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. I think this is what they call “growing pains”.