Yesterday I was writing about the amount of work that teachers bring home with them and how it is adversely affecting them to the point of causing, or at least contributing to, teacher burnout. I feel compelled today to expand on that conversation and provide some deeper inquiry and insight to my thoughts. You can read the post here.
It’s part of a bigger problem.
In the first month of the school year most teachers are required to create a document that they turn into the main office. Administrators like to keep this document on file. It’s called the “Back to School Night” document. If you are a parent, you have undoubtedly have seen countless types of them over the years. It’s usually a single piece of paper, two-sided, that outlines course expectations and content for the school year. It will also include a grading policy. There is a pervasive feeling amongst many teachers that I know that the reason this document is required to be on file is so that administrators can make sure that teachers are assigning ‘enough’ homework. It is this outdated idea of needing ‘enough’ homework that gets me. This may not actually be the case that administrators think this but reality is often clouded when there is very little transparency between the principal’s office and faculty. Things can be read into and imaginations can run amuck. Take this with the expectation that teachers turn in grade books at the end of each term, and you get many teachers who feel pressured to ‘fill their grade books’ with ‘enough’ assignments (for right or wrong) to appease administration.
When I had to make my first one over a decade ago I poked my head into a few other teacher rooms and looked at about a dozen before I created mine. All of them stated that students were expected to do between 15-30 minutes of homework per night. I feel obligated and pressure to do what they were doing. So I followed along without questioning the rationale behind it. I thought that this was expected of all teachers (which it is).
Here’s the rub.
Many parents (and even teachers) fall into a trap thinking about homework with an image of a student sitting at a desk or table writing a paper or completing a worksheet that will demonstrate a student’s understanding from class. This has been the case for decades and it is a terrible one that I shudder to imagine. Thankfully it is starting to change but lets work through a thought experiment for a minute and look at the logistical reality of this way of thinking. If homework has to be some sort of gradable written document, then:
- Most teachers have to grade between 85-120 documents per assignment. Let’s use the middle ground of 100 students for the sake of easy math.
- If teachers assign homework four days per week with a worksheet that takes two minutes to grade per student, each teacher is grading papers for 800 minutes per week. This works out to almost 13.5 hours per week JUST GRADING WORKSHEETS!
- Let’s take this one more step and look at an essay that takes five minutes per student to grade. One assignment alone takes 500 minutes, or, 8.33 hours to grade.
- If we have homework like that for four days per week we are now looking at 33.33 hours per week grading papers. INSANITY!
No wonder why teacher burnout is so prevalent. But here’s the rub…We have not taken a hard look at why we are doing this. All parents want to know how their child will be graded and what the daily homework load be. What they don’t know is that there is rarely any agreement from teachers or any collaboration about these documents before they are created. I have never seen any professional development that puts teachers together to create these documents with a 360˚ look at how these courses are seen together by parents. We, teachers, are at fault. Administrators are at fault. Parents are at fault. We all share the responsibility of adding to teacher burnout by not continually reflecting on the purpose of why we have kept the status quo.
There is hope.
Thankfully teaching is starting to move away from this mentality. Connected educators are connecting through platforms like Twitter to reimagine the purpose of (and need for) homework.
What needs to start happening now though is more dialog between parents and teachers about how students time is to be used at home. Here is a shortlist of suggestions that have started kicking around #edchat on Twitter over the past few months. (If you have not been involved with an #edchat on Twitter, I highly recommend it. It runs on Tuesday nights from 7pm-8pm. Search for it with the hashtag, #edchat.)
- Homework is for critical thinking about what students don’t understand.
- Homework is for creating questions about content that is covered in class for discussion the next day.
- Homework is for blog writing and personal reflection that is peer reviewed.
- Not all homework assignments should be graded. If you are assigning homework for the sake of doing it, then don’t do it.
- Homework is for creating curiosity and engagement with content, not demonstration of understanding.
Teachers, administrators and parents need to start coming together to communicate more about the purpose of homework and how it relates to learning.
- Administrators should not be enforcing, or enabling, a culture of “get-as-many-grades-in-the-gradebook-as-possible”.
- Teachers should not cling to outdated ideas about the purpose of assigning homework. It is not students demonstrating knowledge of content in class, but a shift to a period of reflection and/or preview of practice and demonstration of that knowledge from work done in class.
- Parents need to reimagine and shift their expectations of their children doing homework. It is not what it was like when we were kids. The times have changed and so have the realities of modern learning. REach out to teachers and engage and collaborate with them.
- Students need to start engaging with their parents and teachers (and administrators) about this topic. Be forceful, be involved. Your voice should be heard and respected in this.
The result will be more communication, better learning, less teacher burnout, and a better quality of life for teachers, parents, students…. and administrators.