Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – More from Halifax, Nova Scotia

Today’s guest blogger, the mother of a second grader, lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She holds a masters degree in psychology and works full time doing psychometric testing of adults. She has written two previous entries here and here.

Why Homework Doesn’t Work
by Psych Mom

I’ve become a believer in the last year that homework is not the way to go. Despite this, my 8 year old started Grade 3 this year and serious homework is a part of that at our school. We parents got the schedule from the teacher of when various tasks were being assigned and when that’s all due, the implication being that we would be monitoring and reminding, I guess. It was expressly written that the work is the child’s responsibility. It was not expressly implied what my duties were but informing me, I assume, is tantamount to making me a part of it all. This weekend I knew there were things my child had to do for math homework. She never talked about them….the sheets sat on top of her binder all weekend. Sunday afternoon, against my better judgment, I suggested that she get those sheets and we’d take a look. She did. This is how it unfolded. It wasn’t pretty and I freely admit that it was all, my fault. I am not a good teacher.

She couldn’t read all of the instructions….she needed me to read some of the words. She only read the top part….nothing of the bottom of the page instructions. The instructions were confusing because she was to make a
graph, but there was a sheet of paper with a grid on it attached, as well as space on the front instruction sheet, that said, “Graph here”. No mention of the grid was anywhere or what to do with it. So I suggested she use the grid on the next page for her graph. Labeling the graph was a nightmare. We were measuring the height of family members…all two of us. She knew I was over a hundred centimeters so she started her vertical axis with 100 at the bottom……..(My blood is starting to simmer because now I’m into teaching about scaling). We erase all the numbers and she writes “0” on the horizontal axis…”No, it has to go on the other side, sweetie and count by 10’s up the side.” How else were we going to decide on what scale to use?…I’m sure a teacher would have known how to help a child figure out what units needed to be on each axis…..but not me. I told her what to do. Then when she’s plotting the two numbers she colours in the one square that is closest to each of our heights…no bar graphing is happening here. About 7 minutes after we began, I’m saying, “Come on, I’ve seen your work since Kindergarten …you’ve done a graph before”. Half a minute later, she’s throwing the papers out in front of her and declaring, “I hate HOMEWORK” and “YOU are so mean” and “I have my own ways of doing things, you know”

So I said,” Pack it up please, put it in your binder…put it away.”

We could have sat together at the table and I could have gone through it one step at a time (i.e. do it for her) or I could have spent half an hour teaching her about graphs. But why should I be doing that? She tells me she doesn’t like grade 3 because the homework is hard….after 4 weeks of school. She’s mad at me for not helping her. I’m mad because I caused the fight we had. I’m not a teacher. I don’t want to teach her about graphs. I don’t have the patience. There shouldn’t be the assumption that parents corral and organize the homework, sit and teach their children and create this “special” time…..perhaps some parents want to spend their time with their children this way. I don’t. I send my child to school for that. It’s my job to get her to clean her room and pick up after herself. I’m not qualified to be her teacher. I’m more likely to damage her feelings, and then in turn feel guilty and remorseful myself for being an inadequate parent. Aside from the emotional upheaval homework can cause, shouldn’t we also consider how we might also be sabotaging the teacher’s work when we do things we shouldn’t because we’re not teachers? And do they really want me to do things my way? My way involves making it as painless as possible for myself and my child….I could have drawn a wonderful bar graph, with labels and colour-coding…means and standard deviations too.
But what am I teaching her then?

21 thoughts on “Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – More from Halifax, Nova Scotia

  1. PsychMom,

    My feelings EXACTLY. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve had to teach my daughter the concepts she’s supposed to be learning in school. And I’ve had my share of “You’re a mean mom” comments, too. They hurt and they always make mom the bad guy.

    But, if she doesn’t finish her homework, she has to go to “study hall” and sit there until its done, missing recess. And, of course, there’s no one there to help her.


  2. Another, more insidious problem has emerged for which I also have to take responsibility. My feeling about schoolwork being brought home may have caused my daughter to avoid bringing it home at all. None of it seems to ever come home, so now I don’t know what happens to it.

    She does attend homework club for a half hour in her afterschool program and she says she does it all there. But I’ve gotten no notice that things have changed at school in the homework plan, and on curriculum night the message was clear: your children will be coming home with YX and Z every week and these are the expectations. So, is she a whiz and getting everything done? Is she not doing it? Has she told the teachers she doesn’t get any help from her Mom? I’ve spoken with her main teacher a couple of times and there has been no problems ever mentioned. I’m not really worried about how she’s doing in school and I’m feeling fine about what they’re accomplishing in school this term. But as for what’s happening with schoolwork that is assigned to home completion…..I have no clue.

    Parent teacher conferences are this I guess I’ll find out.


  3. My daughter’s teacher said she told her, “My mommy doesn’t like homework. She’d rather play with me, instead.”

    I just looked at her like, “Yes, and your problem with that is…”


  4. PsychMom, I think we will have similar parent teacher conferences. I’ve simply stopped trying to stay on top of my younger daughter’s homework (she just turned 9 and she’s in 4th grade). I’m dreading the parent teacher conference. I can tell this teacher is the type to say, your daughter’s not doing well and it’s your fault. I’ve heard from other parents that she’s insane, and I’ve already seen the signs and heard stories from my daughter to back that up.
    Like the day that one student was saying that he was tired, and the teacher responded, “you’re tired? I was up til midnight.” Um…you’re an adult. Your student is a child! You really want to play comparison games?
    So I’ve already resigned myself to a less than banner year, but at least this site has helped me get over the worries of how I’ll be perceived by this teacher. I’ll grin and bear the conference. And then just keep doing what I feel is best for our family.


  5. Yeah, I’m with you April…this blog has opened a whole world of self confidence for me as a parent. It’s made me aware of what’s really going on instead of just being a passive recipient.

    Thinking about all these issues has also helped me to start thinking about what education is and what it means to me….and all the marvellous ways in my life I have Learned. Most of the time, I’ve learned most from what hasn’t come easily.

    Good luck with the PT confernence.


  6. Amen! I am, by trade, a high school math teacher. I HATE assigning homeowrk and i absolutely LOATHE grading it. I was REQUIRED to assign and grade homework. The homework I actually gave in class was a bit different. We would always have work during class and a significant number of quizzes per semester (around 50 in a 90 day semester). After the students had completed the quiz, I would give all those students who did not make 100% a blank copy of the quiz. Their “homework” was to take the quiz home and rework all the problems. I would then collect it the next school day and re-grade it. The new score became their grade and replaced the previous score (if lower).

    To ensure that the students are not just copying answers from another source, I would give them a 50 point quiz about once every two weeks. This quiz is not eligible for the “replacement” grade.

    I have had a tremendous amount of success especially with special ed kids and my non-native English speakers.

    I hate homework too!


  7. Math Guy made me think of one of my college professors (yes, the one I had a crush on) who loathed final exams. He felt they were worthless, stress inducing and counter productive since they were FINAL exams and if the students weren’t getting something out of the class, there was nothing he could do.

    But he was required, per policy, to give a final exam.

    Here it is, in it’s entirety:
    1. What is your name
    2. The following is a list of books you were to read for this class (followed by the list of 5 or 6 books).

    Please list the ones you actually read.

    If you read them all, write all. If you are lying, print.
    Too many years later, I still remember that test and how he was able to work his way around the requirement without compromising his own integrity.


  8. Ah but today he might have lost tenure and been escorted off campus. There was a prof at the University of Ottawa who wanted to give his physics class all A’s at the onset of the term……having got that out of the way he set about to work with his students intensely, figuring that those who where there to learn would do so and indeed the students that were there to take his class supported his decision and were carrying on with lectures and experiments.

    The prof was fired last I heard.


  9. Let me understand the concept of this site.

    Homework is bad. Play is good and educational?

    Using that rationale, vegetables are bad but candy is good and nutritious!!!

    Just complete your assignments in a timely manner with minimal kibbitzing. I get the impression that the parents are not happy with the quantity of homework because it cuts into their time.


  10. Actually, he resigned after he wrote his second book, signed on with A Prairie Home Companion and made the first book into a movie. He’s still invited back for guest lectures and is still very popular when he comes onto campus.


  11. Joe D.

    Yes, homework is bad. Play is good and educational. Very good! Now, repeat it 50 times to make sure you learn it well. Write it 20 times so you can spell the words properly.

    And yes, I do feel homework cuts into my family and home time. Silly me. I love spending time with my daughter.


  12. Joe D, your logic is as simplictic and sophomoric as your writing. If you are going to write a persuasive argument, you have to better than that.

    Homework is bad, play is educational and good. That’s the best you’ve gotten out of this site? Well, yes, in a nutshell but there’s so much more to this thesis that you are clearly missing.


  13. PsychMom writes: ” I’m more likely to damage her feelings, and then in turn feel guilty and remorseful myself for being an inadequate parent.”

    You have no idea how often this scenario has played out in our house over the years, which is why I hate homework. I’m a terrific mother. But homework allows me almost no time to do what I do best; mother, nurture, instill values and responsibility, read to her, have her read to me, take her to museums and hikes, and interminable time to be the homework enforcer.

    My daughter is now a senior in high school and I feel as if we’ve been in Homework Hell for nine years. Thank heavens for that one year sabbatical, our homeschool reprieve where I kept the challenge, threw out the garbage, eliminated pointless assignments (you have no idea how empowering that felt. Yes you do), deleted stress and inserted play and wonder.

    As I survey the long landscape of my daughter’s school journey (some like to call it a career but school is not a career), I still shake my head in wonder. How on earth did we get to this place? And whoever allowed school to brazenly eat up all of our family time? Who is the greater fool? They for doing this or us for letting them.


  14. I think we were asleep at the button…like that story of the pilots who overshot their destination, we were busy doing other things. But some of us have recognized the mistake….we’re the flight attendant calling into the flight deck and asking, “Hello!!!! Is there some problem up there. We should have landed 15 minutes ago? Is everything alright up there?”

    We’re parents asking questions. We’re not the passengers who say, “They are highly trained pilots…we shouldn’t disturb them…they know what they’re doing.”
    Horse hockey.

    Sorry, it just seemed like an appropo analogy.


  15. Horse hockey. You crazy Canadians :). Seriously, PsychMom, I love that you spell colour instead of color, honour instead of honor, you are all so proper and British up there :).

    Great analogy about the pilot. I was going to take some off from this blog to focus on senior year and college and beyond. And what happens to me, now that my marriage is shot, ruined over homework and fighting.

    But I feel I really need this place. It REALLY has empowered me. As much as possible, we sing to our own tune. For example, my daughter left me a note on her door stating she could not fall asleep all night (she has difficulty falling asleep, significantly exacerbated by homework stress and worry over school). I’m not waking her, she is sleeping in this morning.


  16. “Horse hockey” was an expression I borrowed from Colonel Sherman T. Potter, a character on the old “MASH” program from the 70’s and 80’s. It expresses more indignation than swear words ever could. And “proper”….hmmmm, you should see some of the Moms in H1N1 flu shot lineups these days for the Canadian version of “proper”.

    Sorry to hear about life coming undone for you, HWB….You know…this problem of homework will be here for a while if you need to focus elsewhere. There are several of us to keep the seat warm for you.


  17. “You know…this problem of homework will be here for a while if you need to focus elsewhere. There are several of us to keep the seat warm for you.”

    Yes, do that. Keep the seat warm for me. Do know that if I disappear, you’re all in my thoughts and I’ll be back.

    I find that staying on will help me to keep strong this year, as we push for the final push. Up, down, out! If only I were younger, the future could look so bright, so many possibilities.


  18. An old friend from a city I used to live in is a sports journalist. He just wrote a book. Now he’s working on a new piece, an article seeking stories of family sports traditions at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Backyard football, batting practice in the snow, whatever.

    He put out the request on Facebook. I responded, do homework marathons count? Because that’s what knocked out our Thanksgiving last year.


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