Elizabeth (greyautumnrain) wrote,

Homework Contract Rage

Dear Internet, I need a sanity check.

On Friday Margaret’s homework folder contained a "homework contract" that both the student a parent/guardian are supposed to sign stating that we had read the homework requirements and agree to follow them to the best of our ability. This has gotten me annoyed for a complicated tangle of reasons.

The first reason probably seems like a nit-pick to some folks, but is important to me. There was another sheet in there in the form of a letter and unlabelled. The second paragraph has a sentence asking us to "read theses homework policies for grade one." Then there is talk about how long homework should take, and about a reading log etc. In the last paragraph is says, "Please read through the homework requirements with your child..." There is no section that states explicitly what the homework requirements are. As I understand it "policies" and "requirements" aren't exactly the same thing. I suppose the requirements can be inferred as 15 to 30 minutes of reading work plus whatever worksheets come home, but as a technical person I much prefer to have things explicitly stated in precise terms. I'm not happy about signing off on some vague requirements that I've had to infer.

The second reason I find this whole thing annoying is this: What if I don’t agree with the homework requirements? While I am all for practicing skills at home, I am a bit leery after a really bad experience we had last year. The fill-in kindergarten teacher that Margaret had for the first half of the year {the regular teacher was on maternity leave) sent home regular work plus some extra stuff for homework one day that ended up taking Margaret more than ninety minutes to complete. There was no indication that the extra stuff was extra or anything (I found that out only after complaining). Not only was that excessive, but a year ago Margaret wasn’t capable of working independently, so I had to sit with her for over an hour and a half and ignore her brothers who also needed my attention in order to get it done. There was a rather unsatisfactory exchange via the little notebook that was used for communication and we ended up meeting with the principal over it. I am also back at work full time which means that I have at best two hours between when I come home and when Margaret falls asleep, during which time we have to eat dinner, and I need to nurse Martin when I get home. If she has 45 minutes of homework that doesn't really allow any time for anything else I might want to do with her, like dance practice. I've been trying to get our au pair to do the homework with her, but that has been a bit spotty so far; I came home today to find her homework sheet only half done. Just exactly how far is "the best of our ability" supposed to stretch? As is often the cause with things one is asked to sign, it is assumed that you will sign. It says "...then sign the Homework Contract and return as soon as possible." Perhaps I am just an irritable red-head with a bad attitude, but that really rubs me the wrong way. There are many things that I want my kids to learn, but signing stuff just because someone said you should sign is not one of them. In fact, being told to sign makes me want to dig in my heels and return the sheet unsigned with a big "NO!" scrawled across it.

The third reason I am upset about the whole homework contract thing is that I think it sends entirely the wrong message to both the students and the parents. When I was in first grade back in the Dark Ages (aka the 1976-77 school year) we just did our homework. If you didn’t do your homework you were In Trouble, which was terrible. I always did my homework except for that one time I forgot, which ended up with me in tears. Nobody had to sign anything, homework just got done. What is the purpose of having people sign a compulsory homework contract? If this is the way that homework completion is enforced it seems like a really bad way to me. “You have to do your homework because we pressured you and your parents into signing this contract thingy.” Homework should be done because it is reinforcing what is being taught at school and because it is what responsible students do. I also find the whole thing incredibly patronizing, as if we as parents need to be bullied into making our kids do their homework. I’ve been doing math games like Sleeping Queens with Margaret over the summer, reading to her, and having her do workbook pages. The workbooks pages haven’t been getting done as frequently as I would have preferred, but I kept working on her skills over the summer and she has improved slightly instead of forgetting stuff. Now that school is back in session we are still working on the workbooks as time allows, as we were last year. I do not need to be told to work with my child on academics outside of the classroom and I resent the implication that I might. When I was looking for schools for Margaret I spoke to a parent who had a child in the one charter school in the district (Prospect Hill), and while she was very positive about the school she said that there was a lot of this sort of thing. It is in fact the reason why I rejected Prospect Hill as a possible school for my kids; I knew this sort of thing would be extremely irritating to me and I wanted no part of it. I realize that I am perhaps being oversensitive, but on the other hand shouldn’t the message be that responsibility is something we assume as a given, not the exception? My mom said that children will live down to your expectations of them, and I think that is often true of grownups too. I think it would send a much better message to just expect that homework will get done, and I think telling people to sign a homework contract says that the school doesn’t trust that homework will get done without it.

In general I really like Margaret’s school. I like the principal, I like most of the other kids and parents. I like her regular teacher from last year, and the specialist in music seems to be terrific. I was really happy that Margaret was assigned to the older, experienced first grade teacher instead of the brand new teacher. I’d like to think that was by design because the principal knew Margaret would be better served by someone who was older and steadier rather than just a happy accident. I prefer to think that the whole homework contract thing is something that is happening because someone at the district level is pushing it as a good idea and my objections just haven’t occurred to anyone in the school or been voiced by other parents yet. I really want to work constructively with the school, but I do get antagonized by things like this, things that I realize other parents probably feel are no big deal, or not worth raising a stink about. I do think it matters and I think I’ve laid out a reasonable argument for why I feel the way I feel. I’d welcome constructive comments on this. Would anyone care to ‘check my work’?

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