In Baltimore County Public Schools, your effort–not your accuracy–will be the main thing that counts when it comes to homework.
When I was little, a snow day was like a totally unexpected gift from the gods of childhood. I lived in Virginia, so half the time school got cancelled there was only a minor dusting, certainly not enough to spend the day sledding or crafting the perfect snowman. But who needs snow when you’ve got an unexpected day off school? Without plans or goals, my brothers and I would just laze about and do whatever kids do when they’ve got unscheduled free time. (Probably make up weird stories and act them out with action figures, if I remember correctly.)
But thanks to technology that allows teachers to keep up with students even when school isn’t technically in session, that kind of snow day is increasingly a thing of the past.
Got questions about life? Love? Parenting? Work? Today we introduce Whit’s End, a new advice column by local husband, father, teacher, coach, former executive and former Marine Corps officer Al Whitaker. Each week Al will address readers’ questions about anything ranging from school issues, coaching problems, relationship quandaries and more! His experience is vast, and he holds a degree in psychology, too. To submit a question, email [email protected]. – The Eds.
My son will be entering the 9th grade at an excellent independent school. He is a good student, but does not always assert himself. For example, he will not tell his teacher if the homework took him two hours when he was told that it should take an hour. If he is having a difficult time with an assignment, he won’t ask for help or tell the teacher that he needed extra time.
Since I know what he is like, how much should I help him? If I monitor whether he is working or on-line, he tells me to stop treating him like a criminal. If I know that he is weak in certain areas or doesn’t check his work carefully, shouldn’t I offer to look it over first? Isn’t my job to see that he gets the most out of his school experience and does as well as possible?
Also, how often should I communicate with his teachers? Would asking for a weekly report from his teachers be reasonable? I’d like to make sure sooner rather than later that he doesn’t get behind or unnecessarily struggle at a school that has a reputation for being rigorous academically.
I just feel if I don’t get involved, something will go wrong, and he will miss a valuable opportunity.
Concerned Mom in Baltimore
Dear Concerned Mom:
Knowing how much to help is a tricky balancing-act for both of you. You don’t want him to slip, especially without a safety net. But the only way for him to gain confidence is to believe that he doesn’t need the net, even though you know that people are there to “spot” or catch him if he does fall. However, you should not be one of those catchers.
As my family counts down the days ’til winter break, there’s one gift we’re all anticipating. It’s not a fancy Caribbean vacation — deep sigh — or even a quick jaunt to a local ski resort. Nor does it involve any hot gift items under the tree or in the driveway. It’s the simple but beautiful gift of no homework for two long weeks, a fairly long-lasting present that is likely to translate into far fewer rants and refusals and foot stomping in our house during that peaceful period. France’s president has promised this gift to his country’s youngest students, those in primary and middle school — permanently.
It was a picture-perfect evening. The humidity had finally dissipated, leaving us with air that could almost be called crisp. To the west, the sky was turning shades of orange and gold as the sun began its descent. Somewhere nearby, little kids laughed and screamed as they played chase before their parents chased them inside for the night.
Inside, my 11-year-old daughter experienced none of it. She sat, hunched over at the kitchen counter, school books splayed in front of her, her hand holding up her head. It wasn’t long before her fatigue and frustration gave way to whimpering and a full-on meltdown—ostensibly over a single homework assignment but more likely due to the breaking point brought on by sheer exhaustion that comes after a long day of school followed by a seemingly longer evening of homework. Ah, welcome to the start of another school year.
I heard this loud thump in the middle of the night last night. Really late – like 2:30 a.m. Turned on the light, heard it again, and went upstairs to see if my daughter’s bed had fallen apart or something! It was nothing like that – she was just throwing text books onto the floor next to her bed. Normal, right? Except that it was at TWO-THIRTY IN THE MORNING! Homework in high school has gotten out of hand. Grace is up in the wee hours pretty regularly finishing up her nightly tasks – assignments given by her high school teachers, with the expectation that they will be completed, and in some cases graded, for the next class. She might have (if you believe her) 6, 7, even 8 hours of homework on any given evening. That’s too much, if you ask me.
I don’t remember having this much homework in high school, so I called a friend of mine who is an administrator at a nearby high school to see what light she could shed. Is this a recent trend? Are our kids getting a better education than we did? Are our schools tearing a page out of the Tiger Mother’s hand book? Her answers, as always, were thoughtful and balanced, and in the end, comforting. Basically, she said what wise people say all the time: “The truth is somewhere in the middle.”
In my friend’s experience, high-school aged kids are unreliable self-reporters. As a gross generalization, girls will exaggerate how much time and effort they have put into something, and boys will barely acknowledge that they are aware the assignment was made. So, when asked about how long they studied for a test, a typical girl might tell you “I was up until 3 in the morning cramming for that test!” and her male counterpart might reply “Do we have a test today?” They probably think they are being truthful, but their reporting likely does not reflect reality.
She points to motivation as another root cause for differing perceptions: kids view homework as something done for someone else (the teacher), whereas other activities that consume kids’ time (e.g., drivers ed, Facebook, sports) are done for themselves. One is a chore and the other a pleasure. So the old adage holds true again: time flies when you are having fun. They may think they are spending four hours on homework, but it’s really probably more like 2.5, that just drags on.
The truth is, homework is important. For classes like math, it is an opportunity to practice skills just learned. For classes like history, it is the time to read material that will be discussed the following day. As my friend says, the challenge of a heavy workload can really be a teaching and learning opportunity. We need to help our kids learn how to make good choices, conduct cost-benefit analysis with day to day decisions. If the choice is to stay up until 3 a.m. finishing a paper, or losing three points turning it in late, the kids need to develop the judgment to determine what will be a better outcome. (GET SOME SLEEP!)
Our kids are burdened by talent, my friend reminds me. They are ambitious, and want to please us. So it is easy for them to get caught up in the frenzy of do-it-all-be-it-all-have-it-all. As their parents, and teachers, we can guide them to a healthier, more mature conclusion. We can help them learn to be honest with themselves about what really needs to be done, and what they are capable of. And we can help them learn when they have done enough.