- We sit down at the table. It’s noisy and distractions abound, but it’s the center of the home which makes it the most logical place for me.
- The child pulls out his homework slowly. He leans against his hand and fiddles with his pencil.
- I look at the first problem, realize I don’t know what it’s talking about, and spend the next several minutes studying the instructions and examples given. Sometimes I have to consult the wisdom of the internet.
- I walk him through the first problem. He’s sort of paying attention. But the doorbell rings. It’s the neighbor boy. Hearing that the child can play as soon as his homework is done, the neighbor boy hangs around thinking it will be over quickly. He is kind of distracting, but I don’t send him away. I’m secretly hoping his presence is motivating. Positive peer pressure is totally a thing.
- We walk through problem number two. Neighbor boy gets bored and moves on. I’m not convinced child is really listening. I did too much of that problem on my own. So we set to work on problem number three. This time I insist on child’s input before doing another step. But child can’t tell me the next step. I can’t tell if he doesn’t understand or if he just doesn’t want to do it. The whining and arguing commence.
- I’m growing frustrated. I remind him that I already passed his current grade. I don’t need to prove I can do the work.
- We get to problem number four. I’ve now demonstrated this process three times. I’m determined to make child do his own work. Child throws out random vocabulary he’s heard that relates to the problem, hoping one of them is the magical answer. I snap. Why doesn’t he know the process? He’s watched me do it three times. I list the reasons it’s vital he learns these skills. Words like ‘poverty’, ‘college’ and ‘girlfriend’ come out of my mouth. Somewhere during the lecture his frustration gives way to tears.
- I step back to calm myself. I offer child some words of solace to minimize the damage and encourage him to work while I deal with dinner. He stares futilely at his sheet. I make food to put in the hungry mouths that have been wandering in and out of the kitchen in a steady stream of when’s-dinner. As I cook, sniffling comes from the table. I glance over and the child swipes at his face with his shirt. I send him to blow his nose and wash his hands. When he returns he slumps his head in his hands, elbows on the table, pencil sticking out from between two fingers, willing answers to appear on the page. I think he’s praying for deliverance. We both are.
- We break for dinner.
- When we get back to it, his posture is that of a hostage who’s accepted his situation. He is defeated, broken. And I feel about two inches tall for reducing him to this.
- We are still on problem four. We work through it together. This time he is listening as I explain the steps. This time he understands the process–literally three hours later.
- Once I see that he’s grasping the concept, I leave him at the table while I tackle the dinner cleanup. He asks an occasional question as the problems get more complicated. But he’s willing to work and at last the homework is finished.
- It’s time for a shower, pajamas, prayers, and bedtime.
I’ve often had teachers tell me, “That should have only taken him 20 minutes!” Ideally, yes. But that’s why I’m sharing our personal experience. And it can happen any given day for any one of my young children. They are just tired and mentally can’t do anymore school. The ideal is that we spend less than an hour getting homework done, I congratulate them on a job well done, they run out the door to play and we enjoy the rest of the evening as a happy, well-balanced family. The ideal and reality often don’t match up.
When I bemoan the hours we spend doing homework, I’m not exaggerating. When you send home menial packets to be completed at home, a rebellious part of me wonders what you’d do if I sent the child’s laundry to school that they neglected to take care of before they left the house.
I’m super supportive of what you’re trying to do as teachers. It’s why I’ve never actually sent my child’s chores to school, and it’s why we put in the time to get the packets done that you send home. I’ve got your back. When my kid claims you only assign ‘baby homework’ I respond that they shouldn’t have any problem proving to you how capable they are of completing the work. When they gripe that you give them more work than anyone else, my response is that you must know they can handle it. I know we both want my kid educated. I’m on your team completely. You’re the one with the degree, the ongoing certifications and classroom experience. I’m trying to teach my children to respect and follow your instructions.
All I ask in return is that you please consider the purpose of what you’re asking of us at home. Is the purpose just to have busy work? Because we’ve got that one covered. To teach responsibility? You don’t have to provide that in our home. I’ve got it. Or maybe the purpose is to communicate with parents what’s being covered in school. I appreciate knowing where they’re at in the curriculum, but a quick email could do the job more efficiently and what a great way to open up parent-teacher dialogue!
I suspect the true purpose of menial homework is the result of a trap we’ve all fallen into. We falsely assume homework is a sign of quality teaching. So for years parents have demanded homework because it makes us all feel better about the education our children are receiving. But the quality teaching happens in the classroom during the prime hours of the day. Not during the chaos of the dinner hour where the family is trying to destress from a full and busy day.
One child’s work sucks up my entire afternoon and evening. That means the rest of my kids only get my bare-bones-survival-mode attention. That’s their entire interaction with me after school. But there’s no time to dwell on it. Because tomorrow it will be another child who will struggle to get his homework done.
And it will be his turn for some quality mom time.