Monday, May 9, 2016

Mothering Monday: Homework Accountability and Failure

When I was growing up, if I didn't turn in my homework assignments, I was held accountable by my teachers. As far as I know, my parents were never contacted about late or missing homework. This wasn't because I was a perfect student. Far from it, I was/am a terrible procrastinator and often failed to deliver on big assignments and projects. I am sure my mom helped me when I was little with homework, but in general, she expected me to manage my own homework assignments.

In today's hyper-competitive parenting competition, such a hands-off approach toward homework is largely disdained, by parents and teachers alike. As a parent who prefers a hands-off approach, I find myself struggling to find some kind of happy medium. I feel like my primary responsibility as a parent is to raise my children so they can grow up and function without constant reminders or help from me. Wild idea, I know. That means, I think, that at some point in the twelve years of elementary, middle, and high school, parents need to step back.

I help my elementary school age children read directions for assignments and coach kids on spelling. With my older kids, I provide editing services and may talk them through assignments if they need help. My husband provides assistance for big science and math questions. We have a designated homework space and we also have a schedule which includes time for homework. I also think kids need downtime playing outside. So if the day is nice, I will send them outside to play before homework. I also encourage my kids to tackle projects in a timely manner to avoid the procrastination trap. I stay in the homework room while the kids are working to encourage and help as needed.

I don't check their pages to make sure they got every problem correct because I have this crazy idea that if they get a problem wrong, then the teacher will know what needs to be reviewed.  I don't check the school website everyday to review homework assignments, because I think my teenagers should be able to manage that without a parent's help. (Although in the beginning, we do that together so they learn how.) I don't intervene if a child gets a bad grade on a project or has a consequence for not completing assignments.

Sometimes (especially for a particular child) I get emails from teachers complaining about a large volume of missed assignments. I follow up with that child and they complete the work and turn it in, even if they will still receive a zero. I don't have a problem with that, but I do get frustrated when I feel that the (mostly middle) school expects me to micro-manage my children's homework, the quality of work they turn in, and keeping up with assignments. I spent three horrific years trying to do this for one of my kids and it nearly destroyed our relationship and my after-school sanity. I spent almost 5 hours a day forcing him to do homework. I dealt with email after email from teachers until I thought I was going to go crazy. I appreciate that my town's schools expect parental involvement which is beneficial for kids, but at some point kids have to take control of the reins to their education.

At this breaking point, I made a radical decision to step back and give my child the opportunity to fail. I'm not sure that all the teachers on the team were understanding of my desire but they respected it and have mostly supported me in giving my child autonomy in managing his homework. The result has been that he has a high B average. He could have As across the board because of his abilities, but this is what he is willing to do. Our relationship has improved greatly. I don't dread the after-school hours anymore because its not going to be a battle between the two of us. We have so many more positive interactions. Perhaps most importantly, he has taken on the responsibility for managing his workload. I have much more confidence in his ability to go onto high school and even college because he is becoming more independent.

The lesson I have learned is that at some point, parents need to give space for their children to fail, and that, in doing so, things are going to be okay, even if they do fail. The world isn't going to fall apart if one kid never turns in his homework and I'm still an okay parent for giving him that space.

Have you experienced this pressure to hyper-supervise and manage your child's homework? Have you had homework battles? Do you feel pressure from other parents and the school about how much time you need to spend with your child on homework? How do you navigate school challenges with your children?


1 comment:

JennaK said...

I've talked with you on this subject. Since we talked, I have stepped back. I do check on my son's grades, but not regularly. Often it's not early enough to catch when he has failed to turn something in. I also do ask if he has homework when he gets home and remind him to think of every class because he really is so forgetful. But he has been doing better. After one term of me really helping him manage and organize it all, he earned better grades and liked that, so this last term he took over and did fairly well. He did end up missing a couple big assignments in two classes and didn't do as well as he wanted to in those two classes because of it so this term he is trying harder to remember to do everything and turn it in (with him, it's mostly hard for him to just turn it in).

I do check over their math if they ask me to. That's because I've found that most of the teachers don't have time to go over specific problems with kids, and I want them to know what they are doing. Math was a strong subject for me so I look over their work and if they miss any, I circle that they missed it but make them take a second look at it. If they don't understand it at that point, I help them with it. Often, they have missed it because they made a slight error in calculation or they were lazy and sped through it without thinking it through. But I want to make sure they aren't getting problems wrong because they don't understand, which is why I go over it with them. I see myself as their tutor in that way. That's for my older kids, when they bring math homework home. I also will help edit written papers and go over the writing process with them to help them.

I have stepped back a bit because I was tired of stressing out about it for them. It is their responsibility after all.