just started their fourth week of school. The excitement over new teachers and fresh school supplies has waned, and cold, hard reality is beginning to set in. We cruised along for the first few weeks of the school year—a blessing, because I returned to full-time work outside of the home the same week school started, and it took some time to figure out our family’s new routine. But now, the homework train has rolled into town, which means it’s time for me to go on my annual homework rant. (Ahem.)

Teachers, I love you, and I think you’re awesome. I was raised by public school educators, and some of my best friends are teachers. I honestly could not do your job and appreciate everything you do for my children. That said, will you please keep a few things in mind when assigning homework this year?

1. Homework should review concepts previously studied in class and measure a student’s understanding of the given subject. If graded, it should be for credit/no credit based on whether it was completed or not. Assigning letter grades to homework unfairly penalizes students who may not have understood the material. Used properly, homework is an assessment you can use to determine if a student needs extra help—so you can then offer that help or get parents involved, if necessary. It’s very frustrating, as a parent, to know my kid did the homework assignment but lost points because he didn’t answer every question correctly. (If my kid just doesn’t turn in a homework assignment? Give him a zero. We’re in total agreement on that point.)

2. Teachers, please do not make me do homework so I can review my child’s homework. I worked really hard to get my degree in writing and become a person who writes things for the Internet. Am I wrong to assume my reward for persistently chasing after a career in the arts should be never having to do seventh-grade algebra again? It was bad enough the first time. Yet, as I sit with my son and try to correct his algebra homework before he turns it in (because, apparently, my seventh-grader’s algebra homework receives a letter grade—see above), I find myself looking up the old acronym and reflexively reaching for a calculator. I’m living out an actual recurring nightmare I’ve had, the one in which I have to do math for some class I wasn’t aware I signed up for.

3. “Family” homework. No. Just no. I have yet to meet a parent who enjoys family homework. I know it’s often assigned under the guise of a “fun, family-bonding activity,” but it’s really a contest to see which moms and dads have the most Pinterest street cred. Family homework usually relies on creativity, talent and/or glue guns to produce a “working” leprechaun trap or an “All About Me” collage. It supposes we have nothing better to do with our time. It is usually assigned in addition to our kids’ regularly assigned homework and often over the weekend. And most egregiously, it often penalizes the student for a non-crafty parent’s failure to produce Pinterest-worthy results (because you know that second-grader is not going to make a “realistic” papier–mâché duck on his own). I’ll concede that this type of bonding activity is a lot of fun for some families, but I’d rather bond on a nature hike or over a Star Wars movie marathon.

4. Time spent on homework should be grade-level appropriate. Last year my third-grader had two hours of homework (too much) and my sixth–grader had 20 minutes of homework (too little) each night. That’s just wrong.

5. Homework should be assigned, yes—but it shouldn’t be so much that it doesn’t leave room for kids to be kids. After six hours at school, the last thing my kids want to do is return home only to do yet more work. And the last thing I want to do is nag them all evening. So much of what kids learn goes beyond the academics learned in the classroom. After-school athletics, music lessons or a game of Settlers of Catan played together as a family offer opportunities to learn about good sportsmanship, friendship, art and strategy. I am not ashamed to admit I let my kids watch an hour of television each night if their homework and chores are finished. Yes, sometimes it’s the evening news or Cosmos, but just as often, it is Parks and Recreation or Fresh Off the Boat. Maybe one of them will be inspired to be a scientist or a comedy writer. Honestly, even if they learn nothing from their shows, I really don’t care, because they need downtime. We all need time to run around outside or make music or chill out in front of the television. If my kids are doing homework all night, they can’t do those things, and we all suffer.

I am actually a huge proponent of homework. I understand it’s a necessity, and I encourage it because I do believe it has value. But I’ve also seen how it can easily turn ugly, pitting family members against each other and resulting in cranky, overworked kids and stressed-out parents. It’s only the first month of school. I think I speak for most parents when I ask you to remember the work-life balance (yes, the one we adults are told to be so mindful of) when assigning homework to our kids.

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