Wednesday, August 31, 2016


There's recently been a teacher's note that went viral about why she was not going to assign homework this school year:

It states that homework will not be assigned, and that studies have been unable to prove that homework improves learning. She goes on to give ideas or time better spent in the evenings such as eating dinner as a family, reading, playing and getting more sleep. I agree with her list of alternatives - all those things make for a more well-rounded, kind, and more confident kid. I have not taken the time to look at studies about the topic, although I'm pretty sure that if I looked hard enough I can find studies that support and debunk her theory. But, I can recall my experience with homework and the struggle I have as a parent when my daughter comes home time and time again with no homework.

I got homework in nearly every subject every night. We were assigned work to do in the class room and if that wasn't complete by the end of the lesson, it was added to the homework already assigned. Aside from core subjects, I had weekly spelling words, religion homework and memory work. I recall falling asleep on my textbooks, crying because my bedtime was approaching and I was not finished, worrying that I would forget the order of letters for my weekly spelling test, and even doing homework in the back of a family room during a funeral.

Homework was serious business in my household. But, we still did all the other things on the list the teacher provided. Family dinner was a must and the books were to be put away before my mom set the table. The rule was that homework and studying had to be done by bath time, which was about half hour before bedtime. If I could not meet that deadline, I knew I was going to lose out on a privilege or treat later that week. I found the time to read for fun, play with my siblings and friends, and even get about 10 hours of sleep per night. I also rode my bike and played in the snow, despite having hours of homework. 

Maybe I was a super nerd, but for the most part, I enjoyed doing homework. It wasn't necessarily the act of the work, but doing a good job, turning in neat and completed assignments that showed my understanding of the subject matter, and making my teacher and parents proud were important to me. Aside from that, I felt a sense of accomplishment at the end of week when I knew that I had kept up with everything that was expected of me. Sure, there were times when I didn't want to do it and whined and cried about it, but that was not the majority of the time. 

Looking back, having regular homework taught me a lot about myself, what I am capable of and how to study. That feeling of doing a good job and taking pride in my work stayed with  me well beyond my school days. It is part of my every day whether  at work or writing a story. It was what pushed me to get an MFA in writing even though I know that publication is possible without an advanced degree. 

I learned to be disciplined. Playing, reading and being with family and friends were all more attractive ways to spend time that doing homework, but I knew those things were waiting for me at the finish line and the faster I did my work, the sooner I could get to them. Homework taught me to prioritize my time, which has paid off in the time management I use on a daily basis. People often ask me how I find time to blog, write novels, raise a child, work and full and part time job, volunteer and make time for a social life. It's thanks in part to learning how to set and manage time from the days of sitting at my kitchen table completing assignment after assignment. 

If I hadn't created the habit of homework plus studying for weekly spelling and memory tests I might have been one of those first-generation college undergrads who doesn't survive their first semester because they don't know how to study. As sad as that sounds, I saw a lot of that my first year in college and am proud to this day that I did not fall into that statistic. 

Day after day my daughter comes home with no homework. I have had to implement a daily reading and math practice regimen in order to try to help her develop some of the habits and learn some of the life lessons that regular homework taught me. It's tough, though because she knows she isn't getting credit for it and she doesn't understand the long-term benefits those habits can lead to. I get it. I didn't see it at her age, either, but I didn't have the option of resisting. I knew good grades would be my ticket out of my neighborhood and there was no time to waste complaining or bucking the responsibility. Besides, my parents would never have allowed that kind of slack and poor attitude from me. I try, but I am afraid that I am failing to create the same helpful lessons in my kid. I fear that she will become a statistic and will be ill-prepared to face the self-motivation and resolve it takes to be a high achieving adult. When she gets to college, I worry that she won't know how to manage her time to ensure success because she will expect to learn everything she needs to know from lecture, not having a clue the extra time and attention professors expect to happen beyond their class. 

I have friends who are teachers who have expressed the frustration of policing homework and I get that, too. But, maybe I'm old-school, but I believe students are missing an opportunity to learn something well beyond the subject matter or preparing for tests when homework is taken out of their educational experience. I wish I could find a happy medium that would relieve my fears about my daughter's lack of preparation for the real world, yet not add undue stress to teachers. In the meantime, I am grateful that I grew up with teachers who believed I could do the extra work, parents who believed in my abilities, and that I was smart enough to get more out of it than the assigned task and subsequent quiz score. To those teachers who assigned homework and expected it completed and on time, I thank you. I hope my daughter runs into more like you throughout her education so she, too can learn more about herself and all that she is capable of.

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