How Becoming a Parent (Slowly) Changed My Approach To Homework

How Becoming a Parent (Slowly) Changed My Approach To Homework

I remember when I first realized the enormous cost of homework.

I was a thirteen-year teaching veteran, I had taught at both the high school and college level, and I prided myself on being a tough but fair teacher. Then I walked into Kindergarten Round-up for my nearly five-year-old daughter.

The kindergarten teachers—strong, loving, and capable educators—described their approach to classroom homework. The teachers and students had a lot of ground to cover if students were going to meet their reading benchmarks; parents would be required to read to or listen to their children read for 20 minutes a night and log the time and books read. Students would also be given a homework packet that would need to be completed by the end of every week. This homework packet would help our little learners develop good homework habits for the years ahead.

Basically, they were going to have weekly homework so that they could learn how to do homework.

Ok, I thought, that doesn’t seem too unreasonableWe can do this.

In theory, it didn’t sound so bad. Then we had to actually start doing the work. First, there were the reading logs. I understood the reasoning behind them. As a high school English teacher I agreed that our students needed to be reading more from a young age and learning to read a variety of things. I had read to both of our children from the time they were babies. Bedtime reading was one of my favorite things as a parent. In fact, both of my kids still love reading time with Mom even though they are now eight and ten.

But for some reason, having to take the time to log what we were reading started to take away the joy of doing the reading in the first place. Reading was supposed to be an intimate practice between me and my children or my children and the written page, not something to be tracked on a piece of paper.

And then there were the homework packets, full of busywork apparently devoid of actual educational value. I suppose they were additional practice to supplement classroom learning, but when my husband and I both had to help our five-year-old with word searches because even we couldn’t find the words, we knew that the educational value was questionable at best.

To make matters worse, we lived in Indiana and experienced our second bad winter in a row; multiple snow and cold days led to what the state had deemed “e-learning days” for school districts that wanted to avoid going to school well into June. While I had very little difficulty modifying my lesson plans to flip my high school English classroom to allow my students to learn what we were going to do anyway, I found the lessons for small learners to be a little more difficult. After all, little ones need a strong hands-on approach and constant reinforcement. As I helped our daughter on the days we were both stuck at home, I struggled to see what she was actually learning as she worked at the kitchen table.

It took becoming a parent for me to come face-to-face with my own homework demons.

When I first started teaching, I thought that the research that said the more students read and write the more they will learn meant that I had to read and write my students to the breaking point. Not only did they write paper after paper and speed through book after book, but I also had them constantly writing outside of class. Looking back, I don’t know how much my students actually “read” (I shouldn’t have been shocked by the number resorting to SparkNotes) and it’s a miracle they wrote anything for me in their journals. Considering the number of hours I was spending grading all of their work, I shudder to think how many hours of homework I gave them every week when I was just one out of six or seven teachers with high expectations.

Once I started watching what my own littles were bringing home, it finally hit me that maybe I had been overdoing it. If I was resenting the time I was spending helping my children complete homework instead of enjoying quality time together as a family, how much had parents of my students been resenting me and my colleagues for valuable time lost with their children? It wasn’t that I started believing homework has no value; I just wanted the homework to have a clear purpose and still leave time for healthy personal development away from school.

I finally started paying attention to research emphasizing the belief that students shouldn’t have more than 10 minutes of homework each night for each grade, meaning my second grader shouldn’t have more than 20 minutes a night (and I am happy to report that he does not). I started carefully considering the purpose and effectiveness of each assignment. I started contemplating if my students were better off completing that particular assignment at home or under my guidance at school. I started paying attention to how much I was trying to teach them and considered that maybe I was trying to do too much at once. I started asking myself “How much is too much?” and made it a regular part of my lesson planning.

For years I mistakenly believed that quantity of homework led to quality of learning. It took becoming a parent watching my own children work on homework to discover that I had it all backward. It is the quality of the homework that increases the quantity of learning.

I don’t fault the teachers; I fault the system that has occasionally turned us into the monsters our students sometimes claim us to be. And while we can’t change the system overnight, we can start being more intentional about everything we assign both in and out of the classroom.

I’m not proposing that we strip rigor from our classroom. Far from it. My students today would be shocked if I told them they have fewer hours of homework than previous students. While my workload might be slightly less time consuming, it is significantly more challenging with more intentional purpose.

In 2020, let’s resolve to be rigorous but intentional, helping our students learn good study habits while also giving them permission to use time away from school to discover their own interests and spend quality time with their families.

If I want that for my own children, I owe it to my students to give them that chance as well.

Also read: I Assigned Homework One Year and Not the Next – Here are the Results

Do We Really NEED to Assign Homework Over Breaks?

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Senior Member

Sarah is a high school English teacher and yearbook adviser in the Houston area. When she's not lesson planning, grading, or revising yearbook pages, she enjoys biking, running, reading, writing, and camping with her family. She spends her "free" time writing about camping, faith, family, and occasionally politics on her personal blog Accepting the Unexpected Journey.

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