Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Give Me A Break

A fifth grade teacher at my school was sharing with me one of his student's feelings about homework. Would you care to guess what those feelings were? Time's up. "Why do you have to give us all this homework?" he cried. "I got homework in first grade. A lot of it. I got homework in second grade. Even more in third grade. And fourth and now fifth grade? When will it end?"

My colleague and I agreed that this was a world class rant that was a voice crying out in the wilderness, but a very calm and assured one nonetheless. How did he answer his young charge? By doing what grownups have been doing for eons. He told him that life was unfair and that he would have to get used to that. And getting more homework for the next six to twelve years was proof of just that.

When I was a fourth grade teacher, a "real" teacher as some of my fellow educators like to suggest, I gave homework to my students. I was pretty cool, I thought, because I didn't assign homework over the weekend. Looking back, I don't think the kids shared my feelings. They would have been just as happy to walk out of those doors at three o'clock with nothing but good thoughts in their heads and nothing but anticipation of the afternoon's play in their backpacks. Instead of the workbook pages and reading logs and math worksheets and whatever else I could dream up to torture them.

Or maybe I was building and sculpting young minds. I told parents that the homework that I gave them should never take them more than half an hour to complete, and if it did, they should call me and I would be happy to help. I was, I explained to them, their teacher. They were the parents. It was not their job to teach them. Homework was for practice. Kids would be repeating things at home just to keep their heads in the game so we wouldn't have to start all over the next morning.

I felt good about this because I knew that periodically I was taking work home with me. To grade. To prepare for the next day. The next week. Report cards can't be filled out over the course of your average school day. If I could stuff all that paper in my backpack and spend half an hour, or more, each night, then so could they.

Somewhere in there I had a reckoning. I began to see the lives, those afternoons, through the eyes of the kids. Those little reminders of what we were doing that day in class were burdensome luggage for them. I cannot say that as a classroom teacher that I ever had a kid show up with his homework complete after having some revelation: "Oh, now I get it!"

Meanwhile, grownups continue to drag their work home. Not in the form of worksheets or penmanship practice, just stuff that didn't get done. When the bell rings, we stick around and get it done. Or we show up early the next morning to get ready. Homework? I get it.

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