On October 10, 2013, NYS Education Commissioner John King met with parents and teachers in Poughkeepsie, NY to talk with them through a PTA Forum about the Common Core. In watching that session online, I was struck by the comments of one of the parents who spoke about her three young sons and said, “Change is not easy but childhood should not be this difficult.”
I can’t stop thinking about her. She’s right. Childhood isn’t supposed to be difficult. School should be challenging and inspiring and creative and thought provoking. Children should go home tired from a hard day’s work. Then they should play and talk to their friends and have dinner with their families, not spend another one to two hours doing homework.
If you, as parents of K-8 children, are continually frustrated with the homework you see coming home, talk to your child’s teacher. We should not be sending homework that we know will just frustrate our students (and parents). Homework should be a reinforcement of the topics learned and it should be brief. There is NO reason for our K-8 children to spend more than 15-30 minutes on homework. The homework should be reasonable. Please also realize that we may be teaching Math in ways different from the ways in which you learned Math. That doesn’t mean your way was right and this way is wrong. Please don’t tell your child, “I don’t know how to do any of this–it’s ridiculously hard!” as that isn’t going to help your child gain confidence with the material.
So what do you do? Encourage your child to try all of the problems–without the cell phone or TV or iPod on–without distraction. If you’re telling us that it takes your child 60 minutes to do homework but 50 minutes are wasted on distracted thinking, then it’s really not 60 minutes of work. I’ve heard the building principals tell teachers repeatedly that homework cannot be graded punitively. Some of our children have no one to help them at home either, we know this. Homework is about practice, just like getting better at a sport takes practice. But we can’t kick kids off the team with bad grades for poor performance in practice. This doesn’t mean our students don’t need to do homework, just that it needs to be intentional, meaningful, and brief–and our students need to complete it then. On their own. Don’t let your kids train you to do their homework. If your kids are asking you for help without attempting it first themselves, then you’re working harder than they are and it’s not YOU who needs the practice.
And if there’s stress on you and your family because of what you’re reading on Twitter or Facebook or in the news? PLEASE do not let what you read about other districts color your perception of how we’re handling change here. We are listening. To our teachers, our students, and our parents. No one performs better under stress, least of all our children. I’m exhausted at the end of the work day as I’m sure many of you are too. It’s our job as parents to expect the best of our children, to demand that they work hard and be the best little people that they can be. It’s not necessary to turn every night at the dinner table into a battle over school and homework. It’s not good for you and it’s not good for your kids. Enjoy them. Talk about something other than what they’re working on in class. Listen to them and instill confidence in them that they can do it. Read a story to them for fun or go for a walk outside or whatever else helps you find joy at the end of a long day.
And for our teachers and administrators–this message is for you too: I’m an adult who needs time to STOP THINKING when I’m home in the evenings. I need to read magazines and think about fashion and home decorating and how I want to rearrange my furniture. I need to talk with my mom and my daughter, hope my son will call from college (even though he never does, but hey, I hope), make dinner for my husband (most days), get a pedicure with my friends, exercise and RELAX. If I have an evening that requires a couple of hours of work, I do NOT return to school the next day my best self.
For your mental health and well being, we need you to have that same time in the evening, with your families. Many of you aren’t getting it right now because you’re cramming to learn module lessons but remember that what you did last year worked well. We showed strong gains. Fall back on those things that you know you’ve done well, study the modules and do the best you can. All of the change doesn’t have to happen at once. We’ve got this–our very best teachers are the same teachers who are running themselves ragged to improve. I appreciate your hard work AND I want you to have a balance in your life too, just like our students.