Another Plumsted, New Jersey, Mom Weighs In

Over the past year, I have posted entries by Diane Hewlett-Lowrie here , here, here and here. Now, another parent in her Plumsted, New Jersey, community has written a letter to the same second-grade teacher:

I am writing to express my concerns with the homework situation. There are very few nights when things go great and homework gets done and everyone is happy. I have planned on discussing this with you at our parent/teacher conference [next week] but my frustration level has hit its brink. Other than writing the spelling words 3x’s, ABC order and math addition facts, there is not one piece of homework that my child can do independently. This is very concerning and I wonder if this is being recognized within the class room? [My child] and I sit and do homework together every night. The amount of time varies from 20 minutes, which is rare, to close to an hour if not an hour. I am not in the classroom with her everyday and do not know how to help or explain to her how to figure out her homework. I work full time and when I come home I don’t expect to have to “teach” my daughter what she should have learned in class.

I believe that homework should be a review of what she is doing in class and if you are in agreement with this then “why are we struggling with homework/studying?” I don’t know how else to explain the situation but there are nights that [my child] is in tears over “not knowing” what she is doing, or she thinks she did it right and I have to tell her “no erase it because it is wrong”. I thought about gettinga tutor but considering I am a single mother with a very limited budget, I really can’t afford a tutor at $40 an hour.

What I am asking for is a better homework experience with my daughter, not a crying fit where she is yelling at me telling me she hates me. I am not an expert but I can almost assure you that she is not retaining the information that we go over when our nights start and end in crying fits. I am mentally and physically drained after nights like tonight and I cannot continue with this way of doing things.

I am open for any suggestions, but I need some kind of answer. Is it that she is not paying attention in class or that she just doesn’t get it?? I don’t think that spending more time at night with her studying and reviewing after a full day of school is the answer. I have another daughter that is 13. She attended [another elementary] in [another town] and I don’t remember her having any homework except for studying spelling words, reading 20 minutes a night and maybe a project or two.She is now in the 8th grade and a straight “A” student.

I’m hoping you can see or hear the level of frustration I am having. When you have already had a daughter go through the 2nd grade and not have a problem, to having a daughter that just doesn’t understand what she is doing 95% of the time, it makes you think what element is failing–the student, the parent or the teacher. I don’t want to fail my daughter. Please work with me in finding a way to help her.

5 thoughts on “Another Plumsted, New Jersey, Mom Weighs In

  1. I’m in a rush now so haven’t had a chance to read the entire post. First, it’s a great letter and I commend you.

    I got as far as “writing spelling words three times’ and that got my goat and I just had to immediately write.

    This is busy work personified. I am sure the teacher thinks it’s a relatively easy task and your child can just whip it out. But there are factors that should be considered when assigning such drudgery.

    1. The obvious – it’s drudgery. It’s tedious.

    2. In my daughter’s case, she had/has a huge amount of difficulty completing a task that was easy, rote and boring. She’s the type of child who thrives on complex engaging material and if the words were too easy (they were), the task too boring, she simply couldn’t do it. An assignment that should have taken ten minutes could take three hours because she was resistant. But she was in private school then, had a nice teacher, actually, and we were able to reason with her.

    Regardless, I found myself annoyed. Looking back, it’s the teacher’s job to know why such assignments are useless. If it has no educational value (in my daughter’s case, she was an ace speller, the words were too easy and the task too tedious for a seven year old), I’m not going to ask my child to do it.

    The teacher listened and then said my daughter could do the words in glitter glue. Lovely. Okay, now the task was a bit more fun but the premise was still the same – a pointless assignment, no educational value. Verdict: a complete waste of time. Time that would have been better spent reading a chapter book.

    In conclusion, spelling was always my daughter’s strong suit. And I can tell you she’s learned to spell this well not from those silly repetitive assignments but from the books she reads. I say scrap the boring words and have your daughter read read read or read to her.

    What’s the worst that can happen if you don’t comply? Grades don’t count in elementary. The teacher may try to take it out on your child but I am convinced, in hindsight, that if you go to her first, as you are doing, make it clear the decision to dump homework is yours, not hers and that you do not want her publicly humiliated, the teacher may very well think twice. It’s what I should have done more forcefully, once my daughter entered public school.


  2. That letter could have been written by me to my child’s third grade teacher. I particularly liked how you pointed out that homework should be review, that you shouldn’t be teaching your daughter things she should have learned in school.

    We had the same grueling, horrible experience. The teacher made sure I knew that it was some failing on my part or on my child’s part, because certainly it wasn’t her and how dare I question her assignments? In the meantime, like you, I was a single, working mom. My other son was going without baths in the evening, and dinner was always late or we did take out — all because of the amount and complexity of the homework. Math was the worst because I didn’t really understand the new methods (lattice?) and so I’m sure I was confusing the heck out of him. My son was demoralized ever day over it, and I honestly think that his self esteem as a student suffered immensely that year and he has never rebounded (he’s now in 6th grade).

    That teacher has since been named teacher of the year. No joke. I almost fell over when I saw that.

    In the meantime, in grades since then (and I wish I had done this in 3rd but was still finding my feet as an advocate for my child) I have told his teachers that I will provide the supplies for him to do his work, a place to do it, and X-amount of time (now in 6th grade its 45 minutes). I will help when I can, but the product they get will be his honest effort and they can use that to judge where his deficit areas are. I have also told them that any classwork he does not finish is not to be sent home. If he is not finishing classwork, we need to look at why and then problem solve. Sending it home is not the solution.

    Good luck. And most importantly. Its not you and its not your daughter.


  3. To the writer — first, I want to echo Kat’s point that it isn’t you and it isn’t your daughter. While we’re speaking of you and your daughter, you should put your relationship first. Don’t let school get in the way! Set a maximum time for homework (20 minutes is more than enough) and when the time is up, pack up the bookbag and do something fun with your daughter — play a card game, read a book together, draw, watch and discuss a movie. Write a note to the teacher telling her that this was your decision, not your daughter’s. You are right that your daughter is learning nothing useful when she is frustrated to the point of tears. Give her her childhood back and reclaim your relationship! I wish you loads of luck. I hope you will write back and let us know of your progress.

    By the way, I’m married with a very flexible part-time job, so I have the luxury of more free time than most people, and guess what — I don’t want to spend our precious family time grinding through homework either. Don’t let the teacher make you feel defensive about being a single mother. Best of luck!


  4. If only more parents would write notes like this! I wouldn’t be surprised if that teacher doesn’t have kids or her kids are much older. I used to assign a lot of homework before I really, truly understood how much time and energy it takes. My recommendation is for this parent to continue to communicate with the teacher, only require her daughter do meaningful homework and begin to “wean” her daughter away from having Mom sit there with her while she does homework.


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