The First Homework Assignment

For years, I assigned homework. Every summer before school started, that homework board was prominently placed in my classroom. In the fall, once students trickled in, I would color code assignments with my brand new dry erase markers. I would implore my students to copy my words down in their planners. Special protocol was put in place to hand work in every morning and I’d chase kids around who hadn’t completed the tasks I so clearly laid out for them. Students were all over the place in their proficiency of this task; some completed their work with diligence and pride. Others looked at me as if I had just appeared from outer space when I asked them about their assignments. Phone calls were made to parents; meetings were scheduled with administration. I did not understand how this could be so difficult.

I did not understand the effect of homework until I had my own child. As a matter of fact, homework graced the Clark household in a rather surprising and unexpected manner. This fall, we sent Harrison to pre-k. Things were going great; I was packing his lunches with care each evening. He was bounding into my arms after school proclaiming that he had a fantastic day. Addition and subtraction problems were recited at meal time. He could write “Mom” all by himself. He was loving pre-k and so was I. Then one day, as I routinely went through his Take-Home folder, I found it. In the midst of his colorfully drawn pictures and a lunch calendar, there it was. A cockroach could have crawled out of his backpack and I probably would have been less frightened. I guess I knew it would come to this. I thought we might get through kindergarten at least, though, before the torment and doom reigned down on our house in what can be known as the first Homework Assignment.

As someone who was the responsible party for assigning homework for YEARS, you would think that I wouldn’t have had such an adverse reaction to it, but I have to be honest: my heart was heavy; there was a lump in my throat, and I teared up at the thought of even one moment of the precious time I have with my boy after school being dictated by someone else.

The assignment was easy enough; Harrison was asked to illustrate a picture of himself. He could add things found around the house like wrapping paper or buttons. It was quite a nice assignment, to be honest, but I couldn’t get past that terrible feeling, the realization that so many times parents must have had convulsions as they pulled out their students’ homework planners to find some spelling packet or reading assignment they needed to ensure their child completed. To me, it was another THING that needed to be done. Add that to the laundry pile, the dishes, and scrubbing the toilet. One more THING was taking me away from snuggling with my kids, or reading to them, or spending an extra few minutes giving them their baths. This particular assignment was to be a family task, so in reality we were all together for it. But it is still hard to know we have a little less freedom with our, well, free time.

I value school (good thing, right? Because, you know, I teach at one). I value my son’s teacher. A LOT. She’s pretty much on rock star status around here. I value the work she does, and as a fellow teacher, I understand the (sometimes) NEED to have homework. However, I can say without reservation that this experience has changed me completely as a teacher and I will be much more cognizant of how homework assignments affect families. As a matter of fact, last week, I ran into the parent of a former student and actually told this story to him. Then I apologized for all of the nights his sons had homework from me that maybe could have been avoided if I had stopped to think about the impact it had on families. Being a parent is stressful enough without this aspect added in.

We received a second assignment already this year. I put the paper on the fridge and stuck the due date in the back of my head. On Friday night, Harrison said, “Hey Mom, I think it’s time to get started on my homework.” I almost broke my neck when I snapped back to see who this responsible and eager creature was sitting at my kitchen table. And there it was, my second revelation of the school year: this homework was helping me see what kind of learner my little boy is turning out to be. I know I can’t be there in class with him every day now. I won’t always be able to hold his hand through everything, but right now I’m being given an opportunity to watch him grow and learn in a new way. Just because I understand what’s going on, doesn’t mean I am adapting well. img_4784-1I think this is what they call “growing pains”.

I’m Baaaaccckkkkk

I have returned from the abyss. But only for a few hours, folks, because it’s a school night.

The writing has been nonexistent lately due to this strange idea I had late last spring. I thought I should go and get myself a job. If you’re wondering why a woman, whose family is financially stable and completely happy without her employment might go and do such a thing, you clearly are not in the throes of raising a toddler and pre-schooler. The fact of the matter is that being a stay at home parent is a completely different kind of hard from any I have experienced. When I applied for this new position, I had visions of 30 minute lunches and uninterrupted bathroom breaks dancing in my head. I would be HELPING people! I would be teaching the future of America!

But, you guys, it’s still hard. Teaching is hard. Being away from the kids is hard. It has been a difficult transition for all of us. This new configuration has provided for some very interesting experiences thus far. Here are a few. 

Justin expressed to me the difficulty of getting the kids out of the house in the morning. He said I simply would not understand how frustrating it is to get them to daycare (after I dressed them, fed them, packed them, and brushed their teeth). Naturally, I had to feign surprise. After all, who let the valet driver go that has been taking them everywhere for the past four years?! We shoulda kept her around.

Since I’m teaching high school now, I’ve been learning all sorts of new things. Many of these things I cannot publish. I can say that my students are already incredibly adept at the inner workings of the legal system. Everyone says you learn best by experience.

You can only get cell phone reception from my classroom if you’re hanging halfway out the window.

Sixth graders and twelfth graders are not much different. As a matter of fact, all of my former tactics work with the bigger kids just as well as with the younger ones.

No matter how early I wake up to work out before I have to leave, Harrison wakes up earlier. I can’t even win at 5 am.

A student spent a good five minutes trying to ask me if I had a discman he could use. It took so long because he truly did not know the difference between a walkman and a discman, and described both as “that thing you put an 8 track into”…

In Pre-K, Harrison’s class operates on a green-yellow-red system for behavior management. Several times I have considered using this for my own classroom.

There are new words that the kids use these days, including: “legit” (meaning actually, or really), “same” (to refer to one who has had a similar experience or feeling), and “‘magine”, which is short for imagine; meaning ‘wouldn’t you know’ or ‘can you believe it?’ I find this one-word vocabulary to be incredibly in sync with their appreciation for and obsession over texting, and the desire to communicate with the fewest words possible.

Grumpiness is all around me. The students. My kids. It’s like everyone is a constant state of PMS. Speaking of which, I accidentally flung a tampon across the desk today when I was pulling out my materials to teach math class.

Ella informed me the other day that she held hands with a boy at preschool. Because Ella is Ella, it was not a matter-of-fact comment; rather, it was a “What are you gonna do about it” comment. Sweet Jesus, people. She is only two.

Harrison has already lost his winter coat and it is not even winter yet. That kid is one hell of an over achiever.

Packing lunches sucks.

Well, folks, I do apologize for taking such a hiatus. I’ve missed this. And, naturally, with a whole repertoire of new stories, I really should bounce back soon here once I get my schedule under control.