What a Teacher Really Wants Parents to Understand About Homework

Within a month of school being back in session, there will probably be a post that goes viral from a parent complaining about a horrible teacher and a ridiculous homework assignment. Sure, sometimes the homework can be a bit extreme, but from my experience as an educator, blaming the teacher is useless because they have very little say in what they get to assign.

That's right. Homework policy is often out of the teacher's hands. In the three districts I've worked at, each department (English, math, biology, et al.) had an explicit, long-established grading and homework policy. For my friends who teach elementary, their individual grade levels had a determined homework system. For some of them, they have set times for when various skills and worksheets should be assigned. These plans and procedures have often been established for a while.

This means your child's teacher may have little to no say in what gets assigned, especially if they are new to the profession. While I personally subscribe to the no-homework policy like they do in Finland, my opinions on the subject were never strong enough to where I felt like charging forward to change the system. This is especially true if the principal and district believe that homework is a pathway to understanding.

So, I gave the minimum amount of homework I was supposed to assign. Personally, my homework assignments were mostly there to work as practice or a refresher of a skill taught earlier. As required, I felt pressured to give 30 minutes to one hour of homework every night, even though daily homework quotas don't work for every subject and every kid.

As an English teacher, there were days when there wasn't an authentic assignment I could give the children, in part because we were working toward longer term projects. Even though I tried to bracket essays and research papers into easier chunks, for a child to be successful in completing the task, they needed to understand time management. So while there were days I didn't assign any homework, the students were sitting on a paper that they could have worked on but didn't. This is in part what causes that midnight rush.

Not every student works well with the prescribed number of homework-minutes-per-night method, and teachers know that. In trying to teach kids how to manage their time and to not procrastinate, schools assign homework to help with this. Even though homework is designed to give students at home practice with a learned skill, schools are neglecting to teach children how to do schoolwork at home.

There are all kinds of factors that affect why a student chooses, or is unable, to complete the assignment. Extracurriculars, family obligations, lack of parental involvement, too much parental involvement, and work that is confusing can all affect a student's ability to perform. Add in the fact that students might share or compare answers with their peers, and it leaves the work essentially useless and difficult to adequately grade.

And districts and administrators understand this, which is why many departments and schools opt to limit the effect homework can have on a child's grades. Every school I've taught at mandated that no more than 10 percent of a child's grade can come from homework. So even if a child didn't do any homework, but got an A on everything else, the worst that their grade could be brought down is to a B.

Of course, every school's policy is different, and individual departments are different, but this is one of the key things I suggest that parents make themselves aware of as soon as possible. A simple email or phone call to your child's teacher at the beginning of the year, asking them to explain how the child will be graded and what the role of homework is in the class, will clear up a lot of confusion later on.