So Hands Up Who’s Done Their Homework?

Homework…

As a teacher, I can never discredit the importance of homework. It compliments learning and encourages independent study and learning.

I do however have a strange attitude to homework, it seems.

The teacher in me says that it is necessary…essential even. It allows students to check that they understand what was covered in class. It promotes responsibility for learning and pride in their own work, and it allows the teacher to evaluate who, and how well, their students have been learning. It also lets parents see what their kids are doing and how they are getting on.

But all of these advantages ONLY work when children do their homework for themselves. And it seems to becoming more and more ‘normal’ that the homework being sent home is becoming the homework of the parents.

When we were at school 359 years ago, we did our homework and went to school, where the teacher commented on it. If it was incorrect or insufficient, she or he told us; marked where we went wrong and showed how to fix it. If we made mistakes, we realised them.

If we couldn’t do it, we asked our parents to help and show us. They didn’t have Google, so if they couldn’t help us, they told us to ‘ask your teacher’. We learned to ask for help if we needed. And we learned that needing something explained again was normal.

IF a child doesn’t get the little x or the comment or the example of how to improve from the teacher, how are they ever supposed to learn?

Homework can be viewed as an essential part of learning, but with the increase in pace of life and the massive timetables and routines in most homes nowadays, it can also be seen as a torture.

Me? Now, as a Mum to a dizzy seven year old, I am absolutely aware of the royal pain in the bum that homework is.

I would like to see less written work some evenings, especially for little ones. I like the idea of set homework days. So many of us spend evenings taking them to other classes or activities, all of which are important for their development and confidence too.

And in some houses, there is very limited time between home-time and bedtime, and family time is limited because it’s spent trying to get through hills of homework, never mind cooking and feeding them and trying to fit your whole day into a few hours.

I don’t know about your kids, but mine is knackered after a full day at school. She wants to play with her toys, or read her books, or go bounce on the trampoline, or sometimes just watch TV … and by Thursday, she’s as done in as I am.

I see more and more parents online and in groups stressing about their kids’ homework. I had this conversation with a few friends recently. One stated that she feels like the homework is testing HER, rather than her daughter. Another commented that he feels useless as he’s unable to understand the homework his 8 year old gets.

And another said that the homework was taking nearly 90 minutes in the evening. Her children are 4 and 5. I stood pretty quietly if I’m honest, the Mammy guilt creeping in, because I am one of those BAD parents it seems. Because Mini-Me’s homework is HER homework, not mine.

You see, in our house, SHE does the homework.

I check it and I sign the diary. If I see letters back to front or a very silly mistake, I’ll point it out in a question. ‘Do you think that’s long enough?’ ‘Is that 3 written right?’ and ‘Will teacher be happy with that?’ work.

If she thinks it’s fine, I won’t correct her, even if I know that it’s not good enough. I’m very aware of how she is getting on and what she is struggling with, but I don’t fight with her. Because to be honest, she won’t listen to me anyway. Me telling her something is wrong goes over her head. Teacher telling her something is wrong however, is GOSPEL. And I won’t have my children growing up thinking that their school work is my problem. It’s theirs.

Why? Am I cruel? Am I lazy? Should I not be sitting down and guiding her through the work every night so she can present perfect homework to Teacher every day? Because that is what many parents do. And the kids go to school with perfect work and get no red marks and every one is happy… until they do a test and it becomes apparent that actually, Nancy doesn’t get long division, or Jimmy doesn’t know his vowel sounds.

How she learns and grows is not going to be dependent on how well I understand her multiplication or Irish verbs. And when she gets to secondary school, she needs to be able to manage her time and to take criticism. (And trust me here, that is a skill that our kids need. Because the number of teenagers who are genuinely unable to take criticism of ANY kind is unbelievable.)

The New Junior Cycle is so full of home-based projects and self-evaluation, that if we don’t allow our young children to do their own work, take the comments on it, apply them and understand, we are simply setting OURSELVES up for a lot of work when they get to secondary school.

I asked my followers what they thought about homework during the week. Here are some of the replies:

71% feel that their kids get too much homework.

“I feel I am putting more pressure on my child after school is over.”

“Yes. My son is 7 and his concentration is gone by the time he gets home”

“Yes. It’s a struggle everyday, especially if they have activities or classes to go to too.”

“I stopped checking their homework in senior infants. 100% result not true. They need to see the x marks.”

“Not every night, but my 9 year old is overwhelmed sometimes.”

“Life is too precious for homework, get out and explore!”

Then I had a few primary teachers reply:

One said that as a Mum, she hates it, but that as a teacher, she has to give it.

Two said that they hate to think they are putting pressure on parents but that it is a necessity for learning.

Another said “Under pressure to give it!”

One said that if she didn’t give homework “there are so many kids who would spend the whole evening in front of a screen,” and this of course is also true.

And a few reminded me that there are time guidelines that should be adhered to.

So it’s very much a double edged sword and I am the perfect example of the sword bearer.

The teacher in me gives it (although I limit it. I feel that if they’re engaged and attentive in my classroom, they don’t need daily home activities from me.) The parent in me hates it, but agrees that it is important too…

But ONLY if they are doing it themselves and it is functional and meaningful.

It’s her homework not mine. She needs to be able to take comments and criticism if necessary. She needs to learn the process of what she’s doing. If I do it for her, she’s learning that I’ll do it for her and that she can opt out.

But am I going to stand up in her exams and give a talk on how I created something? Am I going to sit her exams for her? Am I going to be there to explain to the teacher how I got an answer that she couldn’t do?

No.

But I will be there to smile at her when SHE gets 8/10 or to let her rant about being scolded. I will be there to cheer her on when SHE gets the best mark SHE can get. And I will be there to praise her when she finally figures out that maths thingy that she couldn’t do.

Because I’ve been to school. (I’m still there!) I’ve done my homework. I learned what I learned and I failed if I didn’t work. But NEVER, did my parents do any of it for me. And NEVER did they make excuses for me if I didn’t do it right or didn’t do it at all. And as much as I grumbled and complained about that as a teenager, I am now grateful for it.

There is no right or wrong here. Each house is different and every child has different strengths and abilities, and every parent knows what works for their kids.

But I’d love to know your general thoughts on homework.

Failing to Fail

Why are we so determined to make sure our little darlings never know what it’s like to fail?

Why do we expect everyone to be a high flying “success” at everything?

When did failing at something become so terrible?

I grew up failing.  I failed plenty. I’m still failing.  And yet, each and every one of those failings was, and is, a learning.

Sometimes, no matter how many times I try and try and try at something, I fail.  Maybe I’m not meant to do it.  Maybe I’m not good enough at it.  Maybe, it’s not within my skill-set.

If it’s not happening, I have two choices;  I can keep going until I (maybe) do succeed. Or I can be proud that I tried but move on to another project, accepting that it’s just not going to happen

But either way, I’ve learned something.  I’ve either learned the right or successful way to do something, or I’ve learned something about ME; about my abilities and my limitations. Because, it’s OK to have limitations. And shock horror, it’s OK to know what YOUR Limitations are.  It actually helps.

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If they don’t run, they won’t fall… so how will they learn not to?

There is a massive problem in our society and it’s not just with our children.  There is and has been for many years,  a mistaken perception that we should teach our children that they “can do anything”; that they “can be anything”; that they can not lose or fail at anything.   That failure is not an option.

Well actually it is.  And I’d go so far as to say that failure is necessary.

 

The fear of failure is everywhere. None of us want our children to experience rejection or failure.  It’s evident at the school sports days, where we make them “race” and “compete” but then give them ALL a certificate or medal.  We see it in dance classes or drama groups, where they audition but ALL get onstage anyway.  We see it at football training,  or where the only options are “win” or “a tie”, so that no one has to lose.

Of course,  equality and inclusion are inherently important  in schools and clubs.  And most of these societies and organisations have individualized and tailored policies and programes in place to include everyone.  And so they should. Inclusion is not what I am talking about here.

But when in general, we are not rewarding the “winners” for fear of upsetting the person in 2nd place, or indeed 24th place, what we are creating is a generation who feel entitled.

We need to stop telling our kids that they can be “anything they want to be”.  We should be encouraging our children to try and try.  We should be telling them they can be what they want to be… IF they have that ability and are willing to work for it.

What is wrong with encouraging them to learn what their strengths and passions are?

What is wrong with encouraging them to try and to work to earn and to deserve the end goal, may that be a degree in medicine or a place on the football team?

What is wrong with our children knowing what they are good at and recognising what they are not so good at?

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How are they supposed to work towards improving and learning if they simply think they are entitled to an ‘A’ in an exam, or to the place on the team, or to a certain job because they’ve always been told they can be anything or do anything they want to do?

We do not all have the same skills.  We do not all have the same strengths. I can teach Shakespeare to a brick, but I couldn’t be a math teacher for all the tea in China, no matter HOW much I work for it.  And I wouldn’t be able to be a Doctor or surgeon, because I am way too emotional for such a job (and I’m probably not that academically able!)

Does that mean I am a failure?

Eh no.

Every Irish dancing feis I didn’t win, was a lesson.  It spurned me on. Every time I saw that a certain ‘Leah’ or ‘Clare’ was there, I knew that I most likely hadn’t a chance of anything higher than 3rd place. Did that mean I couldn’t dance? NO.  It just meant that those girls were better than me. They trained harder.  They had more talent. They deserved every medal and cup they won. They inspired me to push harder. Sometimes I won, sometimes I didn’t. It’s called life.

When I tried gymnastics, the day that I gave myself a black eye with my own knee was the day that I decided I was done.  Funnily enough Mum agreed.  Did I fail? No.  I was just shite at gymnastics!

When I got average results in my Junior and Leaving Cert, did I feel like a failure?  No.  I got what I deserved and I got out what I put in.  I had done my best.  And as long as I did my best, that was enough for my parents and it was enough for me.

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However, when I have won, or achieved or succeeded, it was celebrated.  Because I bust myself and try and graft and work and any other synonym you can imagine. And if I do succeed, I am proud of it, because it is mine and I have probably failed ten times before managing it.   If you burn the omelette and don’t try to make it again, how do you eat?

Every failed friendship I have, (and there are many), while heartbreaking to deal with, have all been for the best.

Every failed romance (yup many of those too!) teaches us something else important about ourselves and the person who is not right for us.

Every failed job or project or application or interview teaches us something.

For me, every time I auditioned, and was rejected, for a part in a show, , broke my heart a little.  Of course it did (and does). Let’s be honest, if I didn’t want the part, why would I go for it?  But rather than stomp my foot and think myself too good to return, I pulled up my big girl knickers and still joined the group; may it be to a smaller role or into the chorus.  Because I love it.  I don’t have to be the leading lady to have fun.

And our children need to understand that they don’t have to always win to be winners.  That they don’t always have to score the goals to be important to the team.  That even though they are doing their best, sometimes the person beside them is just a little bit better.  And sometimes, THEY will be that person and someone else will lose to them.

When we started to walk, we all fell…

And then we learned how NOT to fall. And eventually we walked, all by ourselves. (And sometimes, we still fall!) If we keep carrying our kids and our young people over every obstacle, how can we expect them to learn how NOT to fall?

Direct them, encourage them, support them.  But let them feel disappointment sometimes.  Let them learn to accept the success of others. And when they DO succeed, celebrate with them.

We have to sometimes fail to really appreciate succeeding.  We’re not entitled to anything.  We have to work and try and earn things.  Life will not simply give you things because you think you deserve it.  You get out what you put in.

And while we don’t want our kids to repeat our mistakes, we have to let them make their own, so that they walk by themselves.

Who knows, they might even fly.

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