Homework

My older son just finished a big school project. He had to research and write a biography of his hero – in French. For reasons beyond my comprehension, he chose George Washington Carver, someone he had never heard of before and whose accomplishments he can barely describe in English, much less French. “Crop rotation” anyone? He is also writing a Halloween story in English and reading a book for a Literature Circle. And he’s supposed to read in French for 30 minutes a day AND he has weekly French worksheets which he regularly does the night before they are due.

My younger child’s teacher photocopies sheets and puts them into a red duotang (one of those 3-pronged folders for all you Americans out there) then sends home things to be learned or reviewed every week. Also, he is supposed to read in French every night. And there are other kinds of homework: the other day, for example, the teacher asked the kids to bring in shoeboxes for a diorama. My child told me not to bother sending one in because “there are loads of kids who will bring more than one.” I was not allowed to explain his decision in a note to the teacher. The 8-year-old told me he would “take care of it.”

Now, I don’t know how other teachers fare with this stuff, but I am the WORST about my children’s homework. For the love of all that is holy, I read way too much about pedagogy to be anywhere nearby when the kids pull their assignments out of their backpack. Their teachers are lovely thoughtful people at various stages of their careers. Their expectations are not completely outlandish, and the workload really isn’t over the top. Well, the older one was a *little* overwhelmed this week, but I’ll admit that he rarely does a full half hour of reading in French and it’s not like he began his project early… and, there, I’ve already started.

I’m an American who speaks French for Heaven’s sake. Worse, I’m an American who is qualified to teach English and French in Canada – and my children are doing immersion French. Oh, and I’m a card-carrying member of the helicopter parenting generation – right down to my attempts not to be a helicopter parent. Homework gets complicated.

This year, we decided that it was time for the kids to make their own lunches and do their own homework. Lunches = no problem. Homework = well… the grade 3 teacher wants us to sign off on a chart that says that our son has done his work at least four nights a week. And I know that it’s good pedagogy to get parents involved in what’s going on in the classroom. And it’s not like my kids prattle on about school (I literally relied on the girls down the street to tell me everything until, tragically, this year they are not in my children’s classes), so homework can be a good window into the classroom. Right?

But then we lost the damn duotang. Actually, to be fair to me, I don’t think it’s in our house, so “we” didn’t lose anything. Sadly, the red duotang is also not in the classroom. Nor is the “personal dictionary” or some mysterious orange duotang, and I’m pretty sure those suckers never came home. I’ve read the teacher’s notes home and, sure, the message is in the subtext, but it’s clear that he thinks we lost these things. I don’t dare tell him that I’ve never seen the orange duotang, but I kind of want to send him a picture of our organized after-school system. Then again, maybe I don’t… I mean, I’m doing the best I can, but things around here can get a little hairy between 5 and 7:30. We’re, um, mostly organized. And I have torn the house apart; that red duotang is not here. I’ll tell you what: I know my third-grader, and I will not be at all surprised if these items reappear magically at the end of the school year. In the meantime, until his busy teacher gets around to replacing it, we have no sheet to sign. My child is delighted.

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And the fifth-grader, oh the poor child. It’s gotten to the point where he sometimes bursts into tears upon merely hearing the word “homework.” This would be distressing if he ever ever ever actually did any homework without significant “prompting”. And by “prompting” I mean “threats.” And, as I threaten him, I remember that this is the year he’s responsible for his own homework, so my brain starts up…

“Just let him not do it and see what happens,” hisses 1970s-Amanda-mom.

“What will his teacher think of you if he comes with yet another half-done, crumpled, food-stained worksheet?” fusses the 2010 version of me as a mother.

“Those worksheets are completely inappropriate and in no way promote learning anyway,” counters teacher-Amanda.

“Google translate is the devil,” sneaks in French-teacher Amanda. “Also, check that he didn’t forget any of the accents.”

“You were just like that, and you turned out fine,” the voice of my very own mother echoes in my head, thus confirming that things have really gotten out of control.

Meanwhile, my 10-year-old has snuck in another 20 minutes of screen time and calmed down enough to be able to summon up a fresh round of tears when I remind him that he really does have to do his homework.

So tonight, it was a real victory when he finished a project in French about a man he had never heard of three weeks ago who did something important that he can’t really understand but whom he claims, for the purposes of this project, is his hero. I tried to help him choose a hero (without commenting on how the project was presented), and I didn’t say anything negative as he hand wrote his first draft (because the teacher didn’t want them to type the first draft but required a typed final copy). I didn’t point out that there was no feedback on the draft. I will admit that I typed some of it from his rough draft because he’s 10 and watching him plink keys one finger at a time makes me crazy, but I didn’t make any corrections for him, and I only sort of helped with the French spell check. Also, I let him cry more than once. When he finished, I congratulated him on all the work he did and asked if he felt proud. He did.

I felt proud, too. Because I didn’t email the teacher one single time to tell her what I thought about the assignment. That’s got to count for something, right?

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17 thoughts on “Homework

  1. “Homework gets complicated.”
    Yep. As both my wife and I are educators, we have often traveled this road. It’s a zig-zag of engagement (let me help you) and disengagement (independence) to re-engagement (you got a what on that?)
    Kevin

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  2. Oof- so glad to be past those days and also grateful that my current school does not allow homework in the elementary! Whatever you do will be criticized by someone, unfortunately, so do whatever works for your family.

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  3. Such a balancing act between independence and help, teacher expectations and your own pedagogical knowledge, the homework need and family needs. I would encourage to speak to the teachers if the situation reaches a point where it goes against your beliefs and children’s well-being.

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    1. The teachers really are quite good and very reasonable. The real tension for me is the balancing act you describe, especially when I have to turn off teacher-me and stay focused on mom-me.

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  4. Haahaa! What a riot! I love how you jumped back and forth between helicopter-mom, teacher-mom, and 70s mom. Your writing craft showed the messiness that is motherhood (and homework). My oldest is only 3, but I’m already ready to join the ‘down with homework’ movement!

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  5. May I start by saying YOU ARE NOT ALONE? Being an educator who is a parent is SOOO hard. You have to know when the shut up and when to push back. I never know if I’m using my voice for the right things. I run every potential complaint by three people before I make it just to make sure I’m not overreacting.

    BTW: We called them DUOTANG folders when I was a kid. I still use that terminology and I get weird looks ALL OF THE TIME. Thank goodness I’m not the only one who still uses that term.

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    1. Apparently Duotang is a brand name. Who knew? I literally ended up doing research (granted, very minor) for this blog post. Ok, so my research was wikipedia & a good friend, but at least I made someone laugh. Apparently you are secretly part Canadian – not a bad thing, in my humble opinion. As for the homework issue, I, too, run everything by other people and I aim for non-teaching moms to test just how crazy I’m being. Mostly I try to leave my kids to do their own thing, but sometimes it is HARD!

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  6. I hear you, I hear you. How much space you got in that boat? because there are a bunch of us in the same one! You and your kids have got this. Promise. And your kids will be great guides in all of this. Stay the course, which is, exactly as Kevin described, an exhausting zig-zag.

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    1. Thanks – exhausting zig-zag, indeed. In fact, I wrote this post to force myself to laugh about a situation that was driving me crazy. It worked! Now I remember that a) the teachers are good people and b) this, too, shall pass. George Washington Carver. I mean, he’s a great man, but I nearly snorted my tea when I heard that choice of heroes from my 10-year-old Canadian kid…

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  7. I grinned all the way through this. You are on your way to a career as a sitcom writer. Oh, wait. This is your real life? The memories of homework are so long ago that I could tell you we never once argued about it, but I’m sure I’d be lying. The good news is that one day you will be missing these days.

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    1. Ah… it’s funny what I already miss. I wrote this in another comment, but I really set out to try to see the humour in this situation. Just another reason to write – to keep things in perspective. Glad it made you (and me) laugh.

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  8. We are just starting this journey in our home, my oldest is in first grade. It’s a constant struggle not to teach, question, and criticize… despite the subject, this was a fun piece to read!

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