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On Homework

You tend as a teacher to do the things that worked for you and to hate the things you hated, because teachers are people. Which is why it is so amusing to have someone who hated high school so much teaching at a high school. I have my kids write me letters because the more you know about them the more you can trick them into doing what you want. Also it is just cute. At any rate, I have a lot of students (please for the love of God lower our class sizes, this is ridiculous), and there were some commonalities in their responses. I got a lot of “you might be surprised to learn that I love learning.” Well no, I am not surprised because I have never met a child who didn’t like learning. I’ve met (and been) children who hated authority. I’ve met kids who hated being frustrated and bored. But I’ve never met any children that hate learning, so the fact that they think there is something incongruent with their being students and their love for learning is disturbing.

The other commonality was that they all complained about homework. So I would like to take their side for a minute and explain why our homework culture is a problem. First and foremost there are major equity issues with homework, in that it is not fair to the kids who don’t have stability at home or resources so it just automatically rewards the better resourced kids. Second, the kids are already at school 6 hours a day, if you count their extracurriculars that takes most of them to 7 or 8, which means that if they have more homework on top of that they are pulling 10, 12 hours days which is unhealthy for anyone but especially for children.

The other issue is that unless you are using homework for practice the homework grade is nonsense because you have no idea how the students completed the homework. Did mom and dad do it? Did the kid fail to do it because they chose not to or because mom and dad were fighting or because they didn’t understand it and had no help? Did they fail to turn it in because they were trying to piss you off or because their ADD made it hard for them to remember to bring it the next day it even though they tried to do it? How do you intend to find out? True story, I had a student re-write an entire essay that he lost because of his ADHD and then had another teacher call him lazy. It measures not mastery of the skills and standards but organization and whether or not you have resources.
To illuminate this issue I want to talk about my classes right now. I have a group that is incredibly skilled writers and thinkers, and I have another group that has really good grades but can’t think for themselves and their writing is abysmal, also I caught a huge portion of them cheating. The skilled writers and thinkers have lower grades because they don’t/can’t/won’t do the homework, the latter have 3.5 and above because they cheat, have no trouble doing the homework and “look” like good kids because they turn everything in. It is a disservice to the bright kids that I have whose skills and talents never go noticed because they don’t do homework, but it is also a disservice to the other group of kids because they have no idea that they have skill gaps. They are going to drown in college while the other kids are never going to get the shot to go to college because they didn’t fill out a worksheet while their parents were fighting/they were working/they were spending time thinking and writing/they decided worksheets are silly. On top of all of this, people rarely grade and give feedback on the assignments so the kids never improve and they just assume the kids who DO the homework have mastered the concepts and the skills when they clearly have not.

It is not all evil, there is a time and a place for homework, I would just encourage you to be judicious, conscious, kind, and thorough. Don’t assign anything you aren’t going to give feedback on. The measure of a good teacher is not how “hard” the class is or how much work you assign, it is what they learn. The more efficiently you accomplish that the better.

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