Guest Blogger: Story from the Trenches–Part 2

Here’s an update from Lisa Grady, the parent from southern California who writes about what she’s doing to try to change homework policy in her fourth-grader’s public school. In Lisa’s first guest blog entry, she told us about a comprehensive presentation she gave to the fourth grade teachers at her school. (I’m on vacation this week. Instead of sending me email about your concerns and comments, why not post a comment on this blog entry or in the forums instead. It’s so important for people other than me to hear from you.)

Organizing Other Parents (Continued)
by Lisa Grady

We first emailed the teachers and principal letting them know we were putting the presentation in their boxes. After my co-chair Cheryl hit the send button she said her hands were shaking. I emailed her saying that as I read her email alerting me that there was no turning back, I could hear the music from JAWS resounding in my head. I understood then how invested we had become in our cause. But I knew our group had been very conscious in creating our presentation. We painstakingly reviewed every word to edit out anything that seemed critical and unsupportive. We were pure in our intent of collaboration. Yet, we felt the pressure of knowing that we represented over 1/3 of the fourth grade families and were unsure how our presentation would be received. Unfortunately, we were disheartened by what was to follow.

We thought, perhaps naively, that the next communication would be an acknowledgment from the teachers that our presentation had been received and potentially the establishment of a future meeting time. Instead, rumor quickly spread that the teachers had not reacted positively. The principal quickly sent out a communication to all fourth grade parents that was initially very upsetting to the members of our group and in some ways validated the reaction of the teachers. I literally felt sick to my stomach.

We felt we needed to do something to assure the fourth grade parents that our letters to the teachers praised them, took ownership for our own role as parents in the over-scheduled lives of our children, and clearly stated our desire to help. ( a copy of our communication is already posted on the site). I reread our presentation several times that day as emails flew among members of the group. We tried desperately to make sense of the reaction and assess where we could have gone wrong.

Now, the attention was off homework and on our group and the teachers’ reaction. We spent the next several weeks mending fences and attempting to create a dialogue. We have yet to have a meeting with the teachers but have met with the principal several times. We have learned much from this whole process. First, it is very important that you communicate with integrity, as we did, because then regardless of someone else’s reaction, you can remain confident in both your motivation and your intention. Second, while we spent time trying to anticipate how the teachers would feel receiving our communication, you can never be totally privy to someone else’s life and how that may make them more vulnerable at any given time. For example, we learned that the fourth grade teachers had other things going on and felt overwhelmed when they received our presentation. In fact, we had tried to get input from a teacher in order to gain insight into the best way to go about this but were unable to meet in a timely manner. Third, intention is not always best communicated in writing. While members of the group had already talked with the teachers about homework, the presentation had a strong impact. Finally, once you have looked at both sides’ point of view, you must let the reactions of others go. You can do that if you know you acted with integrity. Then your work is about moving in a positive direction.

In the meantime, the homework load has been reduced to a more manageable level. We have reason to celebrate and feel proud for advocating on the behalf of our children. We must also realize that this is a marathon not a sprint. What is it they say? Rome was not built in a day.

One thought on “Guest Blogger: Story from the Trenches–Part 2

  1. I remember when I started teaching… in my first year, I taught 9 subjects in 7 blocks of time (yes, two time slots had two subjects in them!). Being a first year teacher without a lot of pre-prepared lesson plans, I was getting about 4 hours of sleep a night by the time I did the marking of student homework.

    I won’t go into how my health suffered… that’s another story entirely. But during my 2nd year of teaching, I finally asked the Principal if he had any suggestions for how to reduce my homework marking load. He did — and I followed his suggestion for the next 6 years until I started doing Discovery Software full time.

    Here’s what he said:
    1) feel free to give out homework, but never mark it.
    2) when you hand out the homework, post the answers with full solution on the bulletin board in your class (I was a Math teacher)
    3) make 30% of your exam questions exact copies (maybe change the variable names from “x” to “y”) of some of the homework questions.

    It worked like a charm. Kids started to do the amount of work they needed to do — no more and no less. They quickly came to understand that they actually had to do some practice (so any homework the DID do was valuable) but didn’t have to spend a couple of extra hours doing busy work once they understood the concept being taught.

    It was the best of both worlds.


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