We Need More Teachers Like This Fifth Grade Teacher

I was happy to receive this email from a 5th grade teacher from Colorado:

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your wonderful book! As a parent of two middle school kids and a fifth grade teacher myself, you have provided me with much needed motivation and ammunition to make some changes in my school district.

The biggest problem I am facing right now is how to handle the transition from elementary to middle school. How can I prepare my students for the homework demands they will face in the future if I am not giving them any homework now? I do expect my students to read (of their choice) and do a couple of math problems a night, but that’s it. I encourage them to spend time with their families, play sports, board games, cook dinner and the like, but not a structured hour of sit-at-the-counter homework (25 math problems) that they will face next year (my 6th grade daughter sometimes has 3 hours a night). My dream is that one day everyone in our district will examine the homework policy and make some drastic changes, but for now we are stuck with the same old thing and I don’t like the thought of throwing my students to the wolves without some preparation. Do you have any ideas or should I just let it go and let this be the problem for the sixth grade teachers?

24 thoughts on “We Need More Teachers Like This Fifth Grade Teacher

  1. It’s really great that you’re a teacher that is at least thinking about the possiblity that burdening families with homework is not the best way to go. I’d really wonder where, though, this idea comes from that we have to “prepare” young children all the time. It’s as if throughout history, children have just blindly been growing up and been total disasters but now finally in the last 20 years we adults have finally been “preparing them”. We play music to them in the womb and read to them before they’re born to enhance them in some way. We buy “baby Einstein” and send them to playgroups to prepare them for school. We then go through each grade preparing them for the next one. No wonder parents and teachers are exhausted most of the time. Sounds like we need a new book, “Prepared Children”. When are we just going to let them be kids, let them grow up and do the best they can….


  2. worries like these are how we end up with homework in kindergarten.

    let’s start pushing it the other way — let teachers notice that their kids are doing well with minimal homework, and maybe we can eliminate homework until it’s really necessary.


  3. I would say to leave the problem of will they be “prepared” for the middle school to deal with. As long as they have the skills to do the work they shouldn’t really need to practice sitting still, and writing on a paper- they have already learned to do this at school. The only thing they learn from bringing school home is how to get burned out at a young age.


  4. Let it go and let it be a problem for the 6th grade teacher. You are such an inspiration!

    If the 6th grade teachers overload, forcing you to prepare your students, then the 4th grade teacher will overload to prepare her students for your class, as you prepare yours for 6th grade. You can see where this is going. And that is why we recently saw a post from a kindergarten teacher who wanted to assign her little students a half hour of homework (and you know that half hour will take three) in order to prepare them for first grade.

    I first met Susan Ohanian when my daughter was in kindergarten. I’d read her marvelous book, “Whatever Happened to Recess and Why are our Kids Failing Kindergarten?” A must read. She was giving a talk and spoke of a study in which children were interviewed about math. They were asked, why do you learn math?

    The first grader said, to prepare us for first grade and the first grades said to prepare us for second grade and the second graders said to prepare us for third grade and…you get the picture, this went on and on, each set of students consistently listing preparation for the next grade as the reason to learn math. No wonder our country has a dearth of good home grown math, science and engineering talent. And it’s not because we don’t test prep enough.

    Ohanian said, not one student they queried mentioned liking it. What about the beauty of math? Not one student talked about math, what they liked, what they didn’t like, why they learned it. And we have Preparation Mania to blame.

    I realize the tight spot you are in, fifth grade teacher. As hard as it is, please be a trailblazer. We knew teachers like you to stop being afraid. We must end this insanity and begin addressing homework in a rational way with parents and teachers the major voices in this discussion. Because right now administrators and school boards are basing their decisions on ideology rather than sound research and feedback.


  5. We knew teachers like you to stop being afraid.


    We NEED teachers like you, meant to write!


  6. To add, I had the rare opportunity to meet with my daughter’s history teacher this fall. I told him she thrives on discussion. He informed me he wouldn’t be doing much of that this year. Reason? College is primarily lecture and the students need to start getting prepared now.


  7. Please, don’t “prepare” your kids by bringing the bad habits of some 6th grade teachers in to your own 5th grade classroom.

    Instead of dumping stress and overwork on younger and younger kids, let’s strive to bring a reasonable and healthy approach to school to older and older kids. We can start by throwing out the pointless busy work that turns kids off to learning in elementary school. Then when they get to middle school, they could be introduced to occasional homework when it’s necessary for learning. Wow! What would that be like?


  8. I (that Colorado Fifth Grade Teacher who wrote to Sara) loved reading all of your comments and can’t agree more. I really asked the question in the first place because I know that I as I move to this sadly rare practice of no homework and encouraging my students to read for pleasure what they choose to read, I will be challenged by many and need a good response. I plan to print all of your responses to share with others that question me. I already emailed my question to Sara and her response to me to my director of Curriculum and Instruction.

    Thank you HomeworkBlues for the book suggestion. It sounds right up my alley. A couple of years ago my principal and I went nose to nose about the need to have recess. She really didn’t think even 1st graders needed it let alone 5th graders. Can you imagine?! Anyway, thanks again to everyone and I look forward to reading more!


  9. We need MORE teachers like you. My kids were lucky enough to have a couple teachers who share your views about homework and childhood in general. One 2nd grade teacher and one 4th grade teacher assigned NO HOMEWORK!! The kids were happier, healthier and really enjoyed school those years.

    I worked at an elementary school for many years and continue to work as a substitute para. I talk to a lot of teachers who feel the same way you do. They feel pressured by “the system” to assign homework to prepare the students for next year. I am constantly hearing a teacher say, “You need to learn this now, because next year you will have to . . . ”

    It gets really old and I am sure the kids are sick of hearing it. Why can’t we congratulate students and make them feel good about what they HAVE learned, instead of constantly pressuring them to DO BETTER!

    THANK YOU for being brave enough to do what you feel is right. I think a lot of teachers agree with you, but are afraid to do anything about it. There is a quote hanging in our teacher’s lounge that inspires me . . .

    “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”
    Helen Keller


  10. As a parent of a 5th grade student at a school that loves to pile on that homework, just for the purpose of homework, it’s a nightmare every evening and I wish there were more teachers and a bigger push for less homework.

    I’ve been told they don’t have time to start their homework in class, or rarely. so how is it that it takes teachers approx 50min to teach, say math and not have time to start it in class? When I was in school we spent probably 25 in instruction, the the remainder was to get started and ask questions. If the teacher found numerous students were asking the same question, then they’d stop the entire class and review it again.

    I am told teachers are so over worked, but perhaps if they talked less, gave the kids more chances to start working independantly in class so they could ask questions if needed, the teacher would find more time to work on their stuff too while the class worked quietly. Time management skills….

    I can’t say I know the answer, I have never taught, and praise the people who have the patience for the job. But I was a student who had homework, but it was generally spelling and any work that wasn’t completed in class, along with the ocassional long term school project/book report.

    I don’t think the answer is no homework, I think the answer is homework for what wasn’t completed in class, the ocassional long term assignment (teaches a lot), that way the rare true homework assignment isn’t overwhelming.

    I actually hate school more now than when I was a student, not only am I having to “DO” the homework, I am also having to fight my child to “DO” their homework and help them understand it, when they following different processes, than I do/did.


  11. I think the answer is homework for what wasn’t completed in class


    You make excellent points and I agree with many of them. Just not this one. Don’t open up this Pandora’s box. You start saying it’s okay to do at home what didn’t get done during the day and home becomes the dumping ground for all the residue. Even the best teachers will begin to rely on the “let’s send it home” fall back. It becomes a security blanket and you the parent are in effect homeschooling. The pressure is on you, your child and entire family, to pick up the slack.

    This might have had the best of intentions years ago. After all, not all children can finish everything at school. But children often come home, not only with a backpack loaded with new homework, but all the stuff they didn’t finish at school. It becomes overwhelming and your panicked child just shuts down.

    Don’t go there!


  12. If any of you have heard of the parenting program Love and Logic–they have interesting things to say about this subject. Things I have learned from Jim Fay and Foster Cline (founders):

    1. Jim Fay says if he were king he would do away with written homework and instead encourage children to learn through other activities at home such as was mentioned: cooking, grocery shopping, board games, etc. He cites a research study examining the effects of homework on 700 kids. The result? The more homework–the more negative their attitude toward school became. It is creating the opposite effect that teachers are wanting.

    2. Learning is a survival instinct we are born with and the desire for achievement is a basic human need. You know the “A-HA!” feeling after struggling to figure something out? The brain sends out endorphins throughout the body and we feel excited, exhilarated! That is the brain’s built in reward system for learning. Often, it seems that some teachers have the attitude that kids really don’t want to learn–it is something that must be forced. (If that is true–how have we come so far as a human race? All the discoveries, inventions…)

    3. When we reward or punish our kids over their grades, we are actually short circuiting the brain’s ability to reward itself by creating a control battle with the child. While achievement is a basic human need, the need for control–also a basic human need–is a more BASIC need and must be met first. When we are in a control battle with our child over learning, the learning part of their brain shuts down because they are focused on getting their control needs met.

    4. Studies of high achievers show NO correlation with grades. What IS the correlation with? Success in extra-curricular activities, i.e. sports, music, dance, art, writing, chess, scouting, sewing–whatever they love and excel in and find success with. They learn how to set goals, work hard, and achieve.

    How does giving tons of busy work prepare a child for the next grade–for their educational future? More prepared in what way? A love for learning and school? A higher self concept achieved by sitting and doing endless amounts of worksheets instead of developing their talents and abilities?

    Just something to think about.


  13. I would caution the author and supportive folks to remember that, for some families, having meaningful homework (not busy-work) assignments can help a child excel when their parents want them to achieve the dream of college, but don’t know how to instill the habits if they themselves didn’t get a chance to attend college. This was true in my case.


  14. Anonymous, then let it be optional. Ask the teacher to assign as much homework as you want.

    Frankly, I’m perfectly capable of instilling those habits at home and supplementing my child’s daytime education with books, museums, nature centers, classical concerts. I don’t need the schools to consume every waking moment of our family life.

    And you don’t have to have a college degree to do all that. Your child is in school for six and a half to seven hours a day? That should be plenty to help him excel.

    But I hear what you are saying. The father of Education Week magazine, I once read, doesn’t like homework! He would watch his daughter chase her daughter around the house, coaxing her to start the afternoon homework grind. Instead he recommended one longer thoughtful piece a child can really sink her teeth into.

    Every teacher should ask, can this be done in school? If so, don’t send it home! I’m even leery about suggesting some longer range beneficial assignments becuase I have seen over the years what those projects have done to our weekends.

    My daughter learns best in depth and would have been better off with one engrossing assignment she could get lost in than several smaller ones. That wonderful teacher said she wanted her students to get lost in their homework. Well, my daughter did, and as a result, she couldn’t get it all done. We were forever cajoling her to move forward, breaking up her flow and reverie.

    I like FedUpMom’s line. She was referring to reading logs when she wrote, “some childen would find that level of intrusion intolerable.” The same can be applied to micro-managing them to get everything done.

    School should be for moving along from subject to subject. If that. Homeschooling doesn’t do it that way. But home should be for in depth engrossing work. I know some kids prefer quick worksheets they can just knock out, be done with the drudgery and on to better things. Like television. My daughter craved the in-depth projects but they came on top of so much busy work, it was like sifting through the chaff to get to the wheat.

    I’m defaulting to the No Homework genre because then we can fill our time as we see fit. Our home education is far superior to what she got in elementary and middle anyway.


  15. Oh, if you really want to instill time management, breaking down large tasks into smaller chunks, working with a group, polishing capabilities, you don’t need homework! Join Odyssey of the Mind or some similar competition. You don’t have to do it just to win. The values your child brings away are worth every second. You can get this in after school sports, science and math teams, theatre.

    To repeat, rather than arguing good homework over bad, as I view the long landscape of our homework life, I’m still wishing there’d been none. Particularly in elementary school. I don’t lie awake at night worrying that my child didn’t get enough homework. But I do lie awake at night worrying she didn’t play enough, socialize enough. I’m more struck by what she missed out on than what benefit homework might have given her. Because the things she gave up are really the skills that count in life, that’ll carry her successfully into adulthood.


  16. I agree with an earlier comment..And I also caution parents who have such negative attitudes towards homework..Because that is where it starts. If the parents are complaining, then the kids surely will…I personally never give busy work in class or as homework. But we must understand why HW is given.. It should be given te encourage thinking and the use of skills learned during that school day. I understand that some teachers simply give hw because they feel like it, and I agree that, that has to stop. But the answer is not never give hw or let it be optional for the parents. Remember the goal is to advance the child and we need to work together for the best out come. I find that hw is useful when a hard topic was gone over in class and needs to be presented several times before a good understanding of the subject matter can be obtained…I don’t give hw everyday, not even every week…But when I do it is for the reason I listed above…I also think that some suggestions such as the encouragement of going shopping, cooking, ect are great ideas and I wish everyone could do them. But the fact is we don’t..Who takes their kids shopping with them everytime…Or when you are shopping you really have the time(each and everytime) to make that a learning experience. Most of us don’t have that kind of time(all the time). Therefore more and more kids go home and watch TV. Ask your self what would you rather your child be doing…HW or watching tv… Nonetheless I know hw can be a pain for the parents since you are charged with helping your child understand the topics(that you might not really understand yourself) each night…I think that we just have to remember to keep a positive attitude and show our children the proper way to handle HW…The truth is that if you are planning for your child to do well beyond middle school they are going to have to coupe with hw. So lets give them the proper attitude to start with(even if we secretly hate it)!!


  17. I’d probably have less inclination to disagree with you, Anonymous, if homework was age appropriate and thoughtful. I applaud you if you can give your students relevant work. Children live in families (for the most part) and there can be relevant overlap between the two worlds- home and school. But things like reading logs, extra math problems, and the myriad homework tasks don’t qualify.

    My 8 year old enters the school building at 8AM and I pick her up at 5PM. I consider her “on” from the moment she has to start dealing with teachers and other kids, which is immediately. That’s 9 hours. Longer than my work day. I can see no reason why, -after I sometimes have to wake her up to get her out of the car at night-, why she should have to do one speck of extra school-related work that day. Not only is it unreasonable to expect her to do it, there is no evidence to suggest that she needs to practice “thinking”. Lord knows at 7PM at night I can barely think.

    And I don’t think that the goal of homework is to “advance the child”. Homework is only a tradition in school and among teachers. It’s given because it’s been given before. Someone somewhere thought it was a good idea. Since the research evidence has found that in fact homework advances nothing in elementary age children, I can’t see why it’s continued. The solution is in fact to stop it, or at the very least make it optional for parents to decide for themselves what comes into their homes. Since many teachers and principals have BA’s now, I’m frankly surprised that the public doesn’t make them more accountable. If we look at another profession as a comparison, would we support and encourage any other profession who was using out of date and antiquated methods?
    Do we discourage children who are left handed from using their left hand to write in school? There was a time teachers did.
    Are little girls only allowed to wear dresses to school? In 1965 they weren’t allowed to wear slacks. I was there.
    Do we say the Lord’s Prayer in school and read a chapter from the bible every morning? We did in 1974, but not now.

    Do we still think that 5,6,7,8, 9, 10 year olds need an hour or two of homework every night?


  18. Anonymous above writes:

    I also think that some suggestions such as the encouragement of going shopping, cooking, ect are great ideas and I wish everyone could do them.

    I suggested it. It’s a great way to teach math, for example as you weigh and measure fruits and vegetables.

    But the fact is we don’t..


    I do.

    Who takes their kids shopping with them everytime…Or when you are shopping you really have the time(each and everytime) to make that a learning experience. Most of us don’t have that kind of time(all the time).

    I don’t have the time because you, dear teacher, stole it from me a long time ago.


    Therefore more and more kids go home and watch TV.


    Not my kid. I keep hearing this argument, over and over. You justify homework because some parents don’t take their kids shopping or to a museum, don’t play with them and you can’t know who does what so it’s equal opportunity boredom sent home.

    And I still don’t get it. Because Suzy doesn’t take little Johnny to the park, therefore I’m deprived the privilege as well? Because Mr. Thomas doesn’t take little Timmy to the Air and Space Museum, therefore we can’t go either?

    Teacher, trust some of us. There are those of us who want nothing more than more time with our children. I had a long list of Mother’s Day activities. All were educational. I knew we couldn’t do them all, my daughter clocked only 19 homework hours this weekend (it’s usually worse), and whatever non homework activities we did do cost us because she didn’t finish and was penalized.

    I didn’t want flowers or baubles or a fancy brunch, My daughter even cried that she wanted to make me a card but was too stressed over two major papers due in one day. All I wanted to catch was the Lincoln exhibit at the Library of Congress before it went. And I wanted to see the azaleas at the arboretum. Thanks to your pro-homework sentiments, I was deprived of both.

    Please don’t give me that tired old canard how many parents won’t. If that’s the case, how come over the years I could never whisper in a teacher’s ear, could you expunge homework this week, she’s writing a novel and reading Wuthering Heights in 5th grade? Teacher would have jumped for joy at our marvelous parenting. Yea, right.


  19. Ask your self what would you rather your child be doing…HW or watching tv…


    Oh, dear, Mama Mia. I can either gnash my teeth or ignore you. I’m sorely tempted to do the latter but as teachers go, you don’t sound too onerous. Your homework philosophy, although misguided, doesn’t seem that much and my daughter would have been able to knock it out and go play. Or not. Not if it’s tedious with no discernible educational value.

    Regardless of what you assign for take outl, I can’t imagine it would have been better than what my child was already choosing to do; self directed pursuits like writing a novel, reading all afternoon, sketching and building leggos structures (the little future engineer). Sounds like you assign a lot of busy work that’s hardly worth the time.

    But that comment above. Egads. You truly think that’s the choice? You know, I know some parents who agree with you. One at my daughter’s high school justified homework overload (we’re talking seven hours a night after a long day at school which spills into the wee hours of the morning and most of the weekend so neither mom nor daughter are ever rested) because otherwise her child would just be on Facebook all night. Lovely. We destroy their love of learning when they are young and then complain they have no incentive to learn unless we hit them over the head with it (grades, threats and bribes) and would never choose a single responsible activity without our prodding.

    That you automatically assume our afternoons would either be spent in scheduled activities, homework or television show me you are not in touch with the very children you purport to educate.

    Try this on for size. In the absence of homework here’s what we would reach for: books, writing, museums, ballet performances, free classical concerts, lectures, nature centers, hiking, biking, walking, tree climbing, making puppets, clay formations, singing, skipping, building an imaginary forte in the woods, swimming, talking, discussing, laughing. The list is positively endless. Who needs tv when you have all that?

    I’m glad you wrote. Your misconceptions about many of us at least gave me the opportunity to set the record straight. I do hope you’ve learned something and that your conclusions come in for a tune up.


  20. Last night was a perfect example of our family life. There’s just the two of us, living in a two bedroom apartment. We got home at 5:45. I started dinner immediately. Daughter age 8 asks for a snack…declined. Asks to watch TV or a DVD….declined. Is sent to room to clean it up for 20 minutes before supper. I hear recorder music a few minutes later…she tidies, she tootles on her recorder. We eat dinner…chat. Then there’s a bit of TV…45 minutes actually. Then it’s into PJ’s and we play 2 games of Yahtzee (we just got the game and she wanted to learn). Wild protests that she can’t stay up to watch Americn Idol. She’s asleep 15 minutes later because she’s wiped out!

    As far as I’m concerned she had a very educational evening. She practiced being responsible and disciplined by tidying her room (oh jeez I forgot, only homework can do that). She practiced playing a musical instrument (oh no..she’s only supposed to practice what the teachers tell her to). She learned a new game that involved counting and decision making, finding patterns and learning sportsmanship.

    A modern family’s life has little room for homework and little interest. It’s time teachers got that.


  21. Our school district just released the entire district’s ITBS results for the current school year. Math scores in 6th grade were not as high as they would like so they’ve come up with a new strategy to boost standardized test scores. Notice the strategy is to boost test scores, not increase learning.

    Students in 5th grade will now be “preloaded” (the school district’s own word) with the skills they need to know to boost scores on the 6th grade tests. Students take the ITBS tests in January instead of at the end of the school year, so they can’t learn the skills they need to know in the proper year.

    How are they going to preload kids? With extra homework of course! Thick math homework packets will be going home with kids next year so that parents can preload the skills, boost the test scores, and make the school district look good.


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