Does Homework Send the Wrong Message About Work-Life Boundaries?
There’s nothing like a controversial tweet to get teachers riled up, as with this recent take by Madi SP:
Responses were mixed and ran from “YAY” to “Thanks, I know what I’m doing” to “How dare you?” But the question remains: Are we doing homework right, and are we practicing what we preach when it comes to how we all spend our time?
Over the past two years, the lives of ordinary Americans have changed dramatically. From economic hardships to a loss of a sense of control, adults everywhere are struggling with this new normal. Children and adults are confused about COVID-19 guidelines and reassessing our roles and jobs. We need a break. We need boundaries.
Are We Walking the Walk or Just Talking the Talk?
Like many of you, I’ve gotten better recently at protecting my free time. That can be a challenge because many of us have been conditioned our whole lives to prioritize work and career. And as teachers, we face pressure (usually from ourselves) to make perfect lessons and be all things to all students.
Once we know we need boundaries, there is no shortage of advice on how to find that perfect balance between career and home life. This fantastic article uses glass cups, plastic balls, and ghosts to help us visualize and prioritize our work. And here are 7 tips for teachers trying to achieve a better balance. One is “give yourself a pep talk” and another is “take recess.”
There’s plenty of advice out there (including “work smarter, not harder!”), but here’s the general idea:
- Figure out what you have on your plate.
- Look at what you need to accomplish at home (including self-care).
- Make an informed decision about the boundaries you need to stay healthy and happy.
And that works great when we’re deciding what goes on our plates. A student with homework has not made that choice, which means that their homework is going to come out of what else needs to be done at home (including self-care). We’ve taken the decision out of their hands.
Hey, Homework, what’s your “why”?
Lazy Perfectionist continues, “There are too many variables outside of school that impact homework completion and at the very least we need to stop punishing kids who don’t finish it,” and that says it all. The research on how, when, and why homework even has a chance of success is complicated and provides little prescriptive value.
The answer can only be found in our classroom, and in us. Before I do anything, I try to check my privilege. What biases am I bringing to the situation, both in my instructional approach and in how I see my students? Do I have reasonable expectations of them? Am I considering their own experiences before I choose to insert my instructional goals into those experiences? We might discover surprising things when we listen from this point of view.
You can’t assign homework—even the best kind of homework—to any of your students until you know what “home” looks like. Period.
Which brings us back to this:
You may not arrive at the same conclusion, but we have a responsibility to ask ourselves if our instruction or expectations are based on what works or just on what we’re used to.
What does this look like?
On a practical level, some kids want homework. Many students find the structure and independent work helpful to their learning. Many families also have expectations, and other teachers have expectations as well. In the end, homework should be intentional and meaningful. And it should be clearly connected to what students do in class.
I like to give kids optional, open-ended work in my Language Arts class so they can practice if they want to. We use that time for writing prompts, for example, and many students prefer to read longer texts away from the chaos of the classroom or finish more creative work after they’ve had time to think. Sometimes I stay a little late to give a student space to do work their peers might have saved for home, but I’m careful to never make homework the only option if a student needs more time.
And let’s not ignore that we are teachers with essential life experiences—if some of our activities or lessons can serve to help students maintain a healthy balance between school and home, then let’s take that chance to pass along our own ideas about how to maintain healthy boundaries.
Healthy people make a healthy school, and we all have a role to play. Before you expand your classroom into your students’ home lives, make sure you’re doing it in a way that respects their school-life balance as well as yours.
What are your thoughts? Does homework infringe upon work-life boundaries? Does it have a place in the classroom? Please share in the comments.
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