The Subject of Homework

By Mary McGarr

September 19, 2005

Now that school is well underway, your child probably has lots of homework. A recent Associated Press article by Samantha Critchell ran locally in the Katy Courier. It also ran elsewhere all over the country and if you missed it here you can read it at this location:

The author gave good advice on how to help your child with homework.

No argument from me regarding Critchellís advice on ways to help, and every parent needs to concern himself with the best techniques.

My concern has to do with the homework itself. As the parent, one needs to monitor the amount of homework one's child is given each night, over a weekís time, and on a continuing basis. Look at the assignment with a critical eye. Is it more drill on some math problems? Thatís probably a good thing as mathprinciples are learned that way.

Is it sentences to work on regarding punctuation or grammar? Thatís probably OK too as those skills are only picked up with lots of practice. If itís an essay or some reference research that requires a bit of time to complete, that could be a necessary assignment also.

However, if itís the kind of thing that probably should have been done at school under the tutelage of the teacher, thatís another matter. For example if it consists of math problems of the sort that the teacher has not taught already, then that's also not good. If itís busy work, and I donít think I have to spell out what that is, then one can see that there is a problem. One of my children had a teacher one time who assigned algebra problems for homework when the explanations for them had not been done in class yet. There were parents all over Katy relearning algebra all over again with their children!

As a former teacher who taught mostly 11th and 12th grade English, I covered tons of material, and it was covered in depth. I used the text. I added things of my own. I made up my own test questions and gave every class all day on test day a different test. I tried to make the subject interesting by doing reading on my own to supplement what I was teaching. I required six novels a year to be read and reported on (and these were classics, not modern fluff), and my students wrote one longer paper just about every week and a big paper at the end of the six weeks period. I graded them as fast as I could. I was busy and so were my students. We read more difficult works aloud in class, so that I could make sure they understood what they were reading. We also enjoyed the class and had a laugh or two. With all of that, one would think that my students were swamped with homework, but they were not. I tried my best NOT to give homework.

My position was that homework was an indication that I couldnít get my job done in the time I was allotted! I must say that class periods when I taught school were fifty five minutes long, and that gave me the time to cover as much as I did. I could always find time at the end of the period for students to finish any short homework assignment that I gave them.

As a parent I wished that my children had found teachers like me. My kids spent all their younger years sitting at the kitchen table doing meaningless,mindless homework assignments when they should have been outside playing after sitting still at school for seven hours. Thatís where I wanted them to be. If they were involved in a sport that practiced after school, they were up until all hours doing their homework.

The practice I guess I like least in Katy elementary schools is the assignment of ďprojects.Ē These projects are a waste of the studentsí time and have no redeeming value. Anyone with students that age knows the drill.

One of my favorite stories is of my youngest coming downstairs to ask me to come and look at yet another room decorating effort. As I entered the room and saw his sheepish grin, I looked up and saw that he had covered a wall with his heretofore worthless "projects"!

They finally had value--as wallpaper.

If one's child is beleaguered by such assignments, a good thing to do would be to print out my thoughts and mail them to the teacher. He can then pass all of them along to the administrator who is causing the problem.

If your child has a teacher who lets up on the homework because she understands that children need time to play, treasure her.