Is Homework Helping or Hurting Our Children? What does homework teach?

There was a phrase I was taught to use as a new teacher when speaking with students. Every day I asked, “Did you do your personal best?” It was our way of trying to teach the kids to put effort into their work and not just slop something down to get it done.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this phrase and my early years of parenting. When my children started school it was extremely important to me that they be enrolled in a gifted program. I suppose it was partly due to my own insecurities about my school performance as a child and partly due to the fact that I enjoyed teaching them many lessons in their preschool years and wanted my kids to be challenged in school. Now, looking back I see that there’s something more important than having your child in advanced classes–It’s teaching your child how to put effort into their work and care about their performance. Because if they’re in advanced classes and refuse to do the work or learn they can slop an answer down quickly they can develop a very bad school habit of minimal effort in most everything they do. The “I’m bored” syndrome.

I see it at all levels when I sub. Students rushing to move on to the next project or be the first done, sometimes not even taking the time to put their name on the paper.  In middle school–students choosing to sit and stare at the wall instead of tackling the task before them. Then there’s the HUGE problem that begins in elementary and goes through to high school… students not completing their homework.

Why? What makes our children lack the discipline to get their work done? Is it because they’ve learned it doesn’t really make a difference? They don’t feel as though they have benefitted or feel any sense of accomplishment. Is it parents too busy to watch carefully and check to see if the work is done? I’m guilty of this. Is it teachers who are inconsistent in checking homework? I’m guilty of this too. Most mornings I checked only to see if the homework was complete. I found it difficult to tell who had trouble with the homework and who just had baseball practice or simply didn’t do it. I confess, as I teacher I disliked giving homework every night. It seemed as though the only reason we gave it was because it was what everyone else did. Then there was always the argument that our children were failing while children from other countries were succeeding simply because we didn’t give enough homework. Having a child who in elementary school would spend three to four hours putting together a Lego Star Wars ship and then later when asked to do homework would slop through it in seconds uncaring…I don’t believe that for a second. His intelligence had nothing to do with doing homework. In my opinion he had already learned of its insignificance by third grade. As a teacher I would have preferred only giving homework when what we were learning absolutely required practice and assistance from home. The ten to fifteen minutes it took to check homework could have been better spent teaching individual students.

Imagine if someone asked you to take an hour or more out of your evening for an assignment and then never bothered to look over what you had done. How long would it take before you simply stopped doing it and stopped caring? From what I’ve seen by middle school a majority of students stop caring. Middle and high school students are savvy enough to know when teachers and parents aren’t watching closely. Some of the more independent students don’t even care if teachers or parents are watching. They are simply done with homework and refuse to do it. As someone who studies human behavior I have to ask the question why? What effect is this having on our children? What is it teaching them?

I look at my own life. Do I put 100% effort into everything I do? No! Poor Eric if he ever said to me, “Krista, did you do your personal best cooking this meal?” There are days when my effort level varies based on the amount of tasks I must complete but the amount of tasks an adult must complete compared to a middle school student are many.

I understand the difference between a job well done and a job completed with minimal effort. Do our students? They may think it’s acceptable not to do homework or to slop through their work. How will this eventually affect their job performance or college performance?

Are we depriving students of learning the joy of accomplishing a difficult task if we allow them to get by effortless? They turn in slop and teachers place a check mark at the top wishing the parents would have taken the time to make their child do it over. Wouldn’t it be better to teach students to put effort into their work, important work, that is only assigned when necessary?

Personal best…. it’s a good notion. Excellent lesson even if it doesn’t apply to cooking! It may not be the complete answer to teaching effort but I think planting the seed when our children are young of trying their best and caring about their work is a lesson that will last a lifetime.


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